Is it really just a family game?
Ever thought what it says about our society?
The incarnation of Mr. Monopoly, a ruthless real estate mogul, has become the president of the United States.
On one hand, our society teaches us to compete, to win at all costs, when we have barely learned how to tie our shoes. On the other, we are experiencing record levels of loneliness, depression, anxiety and tech addiction.
Do you think it’s a coincidence?
Because I don’t think we start our lives as competitive, selfish, rank-obsessed humans.
5-year-old Matteo didn’t care to be the best, and would rather not have been bullied for being good at school.
It took me a while, but in 2018 I finally decided to listen to my 5-year-old self, who kept telling me “Let’s make games. We can make the rules now. When we all win it’s more fun.” Actually, he would have said “Allora, inventiamo sti giochi o no?”
So I started a game design residency at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
My cunning plan: dig out games from the V&A Museum of Childhood and hack them with cooperative rules. As I was researching those vintage games, one in particular caught my attention. It was a game I played a lot as a kid.
Memory is considered an educational family game because it teaches kids recognition of matching forms and colours, to develop quick thinking. But I find the moral of the game quite problematic, and revealing of the underlying values of our age. Memory pits you against other players and encourages you to hoard cards, keep quiet and exploit the mistakes of your fellow humans.
I wanted to hack Memory into a cooperative game but didn’t know quite how yet.
She had struggled with dementia in her final years.
Since I can remember, she enjoyed telling us kids stories about people from her village.
👵🏼 Did I tell you about that time when the school examiner asked Batestín what’s the capital of Italy?
🧒🏼 Yes nonna he answered “Venice” and failed the exam…
👵🏼 Indeed haha, poor Batestín. He was the son of that lady from the other valley. And his uncle was…
It was always clear that those people were long gone, so we couldn’t know them personally, but she would make sure we had a full picture of their family trees.
Then we started noticing that she would recall those same people, but as if she met them recently, almost implying they were still around.
👵🏼 Do you remember Batestín?
🧔🏼 Nonna I think he died years before I was born.
👵🏼 Don’t think so. I saw him last year. He was drunk as usual, hobbling up the road.
Time became an increasingly malleable matter. Typical signposts like many years ago, a few weeks back or the other day had lost their conventional meaning when she told those stories.
If her memories were once tightly knitted together through the relentless weaving of stories and family trees, they became patchy and isolated.
📺 The US president Donald Trump announced today…
👵🏼 I know that nasty man on the TV. He comes from Mont [a nearby village]. Don’t trust him.
🧔🏼 I trust him not an inch nonna.
The meaning of relationships also started to melt. SISTER COUSIN and DAUGHTER became interchangeable.
In the end, she would cry for mamma when she wanted attention from my own mum, who was her only daughter and also her carer.
After the funeral I found myself scrolling through pictures of her, and landed on this one of nonna and I playing Memory together, just a few years ago.
💭 Ah, I have to make a game about this!
I grabbed blank cards and scribbled common family words like MUM DAD and BROTHER and verbs that evoke childhood activities like PLAY LEARN and TALK
Then I cut up sheets of tracing paper and covered them with the same words framed as questions.
But we are not competing with each other like in the original game. In this one all players work together to prevent memories from fading. How? By telling stories.
This is how it works. Each time you flip two cards, you say “I remember…” and share a memory which revolves around the words on those cards.
I called it Fading Memories because as soon as you share your story, it starts fading under layers of memory loss cards.
Once I had a rough prototype, it was time to invite friends, friends of friends, and even unsuspecting visitors, into the V&A Residency Studio to playtest the game.
That’s when the magic happens.
Fading Memories helps us connect and gives us permission to open up. Turn after turn, everyone gets a fair chance to be heard, and works together to build and maintain the collective memory.
When we share memories from our past, we realise “oh, you went through that too” and we understand we’re not so different after all. We’re no longer holding each other at a distance.
Imagine, would you talk to someone you literally just met about your childhood? Yet I’ve watched people do just that while playing Fading Memories and it was beautiful.
Next, we needed artwork! I’ve been working with Aimee my partner in life and crime, to develop the visual language for Fading Memories
We wondered how to represent common words like mum or dad, which have super specific meanings for every person. Aimee produced abstract splashes of vibrant colours to evoke the emotional layer of our memories, without prescribing any particular image.
We played around with many fancy fonts and they all looked slick, but also soulless. So I reluctantly tried my own handwriting. I still find it challenging to put myself in my work.
For me Fading Memories is one piece in a bigger puzzle.
If we’re going to tackle the urgent challenges of our age, like climate breakdown and massive inequality, then we need to learn how to cooperate. Rewriting a lifetime’s worth of competitive programming.
As humans we’ve survived up to this point because we’ve evolved to work together. And only recently we’ve been sold the story that we’re selfish, rational agents.
I don’t expect a single game to solve this, but I hope that playing it, sharing our memories, will challenge the stories that separate us.