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Artist Simon Denny Uses Board Games to Explore How Business Affects Culture

Have you ever thought of board games as art? It’s the medium of choice for artist Simon Denny.

The Germany-based artist reimagined popular board games to explore how business- particularly tech- affects culture.

 “I wanted to pick various different board games, which I felt had the potential to tell these various different stories about tech culture and some of the values of tech,” he said.

His version of “The Game of Life” follows the path of a tech founder.

“Along the way our ideal tech founder here kind of chooses all sorts of things from what to read and what to think about to whether to pay taxes or go outside tax jurisdictions,” Denny said.

Finding a favorable tax location for a business nets a reward in this game.  The play money is crypto or fiat currency with a character drawing of Mark Zuckerberg on the bills.

“I think we are increasingly in a space where business and finance create metaphors for life,” he said. “The founder is kind of a key contemporary figure that we might not have thought about in another moment.”

Denny’s board games are on view now in Cleveland at MOCA in “ The Founder’s Paradox,” which includes sculptures, paintings and prints. But his work in Cleveland doesn’t end there. Before this exhibit opened, Denny teamed up with local students. 

“We thought it would be really interesting to kind of like take these ideas that I’ve had exploring business culture I as understand it to the real source of research, kind of training and kind of shaping young minds in the image of business culture,” he said.  

Case Western Reserve University MBA students and Cleveland Institute of Art design students took a course where they worked with Denny. The assignment was to design board games examining business’ impact on finance, transportation and healthcare.

"We had a lot of fun doing this,” said CIA student Morgan Lueng, a self-admitted lover of games. 

The students’ game on healthcare, Sanitopia, has two-tiers and is a survival game.  The “elites” play on the top layer of the game and receive special cards, with instructions revealed by UV light. The bottom tier is for the rest of the population, and the odds are slimmer to “make it home alive.”

“The primary objective of this project was to make a very complex topic into a digestible and understandable piece of art,” said MBA student Maria Landaeta.

Constructing a board game and working with an international artist wasn’t what Kevin Payne expected as part of his MBA studies.

“As I prepare to go out into work world it is influencing how I think about the role of business and the role of business leaders,” Payne said.  

The students’ games are on display with Denny’s in the MOCA exhibit through June 10.

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.