Perry Clemons is a game designer and educator from Harlem, New York. He is also a contact tracer with New York Health and Hospitals. He has created a board game called, ‘Inequality-opoly’ The Board Game of Structural Racism and Sexism in America.
I recently interviewed Mr. Clemons where he chatted more on Inequality-opoly and his mission to educate our community on economics and diversity in America.
The Empress Dee: What inspired you to come up with Inequality-opoly?
Perry Clemons: I have been an educator for a long time and when I was teaching; I did a lot on diversity. These diversity trainings were really important, but they were not as engaging as I would have liked them to be, knowing how important they are and so as an educator, I wondered how I could make it more engaging, more personalized, more individualized. I wanted to make a game out of it. So I thought about a game that defines America and it was Monopoly, of course, it is the game of America.
Monopoly is a meritocracy and does that really affect America, we know that America is not a meritocracy, it is not just based on your merit or everyone would have equal chances of getting the same accolades. So, I thought, what if I take all the data that already exists in the world and put into one kind of experience so that people could have an engaged experience with inequality and maybe that would be fun, I made it as a fun experience and I also thought that it would be fun to make.
The Empress Dee: Nice! Now you said that you are a teacher correct.
Perry Clemons: No, I used to be a teacher. I was a 3rd grade teacher for 5 years before the pandemic. I love education, it is very important to me and hopefully when I am out of this contact tracing and the scourge of the pandemic is over, I will go back into teaching and education.
The Empress Dee: So, you developed a game prior to the pandemic, is that correct?
Perry Clemons: Yes, I started this game in 2015 which is when the idea started, and I began to work on it in 2016.
The Empress Dee: When you first came up with the idea, who was your target audience because I know that you have discussed being in these meetings where it was not really fun to talk about diversity and the trainings were not that interesting, so who was your target audience?
Perry Clemons: When I first made the game, I was teaching, and I just wanted to make it fun. I am serial entrepreneur and love to create things. My mother is an artist, and my father is a journalist, so I love creating things and being in that field. In developing this game, I thought that it would be fun, I had no idea what it might evolve into but as I started to work on it more, the mission evolved, the goal of it evolved and I realized that this game needed to have a mission. So, the mission of the game is to, ‘spread awareness and advance discourse about how social racism and sexism affect the accumulation and sustaining of wealth in America’ so that kind of mission helped to guide me throughout the whole time.
While I was creating the game, I stumbled upon this quote by Cesar A. Cruz, “Art should comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable.” Once I heard that quote things started to make sense. This game makes me feel validated in my experience. I went to Morehouse College and prior to that, I attended a predominately white high school, and I did not know about inequities, I knew a little bit about it…Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., but I did not know the extent of it. When I went to Morehouse, it was undeniable about how much information there is about inequity, how could people deny this.
I realized that it was because of their experience, if you do not have that experience then you do not know. Most of your knowledge comes from experiences. I remember thinking I am going to make it into one experience, one way to experience them so I tried to put all of that into one game after 4 years of research and development and play testing, I am always working to improve it more and more. Nowadays, schools…pre-pandemic and during the pandemic, have online facilitation, corporations and also families. So, I really had to spread out to a wide range of people that would use it, and this is one of the few diversity trainings that people use at their office and then buy and take home and do. That is not very often and so I am very proud of that.
The Empress Dee: That is so awesome! I know that you spoke about it just being something fun at first, when did it occur to you that it was something that you could really sell?
Perry Clemons: It came to me that I could sell when I realized that I would not be sued for it (they both laugh). So, in the first year…2015, I saw the idea back in the Obama years, but I thought that I would get sued so bad for doing this, it took me a year to do the research and I learned for one that they do not have the copyright on the word “opoly” you cannot copyright a suffix, and also Monopoly has lost their trademark and then it is different, the art and the literary work is substantially and categorically different than Monopoly.
But other than that it was like whoa, I could monetize this, and this could be a win/win, it is educational and people could have shared experiences and that is when the light bulb went off and I thought, okay I can do this.
The Empress Dee: That is so awesome, I love to hear it. So as you mentioned earlier, you chose Monopoly because it is like America’s game, with that being said, do you feel that this game is or has the potential to be just as timeless as Monopoly and if so, why?
Perry Clemons: I think so. Unfortunately, inequality is enduring not only in our country but on our continent and in our world. Ideally, I hope that we are able to talk with our grandchildren and play Inequality-opoly with them and tell them that this is how America used to be or in a history class…that this is how America used to function. I hope that one day this game will be a relic.
The Empress Dee: When you were creating this game, what was your favorite issue to educate people on?
Perry Clemons: That is an interesting question because this whole game is kind of dismal, it is engaging in a playful way with these dark topics. So, all of the topics are hard, student loans definitely hit me…putting that in there felt like vindication for me. When it comes to topics the hard part was putting them in there, deciding what to put in there and what to take out. As you know inequality is compound and it spans from birth to grave, your whole life there is inequality in it.
Inequality-opoly does not claim to eradicate the inequality in your world. I was talking with my wife trying to figure out what to put in and what to take out and I was guided by the mission of the game, there is accumulation of wealth and there is sustained wealth. So for example, maternal mortality, that is a big issue and it affects the community in a big way…should I put it in or should I take it out and it was a hard choice to not include that but it did not seem to fit there.
The whole thing is hard, but my favorite part of the game are the life event cards which are green. The yellow cards affect only one player which is the person that drew it, but the green cards affect all players, there is police interaction, sexual assault, inheritance for all, economic boom…there are a lot of things that can happen and that is my favorite part of the game when everyone experiences this.
Everyone experiences the same event, but they experience it differently because they all have inequality because of the nature of our society and of the game.
The Empress Dee: The thing that I find interesting with this game is, I feel that it would be easy for people to get frustrated if they do not endure these types of challenges in real life. So, when you play the game for those who do not have these types of biases against them, they might get a little frustrated with some of the functions of the game, so while you were test playing, did you have any critics that were against the game or tried to devalue it just because of the topics that it brought to light?
Perry Clemons: Yes, for sure. I had a Kickstarter campaign in 2017…2018 and at first the campaign was for $16,000 to be able to make 1000 games because apparently, I would sell out quick and I learned a lot from that experience and that campaign was not successful. But while that campaign went on there were so many people that were critical of me wanting to know why I made it, thinking that I was racist for making it, even went as far as to say that I had no right to make this and I was like I have every right to make this.
There was so much criticism toward me, and it was hard, and I knew that reaction would come but when it came; I still was not ready for it. Then I googled it, I used to be a teacher and I looked up one of my favorite Ted Talks and I remember this Ted Talk that said, if you are in a boat and you are going against the wind and you are strategic and you are a skilled sailor, you could actually go faster then if the wind is at your back.
So if I can calculate carefully and ricochet their bullets back onto them, then I can be sailing into the wind, which is what I try to do. I mean there are always critics out there and you have to focus on what you believe in and I feel strongly about this work and it is like I said earlier, making people feel validated, their experiences validate them, you are not just crazy…this is actually what goes on, there are empirical studies. The criticism is hard, but I just go on.
The Empress Dee: So, on the contrary, I know that you have many supporters. What types of feedback have you received from them about the game?
Perry Clemons: First, thank you all to my players who played the first generations of the game. After 5 years of play testing, we have had some consistent criticisms of the game, one was about the design and the other one was simplicity. The design, I made the first game myself, with YouTube, I taught myself to be an illustrator, and with luck I was able to find a template of a Monopoly board on-line and I used that and modified it from there.
I did it all myself so the design was not as beautiful as it could be and so that was a criticism. Thanks to the magic of social media, I connected with a former ‘Survivor’ cast member, Erik Reichenbach, he was an illustrator from Australia, he liked the game, he liked the mission and said that he wanted to be a part of it, how can I help. I told him I could use some design art and he was like, yeah sure…send me some designs, send me whatever and so now there is a whole new reprinting of the game, I have a whole new set of designs, the board, the life event cards, all of them have news designs that are more attractive and playful.
The other criticism that I received was about the complexity of the game. Everyone has an identity card that dictates their salary, their chances of getting your mortgage approved, your chances of getting arrested…chances of getting re-hired, all that stuff is attached to the identity card, so it is kind of complex. We have made a combination to make the game flow more easily, but the game is really made to have a facilitator, or a banker have a stronger role. So, instead of the banker just paying out money, this time they are saying roll to see of you are going to keep your job, roll to see if you are going to jail. So it is a bigger job for the facilitator in this.
I have done all that I can to make the game more player friendly. Life is not easy, life is not simple and if you are a person of color, life is even less simple, even more complex. So, then you add in there being a woman of color and it is more compound, these things are intersectional, so the complexity of the game is good because it is a part of life and with this game if you know the rules…those few people who read the rule book before they play, have an advantage, just like in life, if you know the rules then you have an advantage. All of these things demonstrate how America is and how America works.
The Empress Dee: Have you noticed Black people being more successful in the game simply because they know how to maneuver through certain things naturally in life, as opposed to white people playing the game?
Perry Clemons: It is so fascinating; every game has a different story arc for everybody but more consistently I have seen Black women just kill in this game and not just in the identity of women but just kill in the game. There are a lot of factors there, I mean it is luck because it is really hard, but it is all strategic. Also the game Inequality-opoly in the game that I played, the white man does not always win the game but usually everyone gangs up on him. So, the white woman and the Asian woman usually slip under the radar and they will usually win the game. Everything is different, society is different and, in each game, not everyone plays. There are 8 different identities in each game, the Asian, white, Latinx and Black, so in some games there may not be a white man in the game, there may not be a Black man in that particular game.
But it is just strategy and there are no guarantees that you are going to win and there are no guarantees that you are going to lose. It is strategy and luck, just like life so that is what I like about it.
The Empress Dee: That is amazing, and I love it, that is so interesting. So moving forward, do you see yourself creating different versions of Inequality-opoly?
Perry Clemons: Well, kind of, I do want to make… so this game Inequality-opoly is a macroaggression game, demonstrating how institutions discriminate against people and like capitalism it takes out the spirituality, the emotional, the mental and physical connections to other humans that we have and that deserves its own game; a game of microaggressions which happen so much and they affect our inequality, they affect our job performance, they affect our quality of life, they affect all of that.
But diving into a microaggression game sounds like a lot and making this game could be fun and enlightening but it is a lot, so maybe one day I will work on that, but I am not sure that I have the emotional transfer, especially after 2020 to make a microaggressions game, I think that something like that may already exist but I am really focused on educational games. I am making a game that I have been working on during the pandemic, because at the height of the pandemic, Inequality-opoly was shut down. I had all these conferences that I was going to go to, sales had halted, and I was wondering what I was going to do.
The educational game that I started working on is a math game. So, for all those parents out there that need to teach their kids math, elementary school math, who are confused with common core, this was a game that I used to play with my students that they loved, and I kind of modified it and I will be selling that one too on Kickstarter now and I will campaign for that. I am working on other educational games as for Inequality-opoly, I am not sure that I have the mental capacity to make another version of it right now, but I am not going to say never.
But also there is a possibility with Inequality-opoly that themes of racism and sexism can be in Canada, The U.K., and Mexico, because unfortunately every country has inequality. Even the more homogenous countries have their gender inequalities, so it is possible that different countries could have their own games adapted to them. Again, it is a lot of work, but we will see.
The Empress Dee: I appreciate you so much for being willing to do this interview with us. It has been very enlightening, and I am very interested in purchasing the game. Can you please tell us where we can find you and where we can buy Inequality-opoly?
Perry Clemons: Sure, www.inequalityopoly.com you will be able to find the link to the game there. Right now, we are selling the physical board game for $73, including shipping, if you are looking to order in bulk, please let me know and we will be able to send bulk orders out and also, we are selling the digital board game for all your social distancing game plays and what you can do for $20 you get unlimited access to the virtual game on Tabletopia for up to 6 players, and also we have game play facilitations for schools, organizations or any family members and if you just want to have a family game play; we can facilitate your game play for you.
You can also subscribe to our newsletter to keep in touch with us. There is one more story that I would like to share. The inspiration for Inequality-opoly…the history of it. When I was learning about Monopoly, I learned about the history of it and it was created by a woman by the name of Elizabeth (Lizzie) Magie and she hated capitalism and was making a game about how capitalism or at the time it was Georgism, she was trying to make people understand why capitalism was not good.
So, they made this game called, The Landlord’s Game, and that became Monopoly and people loved the game and she sold the patent to Parker Brothers for $500 and died penniless. Her story is a lot like mine, I am talking about inequality, but I am adding in racism and sexism, but the same kind of path and mission. So, I am really glad to be in the same conversation as Lizzie Magie, the originator of Monopoly.
The Empress Dee: Absolutely, so do not sell that patent.
Perry Clemons: She was also a comedienne.
The Empress Dee: Make sure that you keep that patent for sure.
Perry Clemons: We just got our patent just a couple of weeks ago.
The Empress Dee: I am so happy for you and I wish you the best of luck on all of your future endeavors. I know that you will be successful because the game sounds amazing, so I will definitely be purchasing it and perhaps we can do a follow-up interview in the future and discuss the new game that you are developing.
Perry Clemons: Sounds good
The Empress Dee: Thank you again and you have a wonderful day.
Perry Clemons: Thank you so much for your time, this was a pleasure.
The Empress Dee: Of course, you have a good one.