As Common In, artists and participants travel across Amsterdam, Winne van Woerden travels along. She is observer-participant and documents and reflect on the activities and art practices. This time: Liquid Dependencies, a life simulation game where participants explore a caring society together. Five sessions of five hours in total, here you can find the ‘residential reports’ of the sessions on 8 May and 22 May .
Pictures by Samuel White Evans.
The final session of Liquid Dependencies takes place on June 19th at Framer Framed. Want to join?
What would a society based on caring mutual relationships beyond traditional family structures look like? What would it mean to live in a decentralized caring economy in which community-centered and collaborative acts are prioritized and encouraged rather than individual, self-centered ones? Liquid Dependencies is a life simulation game in which players experiment with new forms of care and collectivity.
As part of Common In, Liquid Dependencies is taking place five Sundays in a row (see the calendar for the exact dates). At each game session there are several trained hosts present, who are there to help the participants navigate through the five-hour long session. I was one of them. In this blog, I will take you with me on my ‘Hosting Liquid Dependencies’ journey and tell you a bit more about the vision and ideas behind Liquid Dependencies.
Welcome to the ReUnion Society
Even though our ability to form and sustain mutual, caring relationships is crucial for human wellbeing and for the reproduction of societies at large, there is little room in our contemporary societies to develop the skills to do so. In capitalist societies where the logic of growth triumphs, the room to care is minimalised. How can we reverse this? The life simulation game Liquid Dependencies takes up this endeavor by creating a space where players can explore in real life how to behave, relate and cooperate in a social system that puts long-term mutual caring relationships at its core.
At the beginning of each LD game, players are welcomed by the hosts located in the Travel Agency to what is known as the ‘Reunion Society’. For the next five hours the players will all be residents of this ReUnion Society. The Travel Agent asks all players to pick a gender, draw a Character Card, pick up their Skill Cards and fill in a ‘Life Status Board’ based on their characters’ characteristics. This Life Status Board has five components on it: Safety net, Personal Wellbeing, Relational health, Available time and Stability. As the Travel Agent explains, these attributes should be understood as aspects of one’s life necessary for ‘sustainable living’. Throughout the game, players can gain and lose points for every component. Before starting the game, all players are asked to introduce themselves within their character to the rest of the residents within the Reunion Society.
The game is divided into 4-6 rounds of each 10 minutes long. Since each round equals 5 years in game time, a full game corresponds to 20-30 years of time. Each game round begins with a Societal Event that has happened to society at large and a Personal Event that has happened to each individual player. The Societal Event is announced by the host located in the Newsroom. Possible Societal Events include ‘The Universal Basic Income Bill is passed’, ‘Train technology is improved and trains drive more frequent and faster’ and ‘Massive improvements are made to psychosocial care’. Individual Events on the other hand may include ‘You have fallen critically ill’ or ‘Your landlord is trying to terminate your lease’.
After the announcement of the events, time starts running. All players shall have to contemplate how the events is effecting their ability to care for themselves and their social and natural surrounding, and thus their ability to sustain themselves. As time passes, some players find they quite easily form a caring relationship with other residents in the ReUnion society, while others have some more difficulty with this. As hosts, we are trained to constantly bring the player’s attention to the relationship between the well-being within oneself, the well-being of a relationship and the well-being of society at large.
Building long-term mutual caring relationships
When players feel like they have formed a long-term mutual caring relationship with some other resident in the ReUnion society, they are encouraged to register this relationship at the host occupying the Relationship Service. The Relationship Service reflects with the players on the nature of their caring relations: how did it come about, why do you think it will last on the long-term, what is the mutual aspect of it, meaning in what may do the partners mutually need each other, even if their needs are different based on the character’s situation?
The Relationship Service host also explains to the players that the ReUnion society uniquely validates relationships that go beyond traditional caring relations. Specifically, the Service does not support immediate family members and blood-related kinships, marital relationships, employment relationships, or relationships based on the exchange of benefits or one-way dependencies.
The reason for this is because those kind of relationships already have their own welfare institutions in our contemporary society or don’t fit the mutually caring criteria. And because in earlier editions of the game, people would turn to these more ‘traditional’ types of relationships, illustrating their cultural dominance. During the game, players can get into three different stages within each relationship, and they can also build more than one long-term, committed caring relationship.
Each game round, players will have to decide which direction to go with this, since caring– like in real life – always requires a time investment and – like in real life – you only have a limited amount of time.
A different monetary system
Within the ReUnion society, getting access to services and goods is not acquired through financial transactions only. Besides using ‘Financial Tokens’ that represent a monetary value, the game works with ‘Mutual Coins’. All players are given two Personal Tokens at the beginning of each round on an unconditional basis. This is a crucial aspect of the game, since these Personal Tokens represent the unique value that each individual contributes to maintaining the ReUnion society by taking care of themselves and the people around them. Mutual Coins consist of two ‘Personal Tokens’ of two different players.
When players get into a registered relationship that is validated by the Relationship Service, they share a part of themselves with another person, which is represented by the mutual coin. The design of the Mutual Coins emphasizes both the irreplaceable and the active nature of the individual in the relationship, as well as the relational nature of the economy of care.
Its interesting to notice that due to this monetary system in which Mutual Coins take a prominent place, most players tend to opt for non-consumerist ways to improve their Life Status and acquire services and goods at the Community Market.
The role of the Market in a care-centered society
The Community Market is the service point in the Reunion Society where players can use Financial Coins or Mutual Coins to change their Life Status Balance by purchasing Services and Goods. Players can also earn Financial Coins through offering Services at the Market, if their character possesses the right skills, or they can learn a skill through the Market which could then lead to them offering a Service to the rest of the society. There are Services and Goods that can be bought only with Financial Coins or with Mutual Coins, depending on their nature.
Players can, for example, purchase a ‘Fitness Center Membership’ (raising their Personal Wellbeing with +1), ‘Financial Consulting’ (raising their stability with +1) which can both be paid with Financial Coins. However they can also purchase ‘Relationship Therapy’ or ‘Buy a Boot Together’, which both need to be paid with Mutual Coins since they concern a relationship’s wellbeing rather than individual wellbeing only. Players thus need to have a deliberate discussion with their partner prior to buying such relational goods and services. In this way, people experience how their previous time investment in building long-term caring relations has an impact on the decisions they need to make during their life and ultimately, affects the course their life is staking.
A game with no winners and losers
Liquid Dependencies has a very strict timing. Each playing round lasts only 10 minutes and no less. The idea of this that players are constantly remined about time as a limitation factor to build lasting, sustainable caring relationships. After the end of the last round, there is a collective reflection round where there is a room to discuss with each other how all players experienced this pressure of time within trying to build and register long-term caring relationships.
There is no clear “winner” of Liquid Dependencies because everyone has their unique ideal life experiences. There is no wrong or right way to play the game, since there is no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ way to live. A higher score of certain attributes at the Life Score Card could mean that a player is doing well from their own perspective, but the ReUnion society at large does not have any judgement about this. Indeed, one the core objectives of Liquid Dependencies is making players aware of the diversity in what constitutes a meaningful life.
Yet, once a player’s Life Status Card has a value of zero at the end of the round of the game, he or she will have to exit the game, as they are understood as “unable to live in a socially sustainable life”. When this happens, the Life Status of the player with whom they are registered in a relationship is also affected: -1 to personal wellbeing due to grief and -1 to Safety net due to the loss of a reliable person. In this way, players are, again, encouraged to move from an individualistic to a relations-oriented understanding of society.
The game does end with an hour long reflection round where players are getting out of the game and are asked to reflect on their characters’ life as well as to express their views on the characteristics of their society.
As for my own reflection, I look back at Liquid Dependencies as a game that is both highly complex and very basic at the same time. It is basic since it is centered around our foundational human needs, for community, for reciprocity and for care. At the other hand, it is highly complex since most people are used to live in a society that is not centered around meeting those needs but instead centered around an increase in wealth and status at individual level, and higher production and consumption levels leading to unfettered economic growth at societal level. Unlearning this way of living is not something you do in one Sunday afternoon.
Yet, experiencing how living in a society that forefronts collaborative and relational acts of care feels like, and expanding our imagination about the possible long-term caring relationships we may have with the people surrounding us, is a radical act in itself. We know that the social and ecological transformation that we urgently need is not only a matter of technical change – it is profoundly about a cultural change. It concerns looking at human beings as cooperative, caring and social, not merely competitive, calculating and individualistic. It concerns asking ourselves: How are our ways of living related to the sustenance of the people and the natural world around us? What is of truly of importance for our wellbeing? Where in society is real value being created and how can we structurally support this? Liquid Dependencies for sure helps in findings answers to those questions, and in this way it is indeed part of our collective craft of the path towards a genuinely caring world.