Small game, big theme

Welcome to our game jam! This is an informal get together which is all about creating a very small game (such as on a postcard, or a roll and write, or a deck of about 20 cards) about a big theme.

How it works

  • Choose a theme. The themes will all be available below (scroll down!) and from 21 May no new themes will be added.
  • Come up with an idea for a game. If you’d like to chat about it, join our discord server and we’ll give you a place to explore what you’re doing.
  • Share your progress on social media. Take photos, make a short video, and generally shout all about it! Use #smallgamebigtheme and tag @dissentgames on Twitter/Instgram.
  • Finish your game by 21 June. Let us know (on social media or on discord) what your final game is like. We will give you some feedback, both from a game perspective and from an activist perspective.

The only rules are that a) the game should be about one of the themes below, and b) the game should be small enough to be posted as a letter. It’s fine to ask players to find components around the house, such as six-sided dice, coins, pencils, or even jellybeans to act as counters.

Themes overview

Scroll down to see more about each theme, or click on the link to see the same information but in a separate page.

  1. Subduction Zone. Can you prevent the world’s largest oil spill? Before the subduction zone earthquake along the Pacific Rim, your players must balance transportation networks, private interests, and public opinion to move the oil tanks from riverbank to bedrock. It takes time, but the earthquake could happen any moment.
  2. Voter ID. Can you show how requiring people to show photo ID at polling stations will disproportionately disadvantage the poorest in society? Explore different type of voter suppression, or why people may not have ID, or the different groups the policy will impact. Can you create a game which could help the campaign against Voter ID?
  3. Automation in Decision Making. How do decisions made by computers contain systematic biases? What impact might an algorithm have? There is no perfect decision. Explore how small changes in algorithms could lead to significant differences in the effect.
  4. Non Violence and Protest. How does a protest movement grow? How does a protest movement challenge systematic violence without becoming violent itself? Your game will showcase how lasting change is created and maintained, helping the world to become a less violent place.
  5. Representation. Can you create a game about the lack of representation? One possibility is to consider diversity in picture books; perhaps something where suddenly the player sees it and can’t unsee it. How can this sort of calling out create habits or nudge the people who need it most? Another possibility is to focus a game on how real and respectful diversity is only possible if a wide range of people have been consulted and included in the process ahead of time.

Theme 1: Subduction Zone

Along the Pacific Rim, sustained shaking from a subduction zone earthquake will liquefy the soil under a tank farm that stores the state’s liquid fuel. Breaking the tanks, beside a major river, with a combined storage of 360 million gallons, it will be the world’s largest oil spill.

Down the river and to the ocean, spreading along the coastline, wrecking the ecology and economy of the region: the natural disaster of the massive quake has been compounded by environmental disaster. It will happen, it could happen tomorrow, or twenty years from now. People argue that impacts of the climate crisis will be felt sooner, but earthquakes are random. Each year the odds increase, it’s a role of the die now.

Your organization must convince the state to decentralize the tank farm, relocate them upon bedrock. The land deemed for public use, the government can have eminent domain. Yet the storage must be along the transportation networks to distribute liquid fuel. And no one wants them near their property. Land, fuel, money, power. The earthquake is a natural hazard, inevitable, and survivable—in this cooperative game, your choices determine whether the quake results in disaster.

READ Article here:

READ Downloadable PDF:

Theme 2: Voter ID

Voter ID is a form of voter suppression. People are asked to bring photo ID in order to vote. This makes voting difficult for people who don’t have photo ID, which overwhelmingly tends to be poorer people and younger people. Many people don’t have a passport and don’t drive.

In the UK the cases of suspected voter fraud are very, very low. In 2019 one person was convicted of voting twice. In the 2017 general election, the Electoral Commission received 1000 emails from people concerned about double voting, which turned into 5 actual cases of suspected possible double voting, and one conviction. That is out of 45 million people entitled to vote. In contrast, political campaigns have been fined for not being transparent about how they were funded, and candidates have been fined for providing false information about themselves.

Can you make a game about voter suppression, and particularly something which shows how voter ID stops people voting? It is likely to have a bigger impact on people with no fixed address, can’t afford ID, aren’t entitled to a passport but are entitled to vote, the elderly, or those who have recently changed their name.

READ Article here:

READ Article here:

Theme 3: Automation in Decision Making

We make decisions all the time, but the dawn of the ‘mutant algorithm’ has highlighted the concerns and challenges of ‘handing over’ decision-making to machines. In reality, human decision-making alone is inherently biased – but computers alone – or even humans and computers together, will not produce a ‘perfect decision’ either, because there isn’t one. Often systemic biases are built into systems – we blame the ‘algorithm’ – but computers don’t make the rules.

READ Institute for the Future of Work. (2020). Mind the Gap: The Final Report of the Equality Task Force.

READ The Alan Turing Institute. (2019). Understanding artificial intelligence ethics and safety.

Theme 4: Non Violence and Protest

Could there be a game exploring the growth of a protest movement? Activists need to make many choices about how they protest and in what way. Different movements use different methods and may be more or less effective. A game could focus on the process of activism and protest rather than the particular cause. 

Explore the paradigm of violence and non-violence in the two videos below. Johann Galtung’s theory of violence includes direct, structural and cultural violence, demonstrating how societies create violence. Erica Chenoweth’s research shows that non-violent movements are twice as effective at making lasting change than violent ones. (Scroll down for videos.)

READ Beyond some ‘big names’ e.g. Gandhi, the common discourse is of violence being necessary and effective.

Could a game open up understanding of the effectiveness of non-violence? Some questions:

  • How do citizens make the decision that they need to take action to make change in society?
  • What lengths will they go to make change happen?
  • How do protest movements grow?
  • In protest movements, some individuals choose to break the law to achieve social change. Is this effective?
  • How are individuals supported by the rest of their community?
  • To what extent should the law protect or restrict our right to protest?
  • What methods can prevent or support effective protest?

If you’re interested in this theme, there is also an event on Saturday 22 May. Think Together Sheffield are running a community philosophy enquiry session on this theme – free and online. All welcome to join in with discussions on the theme.

Theme 5: Representation

This theme was suggested by two different people. While there was much overlap, there were also differences in their approach.

Diverse representation is an important way to help combat discrimination, and in helping marginalized people feel safer and more accepted in the world. It covers both the main focus (such as the main character in a film or book) and the background (such as the supporting characters). How can we reach beyond either tokenism or making diversity itself the main theme? How can we make diversity the norm?

One suggestion is about picture books. Can you create a habit forming or awareness raising game for illustrators, publishers and editors so they ‘see’ the dearth of representation of disabled, gender non conforming and BIPOC main and incidental characters. It’s even rare to see a kid drawn as left handed in a picture book, or one with a hearing aid, yet these are pretty common traits you might see among a group of kids in a playground, classroom, or family birthday party. Usually it is ‘issue-based’ books that represent characters across the full spectrum of ability, race, class or gender – and that this is the focus of the book. Can a game encourage people (illustrators, publishers and editors) to make the background characters both factual and fiction books for kids more diverse?

Another suggestion is about inclusion in the process. It is important that marginalized people are consulted or even better yet part of the creative process to ensure that depictions are not offensive or reinforce harmful stereotypes. Inaccurate representation can cause damage to people and communities. Accurate representation can help people with their own identity – particularly for LGBTIAQ+ folk, some of whom might not realize that they are gay, lesbian, trans, intersex, asexual, or a-romantic if they never see people like themselves represented accurately in popular media. Can a game encourage decision makers to include a wide range of people right at the start of any process?

With both these suggestions, can a game create a habit, so that that person will automatically do that in the future – so that it is ordinary to include a wide range of people? How could it deal with decision makers feeling defensive about being called out? How confrontational should it or could it be?

READ PDF here:

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