When the game Monopoly was originally designed in 1903, its end goal was not driving other players to bankruptcy, but to encourage players to cooperate, paying rent into a common pot and achieving a happier shared prosperity. But when the game was patented and sold to Parker Brothers in the 1930s, its economic lesson changed. Since then it has been seen as the ultimate capitalist game, encouraging the accumulation of capital, the acquisition of private property and driving your competitors to financial ruin. Now a small worker-owned cooperative in Massachusetts is bringing back the game’s original socialist philosophy with their new board game Co-opoly: The Game of Cooperatives.
Founded in 2010 by Brian Van Slyke in his last year of college, Toolbox for Education and Social Action (TESA) specializes in developing education resources for social and economic justice, like games, online courses and kits. Van Slyke has been joined by three other worker-owners, Andrew Stachiw, David Morgan and Taliesin Nyala. “We developed the board game Co-opoly as a fun and interactive way for participants to learn what it’s like to be part of a coop,” says Nyala.
Instead of being a top hat or a race car, players are given characters, perhaps a single parent, a college student or a recent immigrant. Then they must collaborate to found and run a democratic cooperative business, dealing with problems and making the most of opportunities. To succeed, players must cooperate, and in the end they all win or lose together. Educational games with no individual winner might have a reputation for being worthily dull, but Co-opoly is a real party game, full of excitement – and challenges – with mini-games based on charades, drawing and word guessing to keep things lively.
Nyala explains that as well as teaching about cooperatives, Co-opoly’s production also exemplifies principles of cooperation and fair trade. “As much as possible, we try to use local businesses,” she says. “For example, many components of Co-opoly were printed by Collective Copies, a cooperative based here in Western Massachusetts.” To avoid using materials made in exploitative conditions, she says, “we’ve had to develop a new kind of supply chain, as one didn’t exist to manufacture a game like Co-opoly.”
TESA’s mission is to make all aspects of our lives more just and democratic through the use of participatory education, creating imaginative and experiential resources that transform the way people think, learn, teach, work, and act. TESA believes that the way you teach people influences how they behave, and that a big problem with many social justice movements is their use of traditional hierarchical teaching methods. “How can the people you’re teaching about democratic workplaces, for example, practice democracy if they haven’t had experience with it yet?” asks Nyala. “What we do is give participants the chance to see democracy in action so that when they go out and join social justice movements they’ve already practiced the values they’re espousing.”
“We have seen that this has a dramatic impact on how all of these people interact, communicate, and treat one another in the cooperative movement, which is very exciting,” she continues. Apart from Co-opoly, which is available to buy online for a sliding scale price (pay what you can afford), TESA has also designed Cultivate.Coop, an online hub for sharing knowledge and resources on cooperatives and a place to practice cooperation and build educational tools for the coop community. In collaboration with partners, they have also created curricula for cooperative academies that teach participants how to start and run their own coops, and worked with organizations focused on subjects ranging from immigrant rights and social movements to adult education.
Nyala says that the cooperative is currently launching TESA Academy, a series of online courses that will be taught using democratic and participatory methods, and in the future “we want to make more games for different movements, like the newest game we’ve created and are about to release, Loud & Proud, a fast-paced, social-justice trivia card game.”