How Many Things to Build the Future? is essentially a game about metaphor and the relationship between abstract concepts and concrete forms It draws on the work of linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson [1] who explore how metaphors shape not just how we communicate but how we think.

When players collectively try to build an arrangement in relation to the word ‘freedom’ for example they can see, touch and co-create each other’s responses. Through the activity of arranging and negotiating, players enter into verbal and physical conversations about their understandings of these words.

Moreover the game offers opportunities to renovate old or familiar concepts with new meanings because the materials are limited (wooden blocks) and players are working with each other. As Maria Popova writes “a great metaphor is also an original one, thus forming new, uncommon associations of common elements rather than relying merely on the familiar ones — a beautiful manifestation of combinatorial creativity at play.” [2]

The game is influenced by Friedrich Froebel’s educational ‘gifts‘ for pre-school children through which he pioneered the idea of play based learning. Although metaphor use does begin at pre-school age [3] “Children’s metaphorical competence, it seems, is limited to basic perceptual metaphors, at least until early adolescence” [3] and so the game is aimed at older children, and adults.

Metaphors are often rather neglected in the classroom, and when it is taught it is often in literary terms for example “all the world’s a stage”. But metaphor operates everywhere; mathematics, economics, politics, science and so on. “Developmental psychologist Stephen von Tetzchner (…) goes so far as claiming that ‘the role metaphors have in language makes the understanding and use of metaphors the most important developmental aspect in school-age children and the young'” [6]

An important part of the game is the selections of a method for working together (for example “the person with the next birthday directs everyone else”; or “work in silence”) and then for reflection (“everyone take a minute to describe what happened”). Although the game is very open, these methods avoid anyone taking a constant lead and create room for different voices and different kinds of contribution. This is useful for any group dynamic which will may have it’s own established dynamics and hierarchies. The game is not competitive but is about collaboration and awareness of each other’s thinking, creating opportunities to literally see how people think.

How Many Things to Build the Future? is a game by Hamish MacPherson, a London-based artist who uses ideas and methods from choreography and dance to think about politics. He makes workshops, games, performances, writings, images and other things in artistic, academic and community contexts.

His other games include Breastbeating, a card game simulating an after work session in the pub where the only thing you have to do is complain; and Living Spaces / Dead Spaces, made with Michael Such, winner of the 2016 Golden Cobra Award for Best Somatic Elements.

[1] George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (2003) Metaphors We Live By
[2] Maria Popova. 2013. The Magic of Metaphor: What Children’s Minds Reveal about the Evolution of the Imagination
[3] Stella Vosniadou. 1986. Children and Metaphors
[4] James Geary. 2012. I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World
[5] British Council. 2004.  Exploring metaphors in the classroom
[6] University of Gothenberg research project Metaphors we learn by: Children’s understanding of science