Always be “Ready to Play” – notes from APA Florida Chapter 2015 workshop

Thank you to all participants who joined me today at the APA’s Florida Chapter conference. Today planners from around the state of Florida got together to experience the power of games to incite critical thinking and dialogue about real-world issues. These included new strategies for decision-making and planning in the face of potential environmental and systemic risks. The session included collaborative activities, with just a touch of competition, during which participants weighed available information/choices and possible outcomes as a means to generate dynamic discourse on challenges and solutions for real-world scenarios. We started the session playing Magnitude (all game files can be found at this link), followed by Building Up (modified from Fields of View‘s City Game) and ending with suggested tools and resources for running interactive sessions with peers and/or community members. I hope you are inspired to take what you saw today and modify/adapt them to your needs. If you need help or suggestions, please let me know. Below are the slides for your reference. I’ll also create time-lapse video(s) of the towns and will post them here soon!

Building Up activity

April 2 – Prevention, Intervention, and Action: The Colombian National Police and the Security of Children

General Salamanca Colombian youth

General Salamanca with Colombian youth

I am fortunate to be part of an interdisciplinary research team that is partnering with the Colombian National Police (CNP) on a game-based intervention, Por Nuestras Calles, addressing the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in Colombia. More on that soon!

Related to our research efforts working with CNP, Brigadier General William Salamanca, Director of Protection and Special Services (DIPRO) for the Colombian National Police (CNP), will visit the University of Miami School of Communication’s Shoma Hall on April 2 at 1 p.m. to present on the issue of CSEC.

We hope to see you there!

Event Details
Prevention, Intervention, and Action: The Colombian National Police and the Security of Children
Date: Thursday, April 2, 2015 at 1:00pm (with reception to follow)
Location: University of Miami, School of Communication, Shoma Hall (CIB 3053)


The following event announcement appears on UM’s School of Communication website here.

Brigadier General William Salamanca, Director of Protection and Special Services (DIPRO) for the Colombian National Police (CNP), will visit the University of Miami School of Communication’s Shoma Hall on April 2 at 1 p.m. to present on the issue of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). His presentation, titledPrevention, Intervention, and Action: The Colombian National Police and the Security of Children will highlight CNP’s existing effort and the organization’s introduction of creative methods to tackle critical societal issues that affect the country’s most vulnerable – its children.  The presentation will be followed by a Q&A session. This event is sponsored by UM’s Center for Communication, Culture, and Change, UM’s School of Nursing and Health Studies, El Centro, Miami Consortium for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and UM’s Miller School of Medicine.

This presentation will also highlight a project employing creative methodologies for the prevention of CSEC. Por Nuestras Calles, funded by the Miami Consortium for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, brings together a multidisciplinary team comprised of: Lien Tran, assistant professor of interactive media, and Jessica Wendorf, doctoral student, both from UM’s School of Communication, Maria Elena Villar, associate professor at FIU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the Colombian National Police. Together, the team has developed an experiential intervention that targets the reduction of the stigmatization of victims and the tolerance of CSEC by community members.

“It’s been a wonderful experience to work with Brigadier General Salamanca and the Colombian National Police on this project. Not only because of the incredible infrastructure they provide being a national organization, but also, and perhaps most importantly, because of their great disposition and willingness to engage in a meaningful way,” says Wendorf.

General Salamanca has more than 30 years of service and has received in excess of 65 medals for his efforts in security and protection. In his current role, he is responsible for directing the work of 13,000 men and women throughout Colombia in leading the implementation of strategy to prevent and combat CSEC. Under his leadership, significant efforts have been made, resulting in the capture of individuals who violate the rights of children, neutralizing organizations dedicated to CSEC and ensuring the restoration of rights and protection of children.

“Our team is thankful for this unique opportunity to work with the Colombian National Police and to address an issue as important as CSEC. It’s always a challenge to translate all the rich data and research we’ve collected, including personal conversations with organizations and individuals affected by CSEC, into an engaging and genuine experience. It’s a testament to our research team and partners that we’ve been able to strike the right balance between what could be a harsh reality and the positive message we want to spread about the importance of protecting the children of Colombia and taking a stance against this unjust exploitation,” says Tran.

The team of Miami researchers traveled to Colombia and worked alongside the police to identify potential vulnerabilities, key barriers, and possible entry points for CSEC, leading to the creation of PNC, a role-playing game in which participants are invited to take on the character of a child vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation. By situating game players as susceptible children, participants are able to experience some of the systematic barriers of inequality, risk and possible exposure to commercial sexual exploitation. Those who play the game have an augmented awareness of CSEC, thus increasing the likelihood CSEC will be reported to authorities.

“This project represents a genuine academic-community collaboration at the international level,” says Villar.

General Salamanca at the University of Miami event poster (April 2, 2015)

Unaccompanied immigrant minors in Miami making moves with Toma El Paso game

Back in Spring 2012, I started working on Make a Move, a game for unaccompanied immigrant minors (UIMs), youth who find themselves in the U.S. without proper documentation of legal status. I was working with a former teacher turned immigration lawyer to bridge the information gap faced by these youth due to their undocumented status. One of the first topics we identified as important for UIMs to understand was the release from detention/shelter process. At about the same time The New School started its social innovation fund called the New Challenge, which was the perfect opportunity to seek seed funding to produce and distribute Make a Move.

In the final few weeks of that spring semester a few notable things happened: I finished designing the game, which was also my culminating thesis project for my Parsons MFAD+T degree. My immigration games project (then named AmigoLegal Games) became the inaugural New Challenge grand grant winner. I was offered a full-time teaching position at the University of Miami in Florida. I (finally) graduated from The New School. In that order. When I first started this project and applied to the New Challenge, I had planned to continue working on it post-graduation from New York. Then my life took a turn and I was headed to Miami, which happens to be another haven for UIMs with its own immigration law concerns.

In my last two months in New York, a place I’d called home for 5 years, I had a lot of transitioning to do. I moved out of my awesome Brooklyn apartment, the one I thought I would live in for many more years. I went from being a graduate student to a professor. I got engaged. I was about to start a whole new life in Miami. Before I left, I committed to continuing working remotely on the immigration games project with my lawyer partner and the juvenile facilities in New York. Well, things didn’t quite work out as planned with my project partner, and I was left to re-establish the project in Miami.

It wasn’t easy, but after about a year of making connections and meeting with different groups, I finally found a solid partnership within the University of Miami family. Etiony Aldarondo from UM’s School of Education has been working with UIMs for years. He’s the faculty advisor for an amazing initiative called ICAN (Immigrant Children’s Affirmative Network), which is part of a larger entity called ICLASP (Immigrant Children’s Legal And Service Partnership). ICAN is a group of dedicated volunteers who work with the UIMs at a shelter in Miami Gardens called His House. I was fortunate to meet Etiony in August 2013, just as ICAN was reworking their UIM curriculum to switch from shorter weekly sessions to an extended 2-days-per month schedule.

Again it wasn’t easy, but I’m so appreciative to have made inroads here in Miami where I can be more involved and have more stakeholders interested in spreading the use of games to address the immigration information gap. Since that first meeting with Etiony in August, we finalized the Spanish translation for the game including its name and had immigration experts from Americans from Immigrant Justice (AIJ) play and confirm its content. Toma El Paso (Make a Move in Spanish) has been part of ICAN’s monthly curriculum since April 2014. In June, we met with the His House staff in charge of the UIMs at their shelter location, and they are very excited about using the game beyond just ICAN. We’ve now planned a game training in August 2014 with the shelter staff so that UIMs can learn and play the game throughout their stay at His House. It seems like it’s been a slow two years, but I’m super excited about the progress we’ve made in the last few months and the steps we are taking to grow. One big change to note is that I’ve renamed this game-based initiative to Amiguía Americana to convey our efforts to provide resources designed for UIMs that serve as friendly guides to acclimating to life in the U.S. We are also trying to expand the reach and use of our resources to include immigrant youth who may have legal status to live in the U.S. Stay tuned!

To learn more about the original Gaming the (Immigration) System project, please visit:


Special thanks to The New School’s New Challenge for seed funding to make this project a reality, my Parsons MFA+DT game design ‘family’ including faculty and students at Institute of Play who helped test the game in its very early stages, Jessica Wendorf (for her instrumental translation help), Lauren Gutman (ICAN program coordinator and Amiguía Americana research assistant), ICAN volunteers, Etiony Aldarondo (Director of Dunspaugh-Dalton Community and Educational Well-Being Research Center at University of Miami), Americans for Immigrant Justice (AIJ), and the staff His House in Miami Gardens, Florida.