Hire Ground was an experiential live action role play (LARP) style game to demonstrate social risk in real-time. The game was developed for Rasmus Heltberg (Program Manager, Trust Fund for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development at The World Bank Group) and managed by Pablo Suarez and Janot Mendler de Suarez.
Design Challenge: Design a game for up to 40 people that will leave them with an intuitive sense of social exclusion and its ramifications on communities as they deal with extreme environmental stresses.
Proposed Game Concept: Embody the working poor in a nation rife with tribal and societal conflict, and vie for a limited number of better jobs with other players. Work your way up enough, and you may have the chance to run for president. Natural hazards and events are setbacks, but not to worry, other players may help out in a time of need. Will help be available or will the endemic tribal conflict, sexual exclusion, and battling political parties be your downfall?
Game Play: Each player is assigned an identity in the beginning of the game. This identity consists of the gender, an ethnicity, and a political party. Each turn, every player collects returns on their crops or small business, experiences the impact of the events which may harm or benefit them disproportionately based on their identity, and finally pays for education if they can afford it and pays to subsist. If a player does not have enough to subside that turn, they must ask for help.
The facilitator then hands the player two different cards with simple symbols. The facilitator explains that if the player has certain similarities to the player helping them, they give them one of the cards but if they have certain differences they give the helping player the other card. Invariably, some players who have experienced shocks less severely and thus have money to spare will help out their fellow player and cards are exchanged. It is only when players have gained a new job advance to a higher level do they learn that one kind of card is positive and the other negative.
At the end of the round, a new job opportunity in the form of a card is drawn. The facilitator will check the job card against the players’ identity. If they match, they get the job, which entails better pay and a seat at a more advanced table. These new jobs have more information about how the game works, including who is privileged over and the ramifications of helping similar or different you.
The game progresses through several rounds until one player has achieved enough “prestige points” to run for president. The facilitator collects votes, and then checks the player’s identity card. A player may only win if they are part of the correct political party, tribe, and sex; otherwise the facilitator deliberately rigs the election. The election marks the end of the game and the beginning of the discussion.
Insights Behind the Design
We designed a system that forces players to reach out to each other for help. As players understand that giving or receiving help to the wrong groups, they start to exclude certain groups. Players who cannot cope with the natural hazards are moved to a refugee table, at which they either have to receive help from another player, or are doomed to gradually waste away. Even players who invest in a whole lot of education may be denied the upper levels of jobs, and therefore cannot help the other players with similar stats. The social exclusion of the jobs, doubled with the emergent social exclusion of the social insurance net, assures that some players may never get ahead in the system. This is the moment in which players will learn the full ramifications of social exclusion.