A game about questioning ‘the rules’ in order to play better together.
Designed with & for the neighborhood of Bospolder-Tussendijken in Rotterdam, NL
Overruled is a wooden-block board game that urges neighborhood residents, social initiative leaders, and city government workers of BoTu to question the rules of their respective groups and design a new set of rules for collaborating (“playing together”) in future projects for the well-being of the neighborhood. The root design-query being, how can we bridge the gap between the ‘system world’ and the ‘live world’, in this case, through play?
Overruled is a collaboration between Narmina Mammadova, Martijn Kraan, Luuk van Loon, Joel Kouthoofd, and myself.
Delfshaven Cooperatie challenged the 4th-year Gamification class at Willem de Kooning Academy to create a relevant game for the neighborhood of BoTu. After months of play-testing with locals and iterating our prototype (which was inspired by the game Talo), we arrived at Overruled.
The initial concept for the game was inspired by The Simple Sabotage Manual, a list of comically subversive rules written by the CIA for spies to disrupt foreign bureaucracy during WWII. Many of these principles that were specifically designed to hinder organizations evoke cringey laughter as we realize many organizations actually operate this way today. Overruled invites players to reflect on the rules they choose (not) to follow.
The game-play begins with an interactive tutorial that guides the five players through the basic rules of the building game and begins to establish an inequality among them. New absurd rules are added every two minutes, often contradicting existing rules, and rendering the game so ‘regulated’ that it becomes nearly unplayable.
The game is intended for groups of people who are already working on a project together in real life, to then play the game to bring their group dynamics and attitudes towards rules into the light. Players must eventually decide how to approach the rules by choosing which to treat as fixed and which to treat as flexible. After thirty minutes of game-play, there is a reflection about new ways to collaborate. In this case, the game becomes a metaphor for a shared real-life situation between the players and acts as a tool to re-frame real challenges and start new discussions.
In order to ensure our game would be relevant to the neighborhood of Bospolder-Tussendijken, the first two months of the design process were used to build relationships with the social organizations in the neighborhood. We visited them to learn about their values, goals, struggles, and needs. In the end, their presence in the game-play would be essential to our client’s initial request to involve the city government, the social initiatives, and the residents of the neighborhood. Our presence at the Vrouwenvleugel social initiative also helped us have a “presence” in the neighborhood and connect with residents through rigorous play-testing and co-creative prototyping.
Read Narmina and I's article on Beyond Social in which we philosophize about rules, play, and society from the social design perspective.