Experimental Production

Gaming for the Commons – Commonspoly

Commonspoly is a non-profit, open-source board game that encourages a culture of cooperation and questions the hegemonic, extractivist model of neoliberal privatisation. The game design principles draw on insights from commoning practices, encouraging players to pool their resources and act collectively rather than competing to accumulate goods. The challenge is to create a society where working together furthers the common good. Commonspoly works as an educational artefact supporting peer-learning and critical discussion about commons by collectively envisioning socio-economic systems based on collaboration, mutuality, and solidarity – rather than exploitation and extractivism. In the long term, the Gaming For The Commons – Commonspoly project aims to build a trans-local community network of stakeholders interested in critical discussion and education related to the topics of commons and socially sustainable economic models.

Commonspoly version 3, a 3D view of the box (image credits: Pep Domenech)

The first prototype of Commonspoly was created at the 17th ZEMOS98 festival in Seville in 2015, during a working session facilitated by Guillermo Zapata and with the participation of Vassilis Chryssos, Francisco Jurado, José Laulhé, Carmen Lozano, Rubén Martínez, Peter Matjašič, María G. Perulero, Virginia Benvenuti, Natxo Rodríguez, Igor Stokfisiewski, Menno Weijs, Carla Boserman and Mario Munera. The group decided to hack the popular board game Monopoly whose design principles prescribe land monopolisation, rent extraction and driving competing players to bankruptcy as a win strategy.

In contrast, Commonspoly invites players to collectively convert private spaces on the game board to public, and eventually into common holdings. It sets up a struggle between a Speculator – player character who wants to privatise everything at all costs – and the rest of the players, whose objective is to take assets into common ownership and fight against capitalist speculation. The game has four types of goods: environmental, urban, intangible or knowledge-based, and health or care-related – and cooperation is the only way to win. Commonspoly enables playful ways to mediate complex questions.

Focusing on urgently needed changes to existing social paradigms, politics and culture in relation to the commons, it celebrates what Adrienne Rich has called radical happiness: those moments of collective joy that bloom when a group of people share a common understanding of what it means to actively and truly participate in society. We can find radical happiness in an assembly, at a protest or at a party. It takes many forms, but there is always a common thread – people coming together and working as a group rather than as isolated individuals. Commonspoly feeds the players’ desire to cooperate and allows for free experimentation, discovery and learning around socio-economic questions that arise in real, everyday life.

Upon the collective creation of the first game prototype, the ZEMOS98 cooperative began coordinating and facilitating the development of the Commonspoly project. To encourage collaborative game development the game was made available for free, as a set of downloadable and editable files. The game is typically played in public sessions at cultural events where it engages diverse local communities, but it can also be purchased or downloaded for free in different languages as print-ready files and played privately.

New game versions created by players are then distributed under the Peer Production License and their creators are listed as authors, while ZEMOS98 stays listed only as the author of the game versions that they developed themselves. This peer-process ensures inclusion of diverse personal experiences of the commons and creates an open space for the development of a distributed authorship of the game. The emphasis on collective authorship is a key part of the Commonspoly project. The openness to ongoing re-negotiation is designed into the game, which then becomes a commoning artefact on its own. Through these playing formats and development strategies, Commonspoly has already reached people in 23 countries and was released in five different iterations and four different languages.

For instance, a Brazilian teacher adapted the game to the local context for her students; a UK-based Esperanto expert made a game translation. ZEMOS98 themselves has developed four game editions so far, with the latest one – the Commonspoly Green Edition – used in the CreaTures project. Initially, the Commonspoly gameplays within the CreaTures context were supposed to take place in-person in Seville, Spain. After the Covid-19 pandemic started, there was no possibility for physical game encounters and ZEMOS98 started experimenting with an online gameplay format (the first online game board prototype was released in June 2022).

To support game dissemination, ZEMOS98 initiated an international Commonspoly Network of socially engaged citizens interested in the game and its philosophy. A multidisciplinary team of social researchers and creatives were appointed as Ambassadors for the Network to support Commonspoly gameplays in various cities and countries.

Within the CreaTures project, ZEMOS98 organised a series of gameplays in cities across Europe to enable broad access to the project for different groups, including the scientific community and members of the public. These gameplays took place in Thessaloniki, Greece (July 2021), facilitated by Irene Kalemaki; in Helsinki, Finland (July and August), facilitated by Oula Rytkönen and Andrew Gryf Paterson; in Italy (September 2021), facilitated by Angela María Osorio Méndez; in Lisbon, Portugal (August and October 2021), facilitated by Sandrine Cristomo; and in Madrid, Spain (November 2021), facilitated by the Rosalia Gutiérrez.

All events were facilitated and thoroughly documented for CreaTures research purposes in order to look into the hidden transformative potential of such creative practices. The research work was led by the following questions:

  • How does the game help players to reflect on commons in real life?
  • How can the game stimulate cooperation?
  • Can the game create new relations and a ‘ripple effect’ that would grow in
  • the long-term, beyond the context of a single gameplay?
  • How does this effect travel through conversations and experiences that
  • people have after a gameplay?
  • What kind of relations does it foster?

The final Spanish gameplay concluded with an intense debate on the difference between public and commons, on the realism of a society of the commons and on the role of the state in the globalised world. The Commonspoly Ambassadors were active throughout the duration of the CreaTures project, collecting data from gameplays, improving facilitation skills, and documenting various game experiences and processes. The Ambassadors Network is still active and new games are being organised beyond the CreaTures context.

Commonspoly at the CreaTures Festival in Seville (image credit: Julio Albarrán).

Aside from the gameplays, the Commonspoly project was showcased at multiple cultural events, including the Gaming for the Commons Festival (online and in Seville, Spain; November 2020), the at FIBER 2021 festival (online; December 2021), and the CreaTures Festival (Seville, June – July 2022).

Commonspoly at the CreaTures Festival in Seville (image credit: Julio Albarrán).