When one thinks about invisibility in the context of gaming, it’s usually considered a superpower: for example, you stumble upon an invisibility cloak and you earn the ability to turn invisible at will. But what if you were always invisible, and being invisible - or becoming visible - was not in your control? Would it still be regarded a superpower?
There are hundreds of thousands of marginalized people around the world who live in the fringes of society, unseen and unheard. We chose to explore this type of involuntary (and frequently unwanted) invisibility through the context of a game on homelessness in New York City. We decided to confront this specific aspect of homelessness through our game because we found that many homeless children and families living in city shelters remain largely out of sight, and consequently out of mind, for most New Yorkers.
Through gameplay based entirely on chance, we draw the players' attention to the significant lack of control these families have on their circumstances, and the tremendous roles that randomness and luck play on their futures. However, we also highlight the many different ways in which to make these families feel more recognized, to help them share their stories, improve their circumstances, and feel visibly seen and heard again.
Learn more about the game and ways to help on Spectrum's website.
I Speak NY
I Speak NY is an outdoor game that was designed by DSI students Michelle Kwon, Meghan Lazier, Akshata Malhotra, Maria Fernanda Perez-Acosta and myself for a Games for Impact class at the MFA Design for Social Innovation program at SVA.
The only constraints we were given for this assignment were that the game we designed had to be an "outdoor" or "big" game, which needed to be played somewhere outside the classroom, and that when played, the game had a defined social impact.
Our team decided to design a game that explored the cultural and linguistic diversity of New York (research suggests that it is home to >800 languages, and counting!), and encouraged players to take greater notice of the babel of languages heard around them on a daily basis. I Speak NY prompts players to engage with people on the streets in New York, learn a little bit about the languages they speak, and discover what they relate to the city.
The goal is to get New Yorkers to guess the words on various cards, by describing them using either language or mime. The guessers then have to write down the same word at the back of each card in any other languages they might speak, and the players record the languages encountered in each round on the world map. The players also have to capture a New York experience, person, place or thing that the guessers associate with the word on the card in any creative format (for example, drawing, song, film, etc.).
What the players come away with in the end is the experience of interacting with people on the street, learning a few words in different languages, and a visual record (through the cards and the map) of the linguistic and cultural diversity of the geographical area of New York within which the game has been played.
Our team was given the following design constraints to work with:
- The game had to be skill based, with as little or no use of chance as possible
- The game had to be black and white
- Incorporate a quote from a book or movie
We designed a board game about our graduate program, called #WHYDSI - a hashtag that our department uses in social media to encourage people to understand why to consider our program.
The game is a strategic trivia-based board game. The objective of the game is for each player / team (a DSI ninja) to go to school and collect superpower skills from each room on the board to ultimately graduate and change the world. Players move across the board by answering questions related to Design for Social Innovation, and the number of moves awarded are dictated by the difficulty level of the questions they choose.
We chose to use the quote "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility" (Voltaire / Uncle Ben from Spiderman), since it resonated with both with theme of our game as well as with a Design for Social Innovation program. Consequently, the players must make strategic and moral decisions about how best to use the skills they collect - either to their own advantage or to help others.