Spotlight on Creatives: The Thoughtful Game Design of Affinity Games

Affinity Games is a collective of game creators working to create, remix, and hack games. We chatted with the collective about their approach to game design, their sources of inspiration, and their hopes for the future.

Disclosure from Affinity Games: Some of these answers were given by an individual and were discussed by the collective, other answers feature more than one individual as we wanted to share the various voices that make up our collective. These words reflect our current agreements and understanding, but we are an evolving and growing collective and they may change over time. 

You call your collective Affinity Games. What does that name mean to you? What are you hoping to convey with it?

Figgins: For us, an Affinity Game is one that connects to the concept of the “affinity group,” which arose out of the anarchist movement in Spain in the late 19th and early 20th century. They were small circles of friends who would come together in cafes to discuss, plan and carry out actions. Since the Spanish revolution and civil war, affinity groups have been used around the world by peace activists, ecologists, anti-capitalists and many others to organize for effective action and create alternative social structures.

We define affinity groups in our game The Transition Year as: “An affinity group is a closed group made up of individuals (~3-20) who share a commonality, an affinity — this could be a shared interest, vision and values, or identity (such as race, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, etc.). These individuals work together, support each other, and work towards a particular mission or goal. Individuals are often part of multiple different affinity groups, allowing for cross-pollination between groups and broader affinities.”

Affinity, for us, is about both self-knowledge and knowledge of one another, understanding the perspectives and knowledge that each one of us has and has of one another. As such, affinity is a process that is ongoing, changes over time, has limits, and can end. All this might feel like “all talk and no action,” and many of our games are conversation games or storytelling games, but the conversations we have (and how we have them) matter, the stories we share matter, the stories we imagine together matter. You have to go slow first in order to go fast later when it’s time for collaboration and action. 

Our collective’s mission statement is: “Expanding what it means to play and belong together.” We want to make supportive spaces for affinities to be explored and developed and to increase the wider web of mutual aid, understanding, and support that players can experience with each other, through games. To see games as a space where we can learn, grow, connect, where we can remake ourselves and our relations to each other. 

Our games thus far have primarily focused on the earlier steps of affinity, on exploring our belonging through playful dialogue, discussion, and storytelling. We hope to push our work into playing with deliberation and action, extending player affinities further into the material world. 

Affinity Games is organized as a collective. What does that mean to you? Why did you choose to organize that way? Who are the members of the collective?

Collectives, on a small scale, are often not very different from affinity groups, the difference being that small groups that refer to themselves as collectives usually work on longer term projects than affinity groups. The basic definition of a collective is people coming together to share resources and skills to get a common task accomplished, where all people involved have control over the decision-making process and reap the direct benefits of collective organization. We try to manage ourselves without hierarchy, everyone has equal decision-making power and operations are managed by member meetings. 

Figgins: Affinity groups and collectives are both essential organizing blocks of anarchism. While identifying as an anarchist isn’t a requirement to join the collective, our collective is built on anarchist principles. We chose this structure because it felt most in line with our vision and values for Affinity Games: 

1) Autonomy of individuals and projects, equality of members, and direct democracy in decision-making. 

2) Solidarity between members, players and our larger communities through centering shared values, living our values in interactions with each other and practicing intentionality in our game design. 

3) Mutual aid in focusing on making games about our shared interests that we think will also benefit others, and making them accessible to players over prioritizing profit.

Our values are not focused on profit or gaining a lot of members, but rather on working on our shared projects, the quality of the experience of designers and players, connecting with other like-minded game developers and players, and inspiring new game designers. We try to make our games accessible to players, with print-and-play and digital editions available for free, and some of the physical editions of our games are sold at cost as well. 

Our members live across the Great Lakes region, but at one point all called Lansing, Michigan home. A few of our members studied game design in college (one of our members teaches it) and worked for game development companies, but the majority of us are from other fields and are new to game design.

Members:

Meg is passionate about providing holistic, compassionate and equitable end-of-life care. She is a Registered Nurse, Postdoctoral Researcher, and founder of the Creative Dying Project (CreativeDying.org).

Figgins/Hermi(one) Banger (they/them) is a queer non-binary writer, farmer and game designer. 

Casey O’Donnell is a queer game designer, academic and teacher of game design and development. Casey has a book about the “AAA” game industry: Developer’s Dilemma from MIT Press. (https://caseyodonnell.org)

Ryan is using his journey in recovery from decades-long addiction as fuel to move toward offering comprehensive support for those experiencing hardship due to unresolved emotional wounding. He is the founder of Men’s Resiliency, whose mission is to connect men with themselves and each other (MensResiliency.com)

Michael is a Black, Queer, and Trans game designer and former mobile games producer. He loves making and engaging with art that comes from a vulnerable place. He thinks change can only come from folks willing to acknowledge they have skin in the game. 

What does the day-to-day practice of operating as a collective look like for you?

Figgins: We are spread across the Great Lakes region.Because of this, as well as the pandemic, we meet on Zoom once a week as a collective. Game project teams also meet once a week or as often as those on the team decide. We either decide the week beforehand or at the beginning of the meeting what will be on the agenda for the meeting, and have various voluntary roles that help for loosely organizing the meeting–a facilitator, note-taker, time-keeper and vibes-watcher. We usually start each meeting with a check-in or a prompt to reconnect with each other, and we end each meeting with listing any action items that need to be done before the next meeting, and then close with a check-in to talk about how the meeting went for everyone. 

Our collective-wide meetings fluctuate between social time to hang out and get to know each other better (we often use our games Fellowship of Fools and Creative Dying in these meetings), playing and analyzing a game with each other, discussing possible new projects that may require a game project team, discussing any pressing items we need to make a decision on, and developing our group processes and agreements, such as our shared mission, vision and values statements, conflict resolution and accountability processes, relational agreements and decision-making processes. Developing these processes and agreements is “going slow so we can go faster later,” it’s long conversations about what we share in common, the goals we want to pursue, and how we want to be together. It’s experimenting with different decision-making processes, like cumulative voting, multi-winner voting, and consensus. Like our games, it’s about exploring our affinities and how we want to collaborate and act together. 

Beyond our meetings, day to day life in the collective takes place mostly on Discord where we share and discuss interesting articles and videos, upcoming game jams, spicy tweets, games we could play together, information related to game ideas or projects, photos and bits of our lives, and feedback heard from playing our games with those in our more immediate orbits. 

In your “About” section you have a quote that I think is really interesting. “Play is being in the world, through objects, toward others.” By Miguel Sicart. What made you choose this quote to represent your collective? What does it mean to you, or what do you hope people get out of it when they read it?

Casey and Figgins: Well, in defense of the collective, this quote was chosen before three of the five members joined. The simple answer is that it is quoted on a plaque at The Strong Museum of Games and Play in Rochester, New York. The longer answer is that Casey is a friend of Miguel’s and the quote stuck with Figgins and Casey after visiting The Strong for Casey’s birthday a few years back and it wound up on the website. It is partially related to the next question on social theory, but with regard specifically to the quote is that games, physical or digital, are embodied experiences that we interact with through physical and virtual representational objects that in turn allow us to interact with (virtual, real or hybrid) other people/beings. It is important to remember that our relationship and relation to even virtual others shapes how we orient ourselves in the world.

More succinctly it is an early Game Studies take on play that we feel speaks to our Mission Statement. We want to explore how game design shapes player interactions with each other, and how that shapes how we orient ourselves in the world. In focusing on the kinds of conversations and stories that we do, we hope to encourage different ways of orienting or being in the world, different ways of being with others and belonging with others that encourage our shared values.

Many of your games draw on social theory. Is there any prior knowledge that players should have before jumping into your games?

Casey: Many of our games do draw on social theory and often even the “scary” kind like poststructural theory. But, players don’t need to know that or know anything about social theory to play. We want the games to be accessible, but fundamentally we are trying to expose folks to different modes/ways of thinking and being together. We try to build the theory into a game’s design/content so that players DON’T need that knowledge. Instead, they get to come to it through play. Not to say we’re making “stealth learning” games. We’re pretty explicit in where we are coming from.

We try to keep that as subtle as possible, but with enough “hat-tips” for those that are looking for them to recognize what we are up to. We try to write about it, however, to be transparent for those that are interested. Some of it is for us though. There is so much research behind design that is often invisible. Designers don’t talk about all of that work enough. It is one of the reasons making games is often trivialized as “easy.” Casey’s book on the AAA game industry, Developer’s Dilemma, was about trying to make game development practices more transparent and that has carried over to the collective.

Many of us have an academic bent and sometimes “theory” is dismissed as wordy navel gazing that cannot inform design, and that is an anti-intellectual take. We wouldn’t say that people need theory to make games, but if you want to make a game about something that other folks have done a lot of thinking about then it is probably a good idea to do your homework before taking on those topics. *cough* *cough* Prison Simulator *cough* *cough* You can’t always capture everything in a game, because it is an abstraction of the world, but you can also try really hard to do a good job knowing that you will still probably fail here and there, but at least you are working to do better.

Many of your games are hacks of existing games. For example The Transition Year or No Ticket to Ride. What draws you to hacking games?

Figgins: Part of the reason why we are drawn to hacking games is because there is already an audience of players who own them or have played them, and so they are already familiar with the game’s system. They don’t have to purchase new pieces or a new game, and the work of learning a new game is reduced. Part of the reason why we are drawn to it is that we enjoy playing those games, but we want a different experience, theme, or setting. 

Game “hacks” can cover a lot of terrain for designers. They can be as simple as borrowing the mechanics but changing the theme or setting or adding a new character class. Or designers can experiment by adapting, transforming, repurposing, redesigning or remixing mechanics from other games. For designers, hacking games is a great way to learn and play with different mechanics and how those mechanics can enable different types of play. Hacking can point out the underlying rules in the original game’s design and how arbitrary they are, and how it could be different. 

Alexander Galloway’s chapter on Countergaming comes to mind. Countergaming proposes alternative modes of gameplay versus conventional gamic action or poetics. He wrote, “Artists should create new grammars of action, not simply new grammars of visuality. They should create alternative algorithms. They should reinvent the architectural flow of play and the game’s position in the world, not just its maps and characters.” 

A close up of hands holding cards from Fellowship of Fools: The (Friendship) Game.
Fellowship of Fools: The (Friendship) Game

For instance, Ticket To Ride tells two stories, the one about friends coming together every year to see who can ride trains the furthest in a fun game, and the one the game’s rules tell, which is much more about being a railroad tycoon, simulating buying or “claiming” routes strategically anywhere on the map before other players and thus locking them out of the use of those routes. It’s a competitive game with conventional game actions and roles that replicates capitalists forming railroad oligarchies. These are old algorithms, and we are tired of playing them. Not only that, we found that play sessions of the games were largely silent affairs between players, each concerned with their individual cards and goals, and a silent game is not the kind of game experience we want! 

In No Ticket to Ride we wanted a semi-cooperative game and to poke at the capitalist theme of the underlying story of Ticket to Ride. So we changed the characters to hobos and the setting to focus on their lives during the boom period of migratory labor after the end of the Civil War in the U.S. Most of the mechanics of the original game are there, just transformed to be more cooperative. Routes are no longer claimed by players, but instead are locked out of play by the bulls (private police) that patrol them the more players hitch a free ride. To play the game well together, players need to share their Destination Cards and strategize to align them and travel together so they don’t get stranded by the bulls, which can end the game. Even though only one player still wins, as in competitive co-op games, players earn points for cooperative behavior, such as bringing and sharing food, for being in the same city (or hobo jungle) together, and for being voted the most helpful player (the Hobo King/Queen/Champion). The behavior of players and the flow of play on the board is dramatically altered, and players are encouraged with suggestions to roleplay inside and outside of the game to identify with the characters, theme and setting.

What makes a particular game good or useful to hack?

Figgins: A couple ingredients seem to make a particular game good to hack. If the game is more transparent and easy to understand, they are obvious about their mechanics and the behaviors encouraged and the rewards possible. Games with free SRDs (System Reference Documents) are of course super helpful for those looking to hack games. Games that are more focused on a core mechanic are great to hack. They let the designer focus on learning that mechanic and observing how redesigning it affects the game system and player behavior. Games that are very popular are also particularly useful to hack. People already know of them, have played them, and might own a copy of the original. Even better if your hack is a critique of that game, such as this hack of Settler’s of Catan that critiques the colonialist assumptions of the game. 

The key question for designers is: what is the experience you want? Then, as Jason Morningstar said, “Does a game exist that does what I want? (play that) If not, is there a game that is very close? (hack that).” Think of games that fit the kind of preferences or constraints you have–maybe it needs to be one-shot length, or a two player or a solo game. Then think of games that already create the type of story you are wanting within those constraints–maybe a solo game about struggling in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, or a co-created story of a journey and making friends along the way. Do they have useful game mechanics for the story you are trying to create? Maybe that’s classes of characters, or an oracle of prompts for developing the world, those in it, and the conflict you’ll face. 

Does the game come close to the kind of experience you want to have but haven’t found yet as a player? Then it’s a good game to hack. Or, on the flip side, maybe it’s a game or a mechanic within a game that you don’t care for, or you don’t like how it makes you and other players be with each other. Like house rules, we can hack those and “fix” them, we can try to rewrite them to enable the experiences we want from the game. 

The Quiet Year was a particularly good game for us to hack for multiple reasons. For one, as a one shot it’s more approachable for players in terms of the time it takes to play, and secondly as a game about roleplaying the social forces rather than individuals in a small community it lets us play with broader conflicts and concerns and their effects on many. For us as well, some of us are newer to ttrpgs, and it felt easier to roleplay a community than a distinct character within it.

After playing The Quiet Year together, we discussed hacking it to be more a “solarpunk” theme and setting, prioritizing sustainability and change, transitioning how we live rather than surviving long after civilization has collapsed. We wanted a setting that was more near-term and focused on fairness in a diverse community in the face of a changing climate, technologies, institutions, and social relations. We redesigned the Oracle’s card loadout to better reflect how climate change has shortened spring and fall and lengthened summer and winter, and added joker cards with prompts for more extreme events affecting the community. Wanting to be more focused on the community and the power people can have with each other, we chose to focus players on exploring the groups of people that might come together for common interests and projects and so replaced the “Discover Something New” action with “Name a Group.” We find that Naming a Group enhances the other mechanics, it leads to exploring the projects they would embark on and the conflicts and tensions that might occur between groups. As well, it ties in so perfectly with our focus on affinity groups. Finally, rather than being focused on resource scarcity and abundance, we wanted to change the framing around the starting resources to be instead one of community choice–that these are communal choices of commoning (or sharing or socializing) resources for the better of all, be that solar panels, community care, or ownership of private property (land, capital, machinery). As well, communal decisions to limit or even abolish those things which we do not want in our society any more, be that money, fossil fuels, cops, prisons, or debt. Changing the theme of the game necessitated tweaking some of the mechanics to fit it, this helped transform the game from one of community survival to one of communal political imagination. 

Are there any games, artists, or creators that inspire your work?

Casey: Many authors, such as: Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel Delany, Donna Haraway, Judith Butler, Starhawk and more… Game makers like: Avery Alder, Naomi Clark, Local No. 12, Brenda Romero, Die Gute Fabrik and many more… Musicians like: David Bowie, Queen, Alabama Shakes, and others…

Figgins: writers: adrienne marie brown, bell hooks, Michel Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Silvia Federici, Paul Goodman, Richard Sennett, David Graeber. Game Makers/Games: Bully Pulpit Games, Avery Alder, Thirsty Sword Lesbians, Benjamin Rosenbaum, Jay Dragon, Jared Sinclair, Riverhouse Games, Robo Haven, Jamila R. Nedjadi, Molleindustria, Sasha Reneau, Dissonance, Thorny Games 

Meg: Jon Underwood (Death Cafe founder), Clementine Morrigan (writer/zinester), Caitlin Doughty (mortician/death educator), Monnica Williams (researcher/writer), Tricia Hersey (Nap Bishop), Gendersauce (artist), Braille Ringer (healer), Michael Hebb (Death Over Dinner founder, writer), Diana Quinn (healer), Marcela Ot’alora (psychedelic therapist), Liz Gilbert (writer)

Ryan: Authors: adrienne marie brown, Octavia Butler, Ram Dass, Ibram X. Kendi, Richard Schwartz, Jaiya John, Refuge Recovery/Dharma Recovery Music: NF (nate feuerstein), Ollie, Trevor Hall, Ayla Nereo, Fia, IG: Shrimpteeth, The Nap Ministry, clementinemorrigan, Gendersauce, dr.thema, queersextherapy Artists: Alex Grey 

Michael: Novels: adrienne marie brown, Octavia Butler, N.K. Jamisin, Ta-Nahesi Coates, Hermann Hesse, Samuel R. Dulaney, Mary Shelley Comics: Al Ewing, Tillie Walden, Alan Moore, Daniel Warren Johnson Poetry: Claudia Rankine, E. E. Cummings Games/Game Creators: Zone of the Enders, Night in the Woods, Jay Dragon, Supergiant Games, Soma, WOW (yes, really), Monster Hunter Music: La Dispute, Defeater, Tobi Lou, TV on the Radio, Mystery Skulls, Minus the Bear Multimedia: Alok Vaid-Menon, Brandon Small, Tyler The Creator

One of the projects that seems very special and unique is the Creative Dying Card Game. What is this project about? What inspired it?

Meg: Yes! We are so excited about the Creative Dying Card Game. This collaboration was possible thanks to Jerry at The Fledge (a radically inclusive community center, maker-space, incubator/accelerator in Lansing, MI). Jerry connected Meg with Figgins and Casey at Affinity Games, thanks to their shared recognition of the value of having authentic conversations about death. The game was inspired by conversations at Death Cafes, and by our firsthand experiences of how acknowledging grief and death could help us live more fully. The game was also influenced by color theory, the color wheel used by artists to mix pigments, the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, Death Over Dinner events and a Westernized version of the human Chakra system. 

Cards from the Creative Dying Game arranged in a diamond pattern.
The Creative Dying Game

Talking about death and doing end-of-life planning can be intimidating. There are lots of assumptions about what death should look like, from our families, religions, the state, our medical system, etc. And although lots of aspects of death can be out of our control, part of the impetus for starting these conversations is that we do want folks to feel like they can be creative and have agency in shaping their experiences of death and dying too. 

We hope that the Creative Dying Card Game can be a low-stakes, accessible way to become more comfortable with these conversations, and to practice acknowledging our shared mortality. The game is a tool to support folks in having conversations around death – not only to address the practical aspects of illness and dying, but also to help us consider how we really want to use this precious time that we have. 

What can players of the Creative Dying Card Game expect out of the experience of playing?

Meg: Playing the Creative Dying Card Game is truly a new adventure each time! We designed the game so that each person or group can create an experience that’s right for them. There are six different game play modes offered which can each be played in-person or virtually. The game starts with reading the Code of Conduct, then each player is invited to reflect on and share their reason for playing the game. After that, players take turns drawing cards and answering question prompts. 

During our play testing sessions, one person said “I earned my vulnerability card. I got to express difficult experiences and emotions in a safe space. I got to learn things about my partner’s inner (and outer) experience.” This is really what we hope for with the game – to facilitate a safe space to have vulnerable, authentic conversations about life and death. There have been tears and big laughs playing, and we hope the game can create a container where all of this is welcome. And at the end of the game, gameplay closes with each player sharing a word or phrase about how they feel after playing. 

Many of your games are conversational—they encourage players to talk with each other in new ways. What types of conversations do you hope to inspire in your players?

Ryan: We live in a society that asks demands we stuff aspects of ourselves down. To keep these parts neatly hidden and out of sight, only to be felt & expressed in solitude. My hope is that our games give us the opportunity to practice holding space for one another, allowing our whole selves to be witnessed, welcomed, and perhaps even celebrated.

We hope to inspire honest reflection of what is true, or was true, for us through non-judgemental exploration. We also want to offer a space for collective visioning of how we want to be & what we want to co-create. We are inviting players to share vulnerably and truthfully. And in turn, to listen with curiosity and compassion. These are no small asks, but when we open to those around us, magic surely follows. 

Casey: I think one of the best quotes we’ve gotten from players was at Meaningful Play in 2018, where we won the “People’s Choice” Award for Fellowship of Fools: The (Friendship) Game. A player said, “Wow… you made a party game for introverts…” Which for me is pretty much one of my favorite reviews. Another person said that they played it with their siblings (as adults) and learned things about them that they never would have known. That to me is really powerful. Getting people to open up and really talk to one another in meaningful and vulnerable ways is key.

Players playtesting an Affinity Games game. The table is covered with cards and boxes. Two players shake hands.
Fellowship of Fools: The (Friendship) Game

Figgins: We phrase the questions in our conversation games purposefully to encourage open-ended conversations. They can never be answered with a simple yes or no answer, and usually start with who, what, where, when, why, or describe rather than have or do. We want players to share their experiences and preferences, to consider their possible choices and actions, to bounce views off each other, and discover and share their boundaries. Some gameplay modes focus on finding agreement, on co-creating the imagined adventure players are going on through conversation, such as going on a retreat together in FoF: Friendship, or imagining a date in FoF: Romance, or a scene in FoF: Kink. It’s also about experiencing conversation as a cooperative activity in itself, of sharing our stories and personal information, and giving and receiving feedback. In conversation we can find our similarities and our differences and in doing so can become more aware of our own views and expand our understanding of one another. Personal storytelling is very important for this. Many of the prompts in Fellowship of Fools and Creative Dying ask players to tell stories about themselves, this gives players an opportunity to perceive others in the context of their own life stories as opposed to abstractly or categorically. The differences of the structural conditions of our lives and the embodied experiences we have are dramatized in these stories, and so too are our similarities. We gain a heightened awareness of our contrasting lives and our jointly humanizing consciousness. We like to think it promotes player fellowship, a spirit of comradeship, or friendliness, that we wish to see in more games. 

What’s the best case scenario that you wish for each person who plays your games? What types of conversations or actions do you hope they will carry with them?

Ryan: Best case scenario: everyone walks away feeling more connected to themselves and each other. That everyone received exactly what they needed at that moment in time – and what we need at any given time may come as a complete surprise! And hopefully walking away a bit lighter than when they started.

We hope that players will have honest conversations about meaningful aspects of their lives, and that that will in turn prompt them to take meaningful actions based on those conversations. This could look like many things since our conversation games now include over 800 prompts. For The Creative Dying Card Game for instance, this could look like creating an advanced directive, sharing/receiving end-of-life wishes with loved ones, or carrying with them the confidence to include & encourage these types of conversations in more spaces they occupy. Fellowship of Fools, The (Friendship) Game could even be workplace-friendly (please be aware of & sensitive to existing levels of privilege, power, and trust – play is always voluntary but if a power imbalance exists then giving/receiving true consent may not be possible).

Where do you hope Affinity Games will go in the future?

Figgins: We know that this collective is subject to the winds and storms of our lives, and at times interest in or ability to collaborate will wax and wane. We hope that those involved feel a personal and group level of shared purpose, fulfillment and achievement for the projects they choose to be a part of while they are in the collective. We hope that through the collective, more folks discover game development and see the various possibilities of the medium. We want to keep making games that help players learn, grow, connect and contribute more belonging in the world. We hope to connect with other like-minded game developers that are doing similar work as well, to collaborate on projects and write about the work we are making to inspire others to make games that explore player affinities. 

Casey: I think we also want to make sure that we are encouraging people to shape changes in the world around them. Games are never JUST games. They shape us and we shape them. Making games that encourage people to take action in their local worlds/spaces is a real hope for Affinity Games.

Can you tell us about any future projects in the works?

Figgins: Currently we’ve been pretty focused on making edits and playtesting The Transition Year, but we’ve also started working on another deck of Fellowship of Fools that is focused on family and kinship, and hope to later work on a deck focused on community. We haven’t chosen another project outside of that yet to focus on, but we can share some of the topics and themes we are looking to explore and we hope others will as well. Topics we want to explore more together are: masculinity, queerness, addiction and recovery, intentional communities, friendship, community building, education, psychedelics and psychedelic assisted therapy, more solarpunk themes and settings, tenant union organizing, finding political affinity and building affinity groups with games that lead to direct action and/or mutual aid.

Where do you hope we as humans will go in the future? What are your dream(s) for us?

Meg: First, we need to honor the wisdom and dignity in all beings – especially those who continue to experience marginalization. I hope we can reorganize societies so that a lot more of our lives are decentralized. Smaller communities with more food sovereignty, more community healing practices and rituals, more rest and pleasure. I dream that we recognize and center different “ways of knowing”, that we value the knowledge/experiences of indigenous people, people of color, trans people, differently abled people, queer people, non-monogamous people… We need to get outside of white, capitalist, cisgender, ableist, heteronormative, compulsorily monogamous scripts. Our games are helping move in this direction by intentionally facilitating conversations about tough topics that are important for our expansion and evolution. Our games offer opportunities to get to know ourselves and each other better. I hope they will continue to create safe spaces to explore and grow authentically together. 

Ryan: I hope we recognize and live in the abundance that is already here and available. That we truly repair the horrendous wounds inflicted on humans, the earth, and all living beings. That reparations are made and we live in reciprocity with each other, our planet, and all living beings. That we learn from, heal from, and evolve beyond the conditions/systems/beliefs that oppress, create anxiety, depression, addiction, suicide, etc., living in the abundant love we are created from. That we are able to all live in the way our soul(s) yearn for.

Figgins: I think part of why we are drawn to solarpunk settings and themes is it has an affinity to the kinds of worlds we want to live in, one where we have more power to shape our lives and that which we share for a broader and improved well-being. It can feel so hard or even impossible for us to change our lives and for groups or people or even humanity as a whole to work together to address the big issues we are facing. We want a world where decision-making is more decentralized, people are more empowered, where we move beyond the patterns of and need for domination, oppression and exploitation, where we are caretakers or stewards of this planet and each other. Honoring and learning from our differences, building personal autonomy and social solidarity in our communities, human-scale decentralized systems that meet our needs rather than seek profit. There are existing ingredients of this already in our society–worker cooperatives, gift and exchange networks, popular assemblies, commons management, renewable energy, natural building, indigenous ways of knowing, restorative and transformative justice, transition towns, ecovillages and intentional communities, mutual aid networks, and much more–and we hope to promote those in our work and see them flourish more broadly. 

Casey: Change is a slog. But change happens regardless, so rather than just floating with it, we have to shape change. Yes, I’m riffing on Octavia Butler here, but if you just try to “get by,” change is going to happen without your input. I want to help shape a world where it isn’t just the loudest, richest and most powerful or violent that get the most opportunity to shape change. By getting people to see their positionality as well as that of others and to talk deeply about those things I hope we can begin to live differently together. But not just “see” one another but to live well together. That does mean that certain things will have to be rejected so that we can live well together. We have to work together. Late stage capitalism, mono/heteronormativity, and bigotry are not going to let go without trying to drag everyone and everything to hell with them. But if we live, work, love, talk, laugh, dance and play together maybe enough folks can come together to shape change for the better.

Michael: I think that the events of the pandemic showed folks that a significant portion of human activity under capitalism serves no purpose other than to keep us occupied and alienated from one another. We’re currently seeing a mass reevaluation of workers’ relationship with labor, respectability, and each other. I want to see everyone keep thinking along those lines and become extremely discerning about how they spend their time and what they consider valuable. I really want the average person to ask themself, “If scarcity is fake, and value is arbitrary, what actually matters and how can I contribute? How much of my time can I reclaim? Is anyone else thinking about this?” And we all know that everyone is thinking about this stuff. There’s such a demand for these thoughts that our entertainment is saturated with it (see: any recent election, Watchmen, Parasite, Squid Game, etc). But the next step is to actually take the idea of meaningful change seriously, instead of as just entertainment – and for that, folks need to have conversations with other people. That’s the connection art collectives like us are attempting to facilitate.


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