Class Play

My freshmen class has been playingBioshock for the past several classes, so we’ve been discussing game mechanics, ethics, and the viability of utopian ideals. One of the essential characteristics of a utopia, naturally enough, is exclusivity, and so rather than us “Olympus Heights” and “Apollo Square” to discuss issues of class exclusivity in the way we’ve been doing with the other levels, I thought I’d use a game to teach a game.

The game is simple, and modded from an ethics and racism course I found on Learning from a Legacy of Hate.

First, I asked them if Andrew Ryan had approached them in 1946 and said “Would you like to join Rapture?” whether they would choose to go or not. Each student was then asked to fill out an application to join Rapture (in the original, it’s a generic “application for membership”). Some students were serious about it, some were not, but that wasn’t the point.

As they were filling it out (you can see the “generic” application at the above link), they asked questions about it: “Why does Ryan need to know my religion? Doesn’t he not believe in religion?” “Why is my eye color important?” “Why does he care where I live now?” and so on.

When they were done, I asked them what their instincts told them about the application. One said it was “for a cult.” Another said it came from the university. Others didn’t like being asked about their beliefs or where their parents were born.

I then went through the criteria listed in the assignment guide, and asked everyone born in the US to stand up. Then all non-Caucasians had to sit. Then non-Christians. I had four students left. Then people who didn’t have an allegiance to something higher than the US. Only two.

Then I asked them how they felt. The two were happy. The others seemed dubious. I asked them if they would change anything if they could to be standing. Most said no. A couple said maybe. We talked about exclusivity.

I then congratulated the two still standing on their eligibility for the KKK (which is what the application originally came from). They were understandably horrified – which led to some really interesting discussions about the value of elitism in convincing people that something is “good” – whether it really is or not.

Now Rapture doesn’t discriminate based on race – but it does exclude religion, the uneducated, and (whether intentionally or not) the under-privileged. And it’s important to recognize that any form of exclusivity, whether racially or otherwise motivated, necessarily excludes people based on criteria other than those put forth – in the case of Rapture, class. There simply aren’t any truly poor in Rapture – not even the brilliant poor – just as there aren’t any truly poor in Ayn Rand’s Galt’s Gulch (on which Rapture is loosely based).

And class is important because it dictates so much more than just the amount of money in our pockets or bank accounts. It grants or denies us privilege, education, and status from the beginning of our lives, and takes away or gives opportunities that we have not earned or deserved. It’s important for us to recognize that, to take even a brief moment to realize that no one likes to be excluded, particularly on the basis of something over which we have no control, be it ethnicity, gender, or class. In the case of class, it’s even more important to understand that it is out of our control for at least part of our lives – and that exclusivity based on class is just as harmful as any other form of bigotry or discrimination.

Dead Cats, Dead People

Today’s post is about two things. The first is Peter Molyneaux’s Curiosity, the second – entirely unrelated it would seem – is Tombstone Hold’Em. Both are cooperative. One is played on a cell phone. The other is played in a graveyard. Both do something interesting with gaming – namely, asking people to work together on something that is not at all an obvious game.

Curiosity (besides proverbially killing the neighborhood feline) is a game about tapping squares. Each square one taps disappears (shatters) and can earn you virtual gold. Each removal of a square reveals the next layer of a cube. The collective – for everyone playing the game is playing together in a giant collective – has thus far removed a green layer with bubbles and is in the process of removing a maroonish-orange layer to reveal some sort of picture (I’m voting for either cherries or tomatoes) underneath. Now what’s interesting about Curiosity is that despite the collective working together, only one person can win. What they win is an interesting question, but Molyneaux has said that this is both a game and a social experiment, so for me the best part is going to be finding out what he was trying to determine at the end of it all.

Tombstone Hold’Em, on the other hand, is a team game, but one that’s played among a collective that is cross-generational. In short, you need dead people to play along with you. This game has been on my mind recently because the Unorthodox Arts Foundation is hosing a game in Boston at Copps’ Hill Burying Ground (so if you happen to live or be in the area on November 17th, head up there… it’s free!). I find it fascinating that it takes not only the facilitators and players, but the dead to successfully play the game. Dead people become your literal ace in the hole.

So why do I think it’s worth posting about these two games together? It’s the collective element. People are playing without actively cooperating (Curiosity) and even without being alive (Tombstone), but they are nevertheless a part of the game’s collective. That, I think, is what strikes me about both games: they’re encouraging cooperative, collective play, but they do so in a way that creates an unwitting community simply by being played.