Exploring the Disciplinary Society With Game
“All play means something” (Huizinga, 1938)
The Project Intro:
This document illustrates a game based on the philosophical concept of ‘Disciplinary Society’ from Michel Foucault, aimed to encourage critical reflection on power and explore how rules are formed in society. This design is different from traditional board games, in which the player’s decisions are anticipated by the designer (Kline, et al., 2003). The player needs to participate in the content-making and form their own rules during the play, which helps them reflect on how authority is established in the ‘Disciplinary Society.’
Statement of Intent
"The judges of normality are present
everywhere. We are in the society of the
teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the
educator-judge, the social worker-judge; it
is on them that the universal reign of the
normative is based; and each individual,
wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his
aptitudes, his achievements."
- Michel Foucault
My intention is to use the game as a medium to explore and facilitate discussion about how behaviours and rules flow in the ‘Disciplinary Society’. The concept was invented by post-war French philosopher Michel Foucault, in which people’s action are defined by surveillance and closed environments and space (Deleuze, 1992). In such a delimited society, “the individual never ceases passing from one closed environment to another, each having its laws: first, the family; then the school (“you are no longer in your family”); then the barracks (“you are no longer at school”); then the factory” (Deleuze, 1992). In the ‘Disciplinary Society’, people’s actions always have one correct standard, and anything outside the ‘standard’ would be considered ‘wrong’. To ‘succeed’ in the ‘Disciplinary Society’, one must first work hard to ‘fit in.’ Fitting in is done by understanding what society expects from people in a specific space and time, and then acting in said manner. The few people at the ‘top’ of society will have the power to make the new ‘standards’ for others to follow.
Games can be considered one of the best mediums for people to experience an alternative society (Bogost, 2007). Delimited exposes the player to the ‘Disciplinary Society’ through play. It offers an opportunity for people experience how rules and power are established by society’s participants. The result is a critical discussion regarding our relationship with the past and present society. To achieve the intention of the design, the game itself provides freedom to the players to align the contents of the game with their life, allowing them to act and make decisions closer to who they are. In other words, the game lets its players decide what is ‘correct’ and who ‘wins’ based on the players’ backgrounds. This allows the game to be more inclusive to people with different cultural backgrounds and values, enabling them to discuss and matters of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in their own society.
I was first inspired by board games such as ‘The Game of Life’(1960) and ‘Snakes and Ladders: Climb to Emotional Maturity’(N/A), which use the combination of cards and a board to enable the player to engage with rules and society throughout their ‘life journey.’ However, unlike most boardgames with a clear winner at the end, I wanted Delimited to reflect that societies do not have ultimate ‘winners’ nor predictable ‘ends,’ just periods of time in which certain groups determine what is accepted or not. As a result, I have replaced the concept of a board showing a track, with a timer. The players keep playing until the time they have decided on, runs out.
The conversations between players are crucial because the game aims to provide a space for players to explore how rules and expectations form in a Disciplinary society. Therefore, I investigated games in which the mechanics encourage the dynamic of conversation. ‘Dixit’ (2008) and ‘Cards Against Humanity’(2009) inspired me with how they encourage players to share their thoughts to convince other players. It will be interesting to give the player more freedom to construct their ideas. Therefore, I plan to allow the player to write their idea down and discuss and convince other people in the game.
I was also inspired by Marshall McLuhan’s theory of ‘hot and cool media’ (McLuhan, 1964), in which hot media such as movies and games are ‘high definition’ because they are rich in sensory data. Cool media such as newspapers are ‘low definition’ because they provide less sensory data and demand more audience participation or ‘completion’. To enable more thinking in the game, I need to create a ‘cooler’ game that requests more brain participation from the player.
As a game that empowers people to learn, think and discuss, the aesthetic of Delimited has been designed to not be so vivid that it distracts people from playing critically. I was inspired by the monochrome colour scheme of the game ‘Inside’ (2018), which brings a dark and ‘dystopian’ feeling to the game and pushes the player to reflect critically on themselves or society during the play. The graphic style of Delimited is straightforward with few words, giving more space for the player to participate in the story.
Place the stack of Space Cards face down in the center of the table. Stack the Empty Action Cards next to the Space Cards, the Social Achievement Tokens next to the Action Cards followed by the timer.
Before the round starts, the players must agree on the length of play. This will be set on the timer at the start of the game.
Each player is given one whiteboard marker and 5 tokens to start with.
The players decide who will act as the ‘Authority’ for the first round. The Authority picks the Space Card they would like to start the game with and place it face down on the table. Only the Authority can know what space has been chosen.
The timer/game starts when the Authority places the Space Card face down on the table.
Each player must try to get as many Social Achievement Tokens as possible
By writing down socially accepted actions for the space they have guessed they are in. The players can attempt to convince other players whether the action card is appropriate, no matter how questionable. In larger groups, players can also work as a team, profoundly engaging with how government power and action are formed in the Disciplinary Society.
I tested my game with three players from different cultural backgrounds, and all of them found the game playful and engaging. Some of the positive feedback consisted of 1) The participants liking how they can define the time of each section, allowing them to play within their own ‘rhythm’. 2) The discussion section pushed people to convince other players about the action they wrote. Sometimes, the player had to come up with a good story, which was very funny and engaging, making it an attractive game. 3) Players from different cultural backgrounds also shared how space is defined differently in their culture, creating even further discussion about rules, society and cultures. The test also showed potential for improvement: 1) The original game plan did not have a time limit for the players to write Action Cards, the duration of thinking was frustrating. One test participant suggested a 10 second time limit for a more exciting experience and pushed people to think fast and act fast. 2) To implement the 10 second rule, the player suggested a penalty to be put in place, illustrating the real-world effects of losing credit when not fitting in at certain institutions. According to one of the participants, the earning and losing dynamic fit the theme well.
Overall, I am happy with my game design, as it successfully reaches my design goal, allowing its players to explore and discuss the Disciplinary Society in the form of a game. As a game designer, I tried to provide more freedom to the player by allowing them to create content and rules based on their knowledge and background. As a result, the game allows its players to form their own small society with its own rules. The player is deeply engaged with the game and becomes a witness and participant in establishing rules and expectations. The game works differently with different players, which is inclusive and unpredictable in every play. While the subject matter is serious, the game has ended up more playful than I thought it would.
However, I also realised there is much to improve in the future. Firstly, while making the game, I realised it would demand a lot of physical materials. I produced 20 tokens, which can only support a 2-minute game for three players. Moving the game to an online cooperation platform such as Figma or Miro would be a more sustainable alternative. Secondly, due to the freedom provided to the players, there is a high potential to raise problematic conversations during the game that targets minority groups.
Although I didn’t have this problem during the play test and several more rounds of gameplay, it is still a hidden danger for the players. I certainly don’t want to create a game that increases stereotypes or even a place for extremists to express their harmful thoughts. This problem is challenging due to the game dynamic, but it must be solved. As a person new to the game design area, with little experience playing tabletop games, I found it difficult to articulate and come up with ideas for game mechanics. In the future, I will try to learn more about game mechanics and apply them to my practice, making a better fit between topics and gameplay.