Zomia Solarpunk: role-playing board game themed around a technological utopia

High concept:
Set in an era marked by climate disasters, financial crises, and regional wars, players take on the roles of digital nomads adventuring through the ancient lands of Zomia, exploring its highland ecologies and the unique cultures of its indigenous religions. They cultivate wisdom around public goods, community collaboration, and distributed networks.

The game’s map is the Banana Pancake Trail, stretching across various cities, villages, and islands of Zomia. Players encounter unique community cultures, ethnic festivals, and technology summits.Character attributes include professional skills, social reputation, wealth, spiritual practice, and cosmic wisdom.

In this game world, there is no competitive antagonism among characters. Instead of the dark forest law, the guiding principle is the law of the bright forest, an anthropology of kindness and care. Characters must cooperate, share, and connect to build new techno-ecological communities to achieve the vision of Solarpunk.

Some references:
The theory of Zomia highlands, as discussed by anthropologist James C. Scott in “The Art of Not Being Governed,” describes Zomia as the tribes living in the frontier highlands. The collision of the Indian-Australian Plate with the Eurasian Continental Plate formed the Himalayas and extended to the largest highland plateau area in Southeast Asia, a refuge from war, forced labor, and taxation away from the plains’ agricultural dynasties. The farming methods and social structures of these minority highlanders are designed to facilitate dispersion and autonomy, preventing them from becoming vassals of centralized powers, much like the Fremen of “Dune” who follow prophetic teachings. David Graeber also believed that modern social innovation experiments arise in “cross-cultural improvisation zones,” or “middle grounds,” typically beyond state control. The Zomia highlanders’ social culture and religions (such as Buddhism) provide a deeper understanding of public goods and shared spaces.

Solarpunk, originating in post-millennial science fiction literature, imagines a near-future technological utopia characterized by advanced technology, sustainable nature, and social justice. Chiang Mai, located in the highland basin of northern Thailand under Zomia’s sun, flourished with biodiversity, vitality, and creativity since the hippie trail of banana pancakes in the 1960s, becoming a haven for international crypto nomads, hippie expatriates, diaspora, and wanderers.

For the social practice aspect of this board game, “Zomia Solarpunk,” we are leveraging the daily activities of a club to encapsulate the social practices and collective creativity occurring in Zomia. This approach integrates the following elements:

  1. Collective Living and Creation: The club environment serves as a microcosm for Zomia, where members live and create together, mirroring the communal and collaborative spirit of the game’s setting. This dynamic helps develop and refine game mechanics and narratives that reflect true communal interactions and problem-solving strategies.

  2. Real-Life Events as Game Scenarios: By organizing and participating in events that resemble those found in the game—such as festivals, workshops on sustainability, and cultural celebrations—the club provides real-world inspiration for game content. These events help validate and enrich the authenticity of the game scenarios.

  3. Feedback Loop: Members of the club, who are actively engaged in the game’s development, participate in playtesting and provide feedback based on their lived experiences within the club’s community. This feedback is crucial for adjusting game mechanics to better reflect the principles of Solarpunk and the ethos of Zomia.

  4. Social and Technological Experimentation: The club acts as a testing ground for the social and technological ideas proposed in the game. This includes experimenting with distributed networks, communal resource sharing, and alternative social structures, which can then be modeled within the game.

  5. Documentation and Sharing: The experiences and outcomes of these social practices are documented and shared through various channels such as the game’s public wiki, community meetings, and digital platforms. This openness transforms the club’s activities into a public resource that informs and inspires broader implementations of the game’s ideals.

By grounding the game in real-world practices and collective experiences, the club not only enhances the development of “Zomia Solarpunk” but also fosters a community embodying the game’s vision of a sustainable, just, and technologically integrated society.