The Category Game

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The Category Game consists of a box with instructions on the inner lid, 20 double-sided boards (“My Categories” and “Category #”), and 120 clay playing pieces. All elements are white, black, or a shade of gray. The box is 6″ x 6″ x 4″ and the boards are slightly less than 6″ square, while the pieces range from approximately ½” to ¼” in their dimensions. It is a multi-player game, ideally to be played with between four and twenty people. Instructions are as follows:

Part 1

Each player takes a board and turns the “My Categories” side up. Pieces are divided evenly among players. Each player then sorts the pieces on their board into categories, using whatever criteria they see fit.

Part 2

All the players flip their boards to the “Category #” side, and they are placed together in the middle. The players pool their pieces and work together to sort the pieces into categories agreed upon by the group, placing one category on each board. Boards may be taken out of or replaced in the box to achieve the desired number of categories.

Part 3

The group replaces first the boards, then the pieces, in the box, and closes it.

The hope of the game is to inspire dialogue and contemplation of the way humans divide and classify. Categories can either promote or hold back understanding of a situation or individual, depending on their use. As the artist, my entry point into this issue was through research into sexual orientations in current American culture (particularly the asexual community, which often sub-categorizes prolifically), but further reading and contemplation expanded my understanding to race, class, nationality, gender, and the general way humans interact with the world. My goal was to produce a work that would highlight the complicated balance of the usefulness of categories (as a source of quick assessment of a situation, a starting reference) and their problems (when they are relied upon too heavily, and reality is forced to fit them, rather than the other way around).

I was pleased that, in general, players in my class picked up on many of the things I thought about in this game’s creation, including allusions to race and sexuality, a general applicability of the “category” metaphor, and both an attraction and aversion to categorization. Unexpected but interesting elements were the increased awareness of the group dynamic and the introduction of time as a critical factor.

A future version of this game will likely include: a revision or removal of the first step (solo sorting), time requirements for playing, a box that is easier to open/put things in, and a gradient of piece colors that does not separate white and black so clearly from the grayscale gradient.

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