Social Justice Board Games

Rise-Up, Monopoly, and Co-opoly: What did you learn playing board games?

Games are pedagogical. They teach us lessons. These lessons are intentional. Fun is not always neutral. There are board games that teach us about capitalism, private property, and the myth of meritocracy. For example, Parker Brothers Monopoly, which was appropriated from Lizzie Magie's The Landlord Game, or Hasbro's The Game of Life. Hasbro purchased Parker Brothers in 1991.

Normalizing empire, domination, and violence are three lessons Cold War weapon that was the board game Risk. The Hungry Hippo, well, that might just have been about a hungry hippo. Yet, all are based on the notion of competition – for urban property, food, land, and other resources.

These games reinforce the idea of scarcity and that it is a dog eats-dog world. The well-worn phrase is a negation or reversal of the proverb, "a dog does not eat the flesh of a dog." Let's reverse it back. Canine cannibalism is not a metaphor for survival. Perhaps inter-species cooperation might serve humanity better.

In honor of the actual origins of the game Monopoly, in Elizabeth Magie's invention in 1903 of the Landlord Game, check out these two social justice-themed board games: "Rise-Up" and "Co-opoly: The Game of Co-operatives."Both are the Toolbox for Education and Social Action (TESA) collective projects, with themes that offer other forms of play based on cooperation and solidarity rather than competition and supremacy.

As reported in this interview with Radixmedia, TESA "is loosely based in Western Massachusetts, with members also in Chicago and elsewhere. They specialize in creating tools and educational programs for social justice organizations and other people fighting for a better future."

"Rise Up is a board game about building people's power and winning together to create social justice—even when the cards are stacked against us. All players are on the same team, collaborating to build a movement and fight an opponent that is trying to crush your efforts. You'll have to strategize creatively about your movement's actions to win. Get inspired about the social change possible to make the world you want to live in, and learn tactical skills for how we can get there."

Co-opoly might be the vaccine to Monopoly's lessons of greed. "A game of skill and solidarity, where everyone wins – or everyone loses!

  • All players are on the same team and work together to start a cooperative business or organization and compete against the Point Bank.
  • Learn and practice skills needed to run a cooperative
  • Make tough choices and put your teamwork to the test

Designed for families and friends who want to play together instead of competing against each other, and groups thinking about starting a cooperative or improving skills as collaborators."

After the election of Donald J. Trump, the TESA collective decided to engage the growing momentum of right-wing extremism in the US. They created "Space Cats Fight Fascism."

"We wanted to address the rise of proto-fascism, right-wing extremism, and white nationalism in this country. But a game about that sounded… overwhelming. So, we started to discuss setting it in a fun, allegorical setting. Until finally, I said in a meeting sarcastically, "What, so like cats, in space, fighting fascism?" And everyone else was like, "Yes! That!" And so Space Cats Fight Fascism was born."

TESA has also "worked with other organizations like The Nature Conservancy to build games for their causes, as well as the International Rescue Committee to build training and curriculum for their vitally important work."

Creating a world of cooperation, respect and mutuality must be learned. The TESA games "encourage people to engage with topics in low-stakes settings while building lasting memories and connections to important subjects."