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Emerson team wins big at "Sundance of video games"

Participatory Chinatown, a video game co-created by a team from Emerson, was recently awarded Best Direct Impact Game of 2011 by the Games for Change Festival in New York City. Often referred to as the “Sundance of video games,” the festival is an annual gathering of the world’s top game designers, scholars, and developers.

The award, given by a panel of industry professionals, recognized Participatory Chinatown as a project whose gameplay produced a profound, direct impact on players. In the case of Participatory Chinatown, residents from Boston’s Chinatown community gathered and played the game as part of a 2010 master planning process.

Steven Schirra and Eric Gordon

Steven Schirra (left) and Eric Gordon helped create Participatory Chinatown, a video game that won Best Direct Impact Game of 2011 at the Games for Change Festival.

“We are truly honored to receive this award from Games for Change,” said Associate Professor of Visual and Media Arts Eric Gordon, co-principal investigator of the project. “So often the focus is on the negative aspects of games, but our project demonstrated that, if carefully designed, games can be a compelling vehicle for social change.”

The game’s development was made possible by a grant from the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation, and involved collaboration among four local institutions: the Engagement Game Lab at Emerson College, the Asian Community Development Corporation, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and Muzzy Lane Software. About 100 residents attended the game meetings in May 2010, and 18 youth from Asian CDC’s A-VOYCE program assisted in creating the game.

Steven Schirra, an Emerson researcher and collaborator on the project, accepted the award on the team’s behalf at New York University’s Skirball Center on June 22. “I felt like I was at the Academy Awards or something,” said Schirra. “All of the big names in serious game design were there, and I’m so happy that the hard work of our team—and the residents of Chinatown—was recognized at the ceremony.”

The Engagement Game Lab is a research lab at Emerson focused on the development and study of games and social media to enhance urban civic life. For more information, visit

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