Updated: Dec 18, 2019
Working is a speculative fiction oral history project about workers of the future.
I first meet Margaret Boggs at the Galesburg train station -- she’s wearing beige coveralls and carrying a sign that reads “Reporter” in well designed font. Underneath those letters the sign says “for The Party -- the #1 Business Game in the American Union”. Though she’s wearing work boots, Boggs’ demeanor is… polished.
Are you with Working?
Good, are you recording? Let’s start -- we’re walking this way.
...Okay. Give me one second….
[That sound is her picking up my bag and walking away.]
Um… Right behind you. So tell me about what you do. What’s your day to day like, from the moment you wake up?
My name is Margaret Boggs. I created and now maintain a popular experiential learning game for businesses called “The Party.”
The Party is a 2 hour contained experience business game.
It’s designed for any group struggling with conflict, avoidance, or indecision. We recommend that the group has a long standing relationship and a common goal.
Most of the groups that play are committees of some kind -- municipal or cooperative.
We’ve had families, even a few companies.
This game can only be played on location, at our set, a historic theater in Galesburg, Illinois.
In spite of the expense of distance travel, we serve hundreds of groups each year.
We claim partial responsibility for solving a number of financial, political, and logistical crises across the AU.
How did you ah, first get involved with the business game industry?
Sure. In the 20s, I worked for a corporate media company -- I started as a community moderator during The Horrors and worked my way up to game designer.
In the 30s I joined the IRL division of a union streaming service, focusing on real life gaming for public decision makers.
Those union games are all the same, so trite: it’s either the Minnesota Secession crisis or some biome trade agreement over and over and over again. Boring!
People are afraid to do anything new because they’re afraid of re-traumatizing everyone.
I've heard this game is loosely based on a particular piece of Soviet history.
Why not Stalin?
Is this a period that brings up something for you?
What drew you to make this particular business game?
I wanted to make something provocative.
Self actualization media is supposed to be about collective healing from collective trauma, but healing from trauma requires dealing with the truth!
We’re not all trying for collective good.
Humans are greedy and unkind and cowardly, even when we are trying for collective good.
We have to face that to make any kind of self actualization media that means anything at all. This is it.
[SOUND: Dropping my bag on the ground, sounds of doors opening.]
Welcome to the Orpheum Theater. It’s been open since 1916, with the exception of a brief closing during the worst of Illinois’ Horrors in the 2030s.
I bought it in 2038 for cheap. It took me 3 years to repair the beams over the stage to stop the roof from caving in. Even after I had made all of the repairs I had to get so many permits, before even finishing the endings’ scripts, producing the NPCs, buying the data on players.
The game play happens mostly near the movie screen -- the box and row seats up there are for effect. Testing all of the seats for asbestos -- just the seats -- cost $900,000.
Those are the 3 reasons no one wants to make real games anymore -- construction, permits, and tests.
What was it like when you finally opened?
We opened in 2043: for the first year, we got nobody.
Transit costs were gonna make experiential gaming dead, especially for decision intelligence, that’s what people kept saying. But here we are today.
The room is -- well, terrifying. It’s designed that way.
There are no windows, very little light, and the seats that are left, in the front, are either caved in completely or have grey foam oozing out of the covering. I can see why they needed to be tested.
Towards the end of his reign, Joseph Stalin, the ruthless and definitive authority of the Soviet Union, became lonely. He missed the camaraderie of his younger years, when he would get together with friends to drink, laugh, and watch films together.
So, he would rent out theaters and mandate all of his ‘friends’ -- the power
players of the Soviet political machine -- attend, to watch movies, laugh, and reminisce about old times.
Except, at this point in his political career, Stalin was a man to be afraid of -- he didn’t tolerate disagreement, but he also didn’t tolerate agreement.
He would demand that these political operatives get drunker and drunker, then ask them for their true opinions on the current climate of the Soviet state.
They would pander, lie, or admit their true feelings -- a sure fire way to end up in prison or executed.
This game is inspired by that moment in time.
The main antagonist of The Party, projected on the movie screen, somewhat resembles Stalin physically, but that's the only real historical component.
The rest is highly tailored to the individual player and group.
He makes vicious remarks based on players' personal and political histories.
He singles out the weakest members and invites them to betray the others.
He humiliates or outright tortures the most loved or respected members.
To win, players have to survive the party.
But for the group to win, they have to depose this Leader, together.
Teams that win do so by working together. They overcome stress, their individual emotions, the highly personal attacks, insults, and demands from NPCs, and their own shame.
Even with all of the negative media coverage, this game is about respect -- it inspires respect.
And yes, before you say anything, we use players’ data, all of what we can find: personality, DNA, relationships, trauma history. All of it. Other games have all of this same information, and you better believe they use it -- but we’re the only ones who tell you that we use it.
We also make players’ drink. We make them sweat, we get their heart rate up, ready to panic.
Do you... torture them?
We make them uncomfortable. That’s the purpose of the game: so players’ can practice meaningful group dynamics in a high stress scenario with low stakes.
Do you have my survival chance?
14% chance of group escape, 33% survival rate.
Does those turn out pretty accurate?
To really know more than that you’d have to play: our methods, our historical content, they’re unorthodox. But this game works.
We get results. One of two things happen.
The group is ashamed. They’re embarrassed. They didn’t work together and they lost -- which means something’s going very wrong out in the real world.
They can’t unknow the things they learned about themselves or the team -- and that means things have to change.
It means they have to try using new and different decision making strategies. They have to listen to different people.
And sometimes that means they start to win out in the real world.
A county board that’s had 15 political coups since the Horrors, a cooperative next to the Private Border without drone defense -- communities are able to turn things around because of what they learned from this game.
Watching people play this game, has it taught you anything about human nature? About groups or decisions, or what it means to have purpose?
Nothing I didn’t know before. The game works. And that’s all I’m telling you about the narrative. More than that will ruin the end and destroy my business.
[SOUND: extremely awkward laughter].
You know who does the best at this game? People from the moon. Sorry, or is it moon people? I’m never sure -- anyway, their committees and councils, from sanitation to economy. They do the best. 80% escape rates. And you know everyone on a committee with rates like that is getting re-elected.
How about Congress, or higher level elected bodies -- is there a correlation between power and failure in the game?
Not good. Not good -- high survival rates, 83%. But lowest rebellion rates, 3%.
Frankly, a high survival rate with low rebellion is painful to watch. Once, I had a man on a. ah. major urban area. city council talk to me after.
He survived -- but there was not a shot at escape for this group, from the very first second of the game. Fell to .003 % chance almost instantaneously.
He was so unbelievably sweaty, but all he did was laugh. He kept saying “Felt like any other day at the office with this mayor -- just any other day.”
That’s why this game matters -- we have to know when we are failures in order to do better.
We have to be conscious of the truth -- if we’re building a society for ‘individual sufficiency, collective good’, like the AU always says.
If we’re building a world that will be able to respond to more Horrors with justice -- we have to face the truth about ourselves, and overcome it.
You said you were a content moderator--many former moderators have written about the videos they were responsible for removing from popular social media groups, some working 24 hours at a time — footage of famine, pandemic, the aftermath of major natural disasters, even mass suicides.
Were you impacted by that work in any way while creating The Party? What was your experience like during the Horrors?
It was fine. Let me show you out.