As I recently wrote, I’ve spent the last two years leading a body of work here at Bellwether that focuses on the experiences of young people most affected by education fragmentation. These students are served by multiple public systems, change schools frequently, and may not have a single consistent adult to help them navigate a complex web of services and programs.
Our team has interviewed dozens of people directly impacted by these systems. While existing story collection efforts often require struggling people to be vulnerable in front of powerful strangers — which can sometimes cause unintended harm — we were committed to doing things differently.
Check out this behind-the-scenes footage to hear more from me on our approach:
Here are six key strategies we used to collect digital story materials while minimizing the burden on the storytellers:
“I don’t talk to many people about this,” she started. “But if you’re here to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else, then I want to tell you.” And then this young woman, a student we met through our work on education fragmentation, told us the story of how her stepfather sexually abused her and how her mother pulled her out of school after she reported it to a teacher. Erica (a pseudonym I’m using to protect her privacy) didn’t go back to school until six months later, once she’d moved cities to live with another family member. As far as she knew, her previous school never asked any questions — no one ever called the house or came looking for her.
This student was one of more than a dozen who we spoke to in schools across the country that shared their experiences of major disruptive life events that changed their education trajectories. Erica’s story in particular has stuck with me and makes me wonder: How we can help education systems better meet the needs of students for whom education may be the only consistent through-line in an otherwise chaotic time?
I believe that one of the first steps is to share stories like Erica’s. Many times, the people working to improve systems fragmentation for youth who experience disruptions to their education pathways are themselves removed from the direct impact of this work. Stories help practitioners know why this work matters and better understand the consequences of getting it wrong.
While empathy is a powerful tool for change and is, perhaps, a fundamental precondition for it, how do we account for the cost of sharing a personal story to the storyteller? Continue reading →
Last week, we released Rigged, a choose-your-own-adventure-style game designed to represent the experiences of youth trying to navigate school while experiencing challenges like homelessness, foster care placement, or incarceration. The game is a glimpse into the impossible tradeoffs these students face regularly.
We collaborated with the folks at Filament Games, including the project’s sole engineer, Terra Lauterbach, to create this one-of-a-kind game. Terra has been a game engineer at Filament Games since early 2017, and for Rigged, she engineered the unique card-based mechanics and supported with the game’s user experience and sound design. I chatted with Terra to share more about the process of creating the game.
The interview below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What were the objectives in creating Rigged?
Rigged was envisioned as an interactive way to help players develop increased understanding and empathy towards underserved youth who have spent time in juvenile detention, are on parole, or may simply be struggling to navigate the system. Bellwether wanted players to be able to relate to the characters in the story, putting users in the shoes of underserved individuals in order to promote inclusivity and a greater shared perspective.
How did you approach designing a game around these topics?
We always intended for Rigged to be an open-ended experience. Our team wanted to give players a menu of choices and require them to balance the consequences of their decisions. Bellwether chose five in-game domains for the player to balance: money, relationships, health and wellness, academics, and responsibilities — all things that one must manage in day-to-day life. Each binary choice that the player faces has a non-binary effect on those domains, positively affecting some domains while negatively affecting others depending on what path the player chooses to follow. Having Bellwether’s subject matter experts easily available at all times (they created the actual content) was extremely useful throughout development. Continue reading →