Alien without Extraordinary Ability

Project Description

Alien without Extraordinary Ability is a research project developed during the New Politics and Afrofuturism Programme at University of the Underground, which aims at questioning the contemporary media discourse related to the value systems of migration and borders, by making use of interdisciplinary literature research and speculative experimentation.

This site shows the current development of the rulebook and game components prototypes. Subsrcibe to the newsletter to follow up with the news in the development process, collective writing workshops, play tests, open calls for socially and politically engaged designers and writers in the future!

Alien of Extraordinary Ability is a type of visa that is issued in a few countries in the world to give priority to certain foreigners who are seen to have great talents in science, art, sports, or any other categories. Being called the “geniuses visa” or “Einstein visa”, one of the example for the recipient of such visa is the famous Melania Trump. (It’s true!) Similarly to alien of extraordinary ability, there are many other immigration system based on the idea of evaluating the value of a migrant person, such as highly skilled migrant visa and points-based immigration system. In 2020. For someone who is 30 years or older, you need € 4,612 gross per month to be considered highly skilled migrants in the Netherlands. In Switzerland, cultural proximity as a criteria in policy documents were gradually replaced by the word “skill.” As a result, the definition of such value and the design of such system have always been a topic of research and political debates. The abstraction of the value is not the only irony here, but also the differences of the definition of such value across time and space.

Who has the ultimate right to define who is the essential worker or not? Can that right be manipulated? What kind of skills and abilities are needed in a state? Who has the power to decide who get to survive the journey to live or stay in safety? What kind of labours are counted and included and what are not? These are not the questions to answer but to plant in the current narrative, to spark the conversation that helps the players to reflect and rethink the existing global injustice and the blood and tears being shattered in such factory.

The research process for Alien without Extraordinary Ability sheds light on thinking of who does not have the skill and ability to be included, who get excluded out of the border or will be in constant danger of being excluded out of the border by systematic discrimination, narrative of “migration brings value and growth”, false assumption of global talent migration, emotional and physical violence, the other capital resources. 

The border is a performance for some, but a sentence for most. Bureaucracy is a game for some, but a prison for most. In the documentation of the messy trial and errors in the process of comparative research, the project ends up to be a collection of factual details, blood and tear stories, and a board game fusion political theater elements.  

Through magic realism and gamification, Xiaoji Song's work is offering to re-evaluate and re-enact the extractive systems which define migrants' value, skills, and talents. Inspired by a series of talks with media organisation and NGOs working on the topic of migration, she experimented with a setting of fictional system to prompt media and collectively push players to reconsider the value of human beings and labour in relation to migration policy. This project intends to uncover the strategies used in systems of power developed through bureaucratic maze in migration systems and border controls and to support a future campaign.

Rulebook Teaser 
The theatrical board game ‘Alien without Extraordinary Ability’ translates experiences of migrant worker, the migration process, nationalism and other key topics that relate to migration policy into a playable experience. The game is set in a factory. Each worker enters the factory for the purpose of being granted a permanent residency. This residency grants the worker the privilege to live in the factory with a modest small room as accommodation with daily healthy soy-based meals provided and limited possibilities of travel, in and out of the factory. There are aliens and local workers who desire this residency and thus are in competition for the limited placements available. In order to win, the players need to increase their skill scores. The one with the highest score wins. The scores are calculated in three categories - Selfishness, Creativity and Repetitiveness. But the journey is arduous. They have to go through deskilling, re-skilling, avoid accidents, win bonuses, social change triggers in the board with the hope that they make it to the final round. But beware! There are hidden dangers, especially ones where the Boss finally notices you but for the wrong reasons. Warning! This board game includes portions where participants will be forced to perform political theater!

Special Thanks
Migration Lab:
Migration Matters:
Thanks to Adnan Arif, who encourages me to pursue the idea
The game is developed with the support of our entire cohort:
Eduardo Castillo Vinuesa, Sarah Habib, April Edgar, Imwen Eke, Di Luong, Chloé Macary-Carney, Ananya Rayan, Jill van Grinsven, Yris Apsit, Tracey Bowen
Thanks to my flatmates for providing me support during a pandemic: 
Susanne Zeltwanger, Kolja Müller

Thanks to Sarah van der Haar for continous support.

I (Xiaoji Song/宋晓霁) am a student, writer, and interdisciplinary researcher from Wuhan, China, and currently based in Germany. I am a student of MA Global Communication: Politics and Society at University of Erfurt, learning about global comparative media and communication research. With a bachelor’s in gender and diversity studies (HSRW, Kleve) and some additional courses in cognitive science, my practices are mainly on migration, intersectional feminism, and related social changes in a networked digital society – ranging from theater, moving image, to multimedia journalism focusing on situated knowledge, in China, Germany, and the Netherlands, collaborating with local networks, governmental institutions, and NGOs. In my private life, I make bubble tea and teach people random things to support myself as a student. Dealing with politics is not a choice I believe I can make, but my curiosity and sense of responsibility do not seem to want me to stop. sxj1995 (IG) Twitter: @ sxj1995 Email: / sxj19950714@