Unsettling Settlers: Intervention game by Golboo Amani
Game played November 4th 2022.
Games are one of the oldest leisure activities with artifacts dating as far back as 7,000 years. As ready-made sites of peer-produced aesthetic experiences, games are imbued with a competitive/cooperative intention, designed to develop skills and strategies through social engagement. They often serve as a tool of social pedagogy and performance analysis. Games offer spaces to experiment and practice taking risks, cutting losses, and developing strategies with less at stake than in real life. They offer a landscape for particular kinds of performativity; calling on us to maneuver in an imagined field, invested as both creator and audience. Yet, proficiency and success require players to adopt the presupposed conditions of the game, begging the question: What skills are we refining when we play by the rules?
Unsettling Settlers: Intervention game is a collective response to the popular board game Settlers of Catan (re-named CATAN). By appropriating the format of a CATAN “expansion pack”, the artist facilitated the development of Unsettling Settlers: Intervention game by utilizing social practice methodologies focused on collective research and co-creation. Inspired by open-source frameworks prioritizing free access, co-authorship, and ongoing development through community contributions, the process of creating Unsettling Settlers: Intervention game included over two years of play test sessions and consultations with hundreds of community members. Unsettling Settlers: Intervention game aims to carve out a space where participants get to choose their own adventure, practice strategies, experiment with critical alternatives and engage in counter-hegemonic narratives of settlement. The intervention is designed to disrupt our expectations and question the impact of our strategies.
Photo by: Sarah Piché
On Friday November 4th, EAHR hosted our first ever game night! The event was centered around Golboo Amani’s Unsettling Settlers: Intervention game.The night was a success, with students and staff from various faculties attending. It served as a bonding experience between Concordia’s many departments, as well as a space to reflect on how colonialism and imperialism are embedded in modern culture of play and competition. The artist’s game expands the gameplay by separating the players into allies and settlers, changing the rules, and adding ally resources and actions. The special actions could only be accomplished by the allies working collaboratively, these actions included interventions such as roadblocks, treaties and land reclamation. As a whole, the Amani’s artist game seeks to remove power from the settlers and encourage teamwork within the group as a whole.
In our discussions, we have noticed that Unsettling Settlers: Intervention game is designed to drastically change the goal of Catan. As those who are familiar with the game may already know, Catan is won by collecting ten victory points through the accumulation (read: hoarding) of resources that allow a player to expand their territory and build new cities. This, in turn, creates a very competitive setting where sabotage and greediness is encouraged and necessary to win the game. With Unsettling Settlers: Intervention game, there is an emphasis on trade and cooperation in order to achieve success. The addition of the allies shows the baffling difference between competition and cooperation, juxtaposing the vastly different approaches to gameplay. The allies are obliged to- and find joy in-- working together and sharing their collected resources to accumulate points acquired through special actions. This encouragement to co-exist rather than compete is our first primary takeaway. The result of this is the introduction to a different way of thinking about game strategy. The second primary takeaway of the game-play is it is much more fun to play as the allies; with the chance to talk amongst ourselves and plan together it feels less isolated than being a settler.
Speaking of isolation, there is also a noticeable difference in the dialogue between settlers and that of the allies. An ally needs to speak with their teammate to coordinate moves and strategy. On the opposite end, settlers tend to keep their strategy a secret for leverage so other players do not get in the way of their expansion plans. We noticed how easy it was for Allies to share compared to the Settler counterparts. This is true for information, ideas, and resources. This discrepancy is most apparent when confronted with a crisis (one of the tools introduced in the expansion pack). The crisis cards can be picked by either settlers or allies and affect the player who picked it up, preventing them from picking up resources. In order to resolve a crisis you need to spend both ally and settler resources (the resources from the original game). When an ally received a crisis card it was all hands on deck, with everyone happily giving the resources to help out their teammate. In comparison, a settler was more-or-less left to the wolves. Because they could only find the resources they needed through trade, or sheer luck, it took them a lot longer to resolve a crisis. In comparison, an ally could rectify their crisis almost immediately, thanks to the collaborative nature of their group. .
Unsettling Setters: Intervention circulates as both an artist multiple and as an interactive event. Players work through strategies of allyship by trading and collecting renewable resources, resisting unregulated development, building treaties, and reclaiming land on the existing landscape of Catan. The artist-multiple, while providing collectors and gamers with a personal version of the game, reiterates the intentions behind the game to unsettle our expectations as artist settlers by redirecting proceeds made through sales to Indigenous communities and organizations.