Students collaborating in the Games for Social Change class

A Glimpse at This Semester’s Fall Studios

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Read about this year’s fall studios taught by Professors Eric Gordon and David Kelleher. Both professors talk about community engagement opportunities while students share what this immersive experience has been like so far.

Topics in Visual and Media Arts: Games for Social Change: Co-Designing Play for Anti-Violence in Boston

Eric Gordon

Eric’s class partnered with the Center for Teen Empowerment as part of the Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence (TNGV) initiative. The course focuses on the fundamentals of game design and theory. Using this knowledge, students will create two different games over the course of the semester. 

Students first create an analog game and choose if the second game they create will be analog or digital. 

“The Center for Teen Empowerment is a really amazing youth organization in Boston … They do this remarkable youth-focused work and they work with a lot of young people who are directly impacted by gun violence,” Eric said.

Five affiliates from the Center for Teen Empowerment come to class once a week to collaborate with students in game design. 

“It’s really been great so far,” Eric said. “Ideally, we're hoping to have games that can be directly used by Teen Empowerment at the end of the semester.” Teen Empowerment will use the games created by the class to engage the youth they interact with.

Malena Horne, senior VMA major, shares her experience in the course so far. She finds game design to be challenging and rewarding, as she combines design skills with elements of social justice. 

“Through this course, I have learned about the real complexities of the issue of gun violence and how it can affect all parts of society,” Malena said. She particularly enjoyed listening to a guest speaker, Dr. Peter Masiakos, a pediatric surgeon from Mass General Hospital, speak about the effects of gun violence on different groups.

Malena appreciates collaborating with community partners through a “hands-on” experience—something she doesn’t get to do in her other classes.

“Together, we are all working to design a game that is meaningful and holds value," Malena said.

Partnered Studio: Co-Design for Peace in Boston 

David Kelleher

David’s class is an immersive media class, where students build using virtual reality. This could include something similar to a game simulation, David explained. Students are working with the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute and Mass General Hospital. They meet directly with mothers whose children were killed by gun violence to help create media that works to change the narrative of gun violence. 

The class is currently hoping to create a virtual reality version of a therapeutic sand tray. This  healing modality is offered in person at the Peace Institute and is often referred to as “peace play.” This is one way for survivors of trauma to “​​express their feelings and tell their stories,” David said. For instance, this may be done by using figurines to create dioramas in the sand. Having a virtual reality option “could be available to more people” and “be done in more locations,” David said. 

Peter Travis, a sophomore VMA major, shares his experience in the course so far. 

“So far, my biggest takeaway from Co-Design for Peace is the elements that create a successful and fulfilling product are inherently collaborative. We would not have been able to visualize what we want to create without the help from the Peace Institute, Mass General Hospital, and each other.” Peter said. 

He enjoys that students can direct the course in collaboration with their community partnerships. Peter also finds that the course content is preparing him for “real world,” post-college experiences. 

“The work we are doing today is a legitimate project, one that is very similar to projects that we would have in the working world, and that gives us great experience in time management, controlling the scope of work, and learning skills that will benefit us in the future.”

Check out the class’s website here


Maeve Lawler,

Communications Assistant