M1 Patch! 2020: Play with…Power (Review)
The future of Singapore lies in your hands.
Co-organised and developed by The Theatre Practice (TTP) and Accommodate, the last of the 2020 M1 Patch! workshops ends with Play with…Power. In the online land-use simulation game, players roleplay as various civil servants, as they work together with their respective parent ministry to bid for land in order to decide how to develop it for the future of Singapore.
Hosted on both Discord and Zoom, Play with…Power deals with issues of land use and value, not unlike Drama Box’s The Lesson, in which participants voted for a site to be evicted. However in this case, that issue is considerably compounded thanks to the game’s rules and objectives. Resembling tabletop war games or a model United Nations, players are divided across five ministries, all working towards building a better Singapore. Over three rounds, ministries bid against each other for sites, deciding whether to conserve, demolish or upgrade them to improve prospects, from economy to welfare to defence. At the end of the three rounds (15 in-game years), based on a little bit of luck and strategy, hopefully, Singapore sees a net gain across all sectors.
While there is a scoreboard that indicates how much growth each sector has experienced, right from the outset, it becomes obvious that to ‘win’, one cannot play selfishly and think only of their own ministry’s growth, but consider co-operative play to ensure that one’s actions do not eradicate each other’s efforts. The concept may sound simple, but given that each ministry has their own private, respective cards only they may see, there is plenty of confusion during gameplay, as ministries doubt each other’s intentions, believing each one is only working in their own best interests.
To help out, ministries can not only strategise within themselves during allocated discussion time, but also swoop in to other ministries’ channels (via Discord) to make clear their own plans, and negotiate deals on what land to bid for and develop. While this is often a chaotic procedure, we noticed that when attempts to bridging communication gaps were made, the results were far smoother and less stressful for all during bidding, by internally ‘allocating’ land to ministries promising developments that would see an overall benefit.
With plots of land and developments from mangrove swamps to air bases, integrated resorts to migrant worker dormitories, throughout the game, facilitators also sprinkled in facts about their real life counterparts, such as the relocation of Dakota Crescent residents into Cassia Crescent. To further add to the realism of the setup, various ministries were also allocated differing amounts of ‘credits’ used to bid for land, loosely based on how the Budget was divided. Between each round, the in-game Singapore is also struck by random events (such as an economic crisis), and if one happens to have built the right structure, certain negative effects can be negated.
All in all, while it initially seemed like a lot to take in, with a little bit of practice and getting used to, Play with…Power became easier to understand, as well as the shuttling between Zoom, Discord and our game cards. Certainly, while we initially played competitively, it became increasingly clear that we would have to eventually set aside our desire to ‘win’ in order to help others along the way to ensure overall success, and that working together was really the only way to get by. For Accommodate, a group that was started with the realisation that sectors in Singapore often worked in silos and rarely experienced intersectional planning, Play with…Power certainly opens our eyes up to the importance of doing that. And for players themselves, at least for one Sunday afternoon, we spent it feeling like we had a little bit more say than usual in deciding our future, and perhaps, would learn to become more invested in the going-ons of this country.
Play with…Power ran on 2nd and 16th August 2020 on Zoom as part of the 2020 M1 Patch! A (Live) Theatre Festival of Play. For more information, visit their website here.
M1 Patch! A (Live) Theatre Festival of Play runs from 18th July to 30th August 2020. For more information and full list of programmes, visit their website here