BOARD GAME FOR POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT
IN COLLABORATION WITH MAUD FLAMAND & SOLINE BREDIN
Iceland has been fragmented by industries; Icelandic mythology was a way to explain and warn people of nature's powers. Today, man-made hazards create riskier possibilities towards irreversible damage to nature. The nations's cultural identity hurts as landscapes are radically modified, while some still believe that rocks are homes to 'huldulfolk' (hidden people). They, are often used by ecologists as alibis to prevent nature's degradation in minor political cases. When needed, mediums that communicate with them are called to act as negotiators between human development and old Icelandic belief systems. How can an update of huldulfolk folklore serve as a sarcastic and reflective tool for contesting nature and politics?
Could a game actually serve as a tool for gathering soft data, and act as a political intervention by sparking political engagement through empathetic roll-play and hopefully lead to new partnerships, referendums and policies?
Iceland has many natural hazards and they might be seen as "invisible"; they're difficult to prepare for and they're not really affecting the people.
The island experiences earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and extreme climate change; yet avalanches and soil erosion are the only natural hazards that kill people. One place in particular (Flateyri) has been subject to two devastating avalanches in the 1990's and (like other places in Iceland) has built giant blockers.
Beyond that, Aurora Borealis is electro-magnetic energy that is sent through out the galaxy from the sun and when it hits our atmosphere, it charges atoms too a point in which they glow. If strong enough, this force can be quite dangerous and knock-out electrical networks; Iceland's geo-location makes it more vulnerable to this energy.
The Deadliest Natural Hazard in Iceland
Flateyri, Iceland - Avalanche Blocker Top Images from Google
Above Flateyri, Iceland
Above Flateyri, Iceland
Icelandic politics are literally a groundbreaking, as for its birthplace (Thingvellir) that's not only considered as the first parliament in the world, but is located on the meeting point between tectonic plates that split Iceland in two; which followed an historic divide of the nation.
These days Iceland is still considered a political leader. This may be seen by online e-democracy activity on 'Your Priorities', which a former mayor used to get elected; a strong and supportive community of the 'Piratar', which was the historically first pirate party to get elected after a wave of corruption; an International Modern Media Institute that protects the citizens' freedom of information and is making Iceland into a safe haven for data.
Economically, Iceland may also be seen as a global example. Following the financial crisis of 2008, not only did Icelanders have to work two to three jobs, which showed that they're extremely hard-working, but after a long trial, Iceland was the only country in the world to sentence the responsible bankers for the crisis to jail. They showed even more of a progressive nature in 2014 when 'Auroracoin' (a national cryptocurrency and the first of its kind) was available for every citizen to claim; Auroracoin is still in its adoption phase by local merchants.
As a land filled with natural resources, Iceland gets most of its energy from underground geothermal activity. They actually have so much of it that they can sell the excess to other countries. If that's not enough, more drilling is planned for the future to support another valuable resource that is mined and processed in Iceland, aluminum; and its industry uses up 80% of the total energy produced.
Also, there is oil in the oceans north and east of Iceland; and drilling has already begun by a Chinese company 'CNOOC'. In fact, Iceland is in a good relationship with China, as it's the only country in Europe to do business with them.
Furthermore, if the Arctic keeps melting then new trade routes through the north of the planet would be made possible; and Iceland is right at the entrance to Atlantic markets of Europe and North America; so logically, Iceland will soon become a major player in the global trade system; and one giant harbor too.
The Birthplace of Parliament
Oddly enough, while Iceland is in the midst of a movement towards secularization and 0% of locals under 25 don't believe that god created the cosmos, around 30% of its citizens don't deny the possibility that mythological and folkloric 'huldufolk' (hidden people), elves, trolls and fairies that live in lava rocks, actually exist.
Interaction with these supernatural beings usually happens on construction sites when a certain rock has been removed and unexplainable events like machinery malfunction and extreme weather conditions occur. Mediums are then called to negotiate between the humans and the beings who are causing havoc.
In fact, an ecological activist group called 'Hraunavinir' or 'Friends of the Lava' often use hidden people as alibis to prevent nature's degradation in minor political disputes. This is the frustrating thing about supernatural beings, they only interfere with small industries, not showing their presence in the face larger issues like the aluminium smelters, oil drills by foreign companies and political corruption.
Furthermore, many of these lava rocks are protected by Icelandic law. In the 'Act on Cultural Persons', section 1, chapter 1, article 3, line 'f':"Antiquities according to this Act are... archaeological... plots of land, places, landmarks, places of interest and other places and landmarks related to customs, customs, folk religion or folklore".
We looked at how else are these super-natural beings effecting the population of Iceland, beyond the construction site and found that many home owners around the country have massive rocks in their yards and even roads that bend around them.
So we asked if huldufolk hold any relevance in the Icelandic political arena? Are they represented besides 'Friends of Lava' and mediums? How do myths, folklore and story-telling become an active political tool? And is Icelandic folklore being transformed from myth into method of persuasion?
In his book 'Adversarial Design', Carl Di Salvo approaches design as inquiry (to provide clarity to a complex situation through enabling action) and uses the means and forms of design to challenge beliefs and values. It is implicitly contestational and strives to question conventional approaches to political issues through making contestational objects or participatory practice with communities, it that can provide an inquiry into a political condition or issue; so adversarial design actually aims to create hegemony within political chaos.
We all read his words and it was at this time when Maud thought of the incredible idea to design a board game about Iceland!
Design by Playing in an Iterative Process
Designing a game, a simple and fun game, is no easy task, especially when dealing with so much content.
We started off with what we know as a simple game. Answering true or false questions to advance along a planned route to an end point.
The results showed that while there is good content, the flow is boring.
A whole new game, this version is based on belief systems, where the two radical sides of Iceland (hippies and yuppies) collide over control of the island's natural resources.
Two characters play along a planned route
Player-specific cards for different actions 'Corruption' and 'Corporation' for Yuppies
'Protest' and 'National Park' for Hippies
Other cards such as 'Policy', “Natural Hazards', and 'Magic' are for both players
The results showed that outcome of the game is too binary and that the scenario could be more realistic to be used as a discussion tool.
This new version blurs definitions as this game is not only a tool, but also a political intervention. It's based-on and inspired-by real-life events that together make up its unique scenario of a futuristic Iceland.
We thought to put huldufolk in a constant spotlight of macro-political engagement and design a board game where huldufolk are the deciding factor in whether development moves forward or not. A game that shows the possible influence of these beliefs and power structures within Iceland. We asked what if everyone could communicate with huldufolk? What if there was a tangible connection with them? What if they were a considered a rational part of society and weren't blamed for the unexplainable?
Three characters with three different goals
Same cards from V 1.0, only now there is a stack per player
'Trolling' card decreases 5% from a player's public opinion every turn
'Medium' card gets rid of huldufolk stone so construction may continue
Huldufolk represented as stones
Debates for an element of roll-play and conversation
Fact cards to help players in debating, and you can flip the fact in your favour
Board division to 36 areas – 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4... 6.6, random position by ordinary dice throw
Areas are for receiving cards / purchase and development / debates
The results showed that two of the characters needed to be merged, while public opinion needs to swing more radically, and an element of money should be added.
This version is the most important one, as it's the one which was played in Iceland with special guests from two political parties, faculty from the art academy of Iceland and a famous medium.
Two characters - Humanist VS Industrialist
Money tokens added; they're recieved at large upon starting a game and recieved one-by-one at the beginning of each turn
Debates and attacks have a public opinion element which fills up and drains out
'Cyber-Attack', 'Whistle Blower', and 'Censorship' cards added
Stefan Palsson, historian and member of the Left Green Movement, said that Icelanders love sarcasm and that the tone of the game should be even more sarcastic. He explained to us that our game is rather black and white and suggested that attack cards not be one sided. He also explained to us the different views of Icelanders regarding huldufolk matters and how the politics of energy work in Iceland.
Thorvaldur Thorvaldsson and Vésteinn Valgarðsson of the People's Front of Iceland, were positive about the game and suggested more variety of industries and the incorporation of the 'working class'.
Garðar Eyjólfsson and Bui from the product design department at the Art Academy of Iceland played the game with real heart and debated tremendously as they were really getting into their roles and even used the huldufolk as a speculative political tool.
Ragnhildur “Ragga” Jónsdóttir, medium that communicates and advocates for hidden beings and her game-developer son, Ace. Ragga allowed us to gain insight into the perspective of the protester, while her son solved for us the issue of the debate! He suggested 'Promise' or 'Contract' card; if the terms of the written promise or contract are broken, then a player would lose a significant amount of public opinion.