Final Group Projects

Home in the Margins: A Tabletop Game about Undocumented Immigrants

By jsesicalaw, kennyzheng0, kimmayer, mrj484, and pgdinolfo

Our final group project, Home in the Margins, is a turn-based, cooperative tabletop game that combines elements of storytelling and resource management. Set in a near-future Chicago, after rising political tensions have triggered a series of state secessions from the Union, the game asks players to create the story of a group of undocumented immigrants trying to survive in precarious circumstances. Players must choose whether or not to cooperate as they share the apartment and attempt to work, set and achieve personal goals, and meet cost of living expenses. Inspired by games like The Quiet Year and The Deep Forest, our game does not have win/lose conditions, but instead ends after twelve rounds, which represent three months in the game world.

Our goal was to create an engaging yet subtle platform that stages a context for deep, personal investment and meaningful collaboration along the contours of undocumented subjectivity. We want players to explore feelings of precarity, exploitation, resistance, hope, innovation, and community. While the game often generates frustration and stress, it also allows for optimism and ingenuity. Its open-ended nature encourages critical reflection and empathetic collaboration between players. Ultimately, the game is about process and experience, the mutual investment that’s necessary for a marginalized group to be successful in the midst of overwhelming obstacles.

Overcast: An Alternate Reality Game about Data Surveillance

By gkafer, bobbiesheng, iriseel, leangelini, and flyingsaussure

Overcast is an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) that seeks to engage players with contemporary issues of data surveillance, as well as teach safer alternatives to common yet deleterious online practices. The narrative follows the hacktivist group VantaRay, which has recently obtained information regarding the operations of Overcast, a big data corporation that is currently in conversation with the Trump administration. VantaRay has learned that Overcast is monitoring the behavior of individuals suspected of political dissent towards the president, and is using predictive analytics to program possible interventions in their online experiences. Setting up workshops for college students, VantaRay assists participants in taking control over their data profiles and removing them from Overcast’s database.

The mission for this project is as follows: 1) increase transparency around online data collection, 2) ask players to reevaluate the ways they operate in the current media ecology, 3) provide them with a toolkit and vocabulary necessary to assess their own digital security, 4) encourage them to adopt tools and practices to manage and control their own data leakage, and 5) motivate them to disseminate these skills. By meeting these goals, Overcast hopes to imagine possibilities for resistance that empower individuals to not only reduce their data trail, but also create an action network in which players work together to protect themselves from the negative effects of surveillance.

Empty Spaces, Anxious Living: Tracing Stories Inside the Prison Industrial Complex

By angelaxlin, mushynerdfuturist, kirahnelson, jhautemont, and mbraley718

We explored the topic of Policing and Prisons through human stories that illuminate larger systemic failures within the justice system. We designed and exhibited the living spaces of three characters personally affected by the prison industrial complex and invited participants to wander through the space. By exploring our characters’ physical living spaces through physical objects and textual documents, the participants could piece together what happened to the absent characters.

We want to uplift the experiences of those who have or are currently experiencing incarceration and create a practice of making that holds all of us accountable to the communities and experiences we address in this project. In order to accomplish this, we based the narratives that guide the experience on the accounts of people who have shared their stories publicly. Source material included zines and newspapers created for and by people who’ve experienced incarceration, photo projects, and news articles that highlight experiences of incarceration.

We wanted to encourage dialogue about the prison system and remove the distance we often experience when talking about those affected by these systems through the embodied experience of physically walking through the space and touching the characters’ possessions.

NetWars: A Board Game about Algorithms and Critical Infrastructures

By daniellipson, zyost1, eedreva, sanyasingh217, and julieteldred

NetWars is an educational game that seeks to address the role of algorithmic technologies in our lives, particularly the computational components of critical infrastructure. By engaging the topic of cyberwarfare, NetWars encourages its players to think about the way code shapes our lives and seeks to empower them to engage the political, economic, and social contexts and consequences of algorithms and computation, and then to work with their local communities to shape the kind of future they want to see.

The object of the game is for players, working in teams, to take control of infrastructural hubs in a mock city represented by the game board by making use of modelled computer programs they themselves design. Gameplay is separated into phases, in which the players first map out their programs simultaneously using a set of action cards, each with an associated effect, which they organize into a specific order to define their intended actions for the turn. Then, players reveal their programs and take turns moving around the gameboard and executing their programs on the city infrastructure to try and claim them for their team or defend them from opponents.

Controlling these infrastructure points has explicit in-game benefits for a player’s team, and the interaction between the player designed programs and their resulting effects on physical structures models the way in which digital products influence a material world. By structure, the game encourages the kind of prescriptive thinking and formalized decision-making we associate with computer programming and algorithmic design. Players can experience the rewarding feeling of successfully conceptualizing, scripting, and executing a program without any necessary prior technical knowledge. Drawing on this, we also provide resources for players to pursue further education in computer programming and STEM fields more broadly, which are especially relevant to our primary target audience of roughly high-school age students still making career decisions.

The Nativity Network: A Twine Game about Natalism

By piersburkhart, camilagonzalezz, mackmuldofsky, dmachar, and mrdvoit

The Nativity Network is a satirical multi-media/narrative-based game that aims to both educate and shock the player. The title The Nativity Network already imparts much about our concept: the game will explore themes of natalism, surrogacy, reproduction, identity, remote parenting, latent Christianity/conservatism, and the impact of online social networks on identity formation and tactics of political persuasion.

The project experiments with the player’s capacity to adapt–during the game, their understanding of political engagement should be unsettled, as they speculate about that deeply personal and highly political topic: their own reproductive futures. The player plays as a prospective parent. They are guided through the Nativity Network online interface to apply for a child and child care by Mary, their Guide.

The objective? To get a baby at the end of the game. The fun? Finding all the possible endings by exploring different reproductive identities.

Set in the near future, in a world not so different from our own, the stakes of these in-game choices should land close to home–meanwhile, the game rips up those emotional stakes in meme-fueled and caustic rebel disruptions. These stakes, along with their fragility, are designed to tonally challenge the player’s feelings about online political discourse in the context of private sexual and reproductive politics.

Throughout game play, certain conventional dystopic tropes of natalist state policies will arise and then be parodied: in this world, activists will resist a fragile dystopic program and a not-quite-totalitarian regime will begin to appear at the margins of their in-game experience.

The game hopes to respond to a need for deep and intersectional understandings of “reproductive justice.” The Nativity Network provides one such attempt to push the player engage with the impacts their own identity has upon their activism, explore the limitations of online/technologically mediated social bonds, and grapple with the impacts of their own individual reproductive choices.

CLIMATE change[d].exe: A Twine Game about Climate Change

By rlgoyal, acephalicsubject, chloeyt, erictheboywonder, and mirzasaadia

‘CLIMATE_change[d].exe’ is a speculative interactive text adventure on Twine that illustrates the internal conflicts and dichotomies in discussion surrounding design for climate change. The project situates growing concerns about the urban footprint, the environmental effect of animal farming and agriculture, the future of food, migration and the refugee crisis, and resource extraction within a unique form of politics that is, at once, individual as well as collective: our future will increasingly rest on decisions that involve some seemingly mundane and quotidian issues—what and where to eat, how and where to work, and what to grow and how to grow it. The project aims to unfold to the reader/user/player the full consequences of the most mundane and trivial of such decisions.

‘CLIMATE_change[d].exe’ introduces users/readers/players to a world set in the year 2107. The text adventure allows one to experience the world through the lens of Storm, the protagonist, who has four choices in how to spend one single evening: meeting an old friend who had been working in the mines, experiencing a virtual reality movie about biotechnology museums, having dinner with an old friend who having left the US to live and work in Ghana has returned for a short visit, or staying in at home in his apartment. Each of the four scenarios takes the user/reader/player through a journey in a future world, where environmental sustainability has become an achievable development index and technological progress has allowed for ambient and artificial intelligence and automated labour, allowing humans to decouple the concept of work from that of income. The formal components of this adventure involve: hypertext for interactive storytelling, branching narratives, hidden variables, and exploratory fictions/speculations that allow the user/reader/player to navigate this future world. As the user/reader/player follows Storm in varied social situations, they are bound to encounter and confront the different aspects of the society in which he lives and negotiate his complicity, given his social position while still following his principles.