Ethnocharrettes, role-playing, simulation games and other embodied pedagogical strategies are receiving increased attention in the field of anthropology. These experiential teaching tools provide learners an opportunity to “switch sides” creating empathy and more nuanced and critical understandings of social problems. In this participatory installation, we invite visitors to play a financial education board game, Loy Loy (“Money Money” in Khmer). A product of collaboration between economists and anthropologists, Loy Loy is a role-playing game where players take on the roles of Cambodian women workers in a Rotating Savings and Credit Association (ROSCA), earning monthly wages and making monthly contributions to their local savings group. The end goal of the game is for players to save enough money to purchase a garment factory together, but if any player goes bankrupt in the process, the game is over for everyone. This forces players to cooperate and trade with one another. Through the course of the game, players are hit with unforeseen expenses (medical bills, natural calamities, upsurges in inflation) but also some opportunities for windfall gains and buying assets (pigs, dumpling carts, boats etc.)
Loy Loy provides a window into the complexity of financial decision making for people living on the edge of poverty. It educates players about alternative and collective forms of finance where community relationships act as safety nets and provide more immediate ways of confronting economic hardship. Loy Loy is intended for a broad audience, from high school students to anthropology enthusiasts to policy makers. In a fun environment that also builds community and connection through play, the game demonstrates how money and financial instruments are socially and cultural embedded in value systems, mutual obligations and negotiations of morality, while also teaching basic savings and money managing skills and financial literacy concepts such as risk management, income smoothing through credit, value return on investment, and liquidity.
Loy Loy began as an offshoot of a research project in 2015 and subsequently won a Blum Competition award in 2017, and is currently in the pilot-testing phase of product development. It has already been tested with gamers, software developers, NGO practitioners, and undergraduate and graduate students at several universities across the US. It is currently on view at the British Museum as part of an exhibition titled Playing with money: currency and games. The installation at the American Anthropological Association conference will allow us to playtest Loy Loy further and receive feedback from visitors, contributing to the iterative design process that will enhance the experience and playability of the game. Loy Loy is not only an innovative and experiential teaching tool for students but also an example of anthropology in action that breaks out of the ivory tower to inform a wider public about economic precarity and the social dimensions of finance, including policy makers and development organizations that are tasked with creating programs for poverty alleviation and financial inclusion.
Website link: http://loyloy.org/.