Drafting the Toolkit

Having returned to the drawing board to gather more game ideas, this week we fleshed these out and considered how each speaks to one of the CLVU campaigns. One of the new game ideas will be tested at the corner of Prospect/Magazine and Mass Ave in Central Square, Cambridge from 3-5 pm on Monday December 2nd. If it works and we get positive feedback, we will incorporate it into the final toolkit along with the Corn Hole game. Our next focus group, which will be held with the CLVU member leadership team, will take up a third game. Our goal is to have 2-3 working games to include in the final toolkit.

We are still debating what format to use for our website and what, if any, additional media components to include as supplements or complements to the online toolkit.

The toolkit outline, including some draft text and current game ideas, is included below:


Who we are
Mike – City Life/Vida Urbana communications coordinator
Terry – community organizer/founder of Intelligent Mischief (a civic media hack lab)
Nene – youth worker/MIT urban planning student
Dara – former legal/housing advocate/MIT urban planning student

Background: The issue
City Life/Vida Urbana has been supporting tenant organizing to preserve housing affordability and resist displacement since their inception in the 1970s. Since the foreclosure crisis post-2007, CLVU has worked with tenants and homeowners facing eviction and foreclosure to help them stay in their homes. As the number of foreclosures has decreased, the narrative that the foreclosure crisis is over has risen. CLVU staff, however, continue to see people suffering foreclosures and evictions. They have seen housing prices rise as private investors buy up vacated homes and flip them for a quick profit. In these trends, CLVU recognizes the formation of a new housing bubble and wants to avoid a return to “bubble economics” by challenging the dominant narrative with one that reflects the experience of its members in Boston, and the working poor nationwide.

We came together in the MIT Media Lab course on Co-Design in the fall of 2013. Our goal was to develop an alternative narrative that addressed the systemic crisis that CLVU was helping households in Greater Boston address. We wanted this narrative to connect CLVU’s campaigns three campaigns, which fight eviction foreclosures, resist gentrification, and shed light on real estate investors who are turning a profit on foreclosed homes. We aimed to situate our project in a broader national economic context because we knew Bostonians weren’t the only ones struggling to stay afloat and retain their homes.

How to use this toolkit
We have created this toolkit with the expectation that it will be adapted, that it will serve as a starting point for activists to bring the issues most pressing to their communities into the public eye. We have designed an interactive model because we believe an engaging, social, tactile experience will enable the synthesis needed to shift how we think about the economic injustices of our times. It isn’t only the housing game that’s rigged. Use this toolkit to investigate the way the systems that most impact your community are structured, and to educate your community about what you learn. Use it to imagine how you would like to change these systems. Use it to connect with people who can help.  Ready? Okay, let’s go and Change the Game!

The Carnival
Carnival games promise a fun time and a big prize. But how many of us have ever won a carnival game? How many have actually gotten that big stuffed animal prize? Very few. Why? Because the carnival games are rigged so that it’s almost impossible to win. Similarly, the housing market promises a coveted reward, while the mortgage-lending practices that led to the 2008 market crash made it impossible for consumers to “win” that game either. However, much more is at stake in the housing “game.” Homebuyers’ and renters’ life savings and hard work go into their homes, whether in rent, mortgages, maintenance or improvements. A fair market is supposed to be fair, not a carnivalesque game of tricks and mirrors, promising rewards it never delivers.

Housing Narrative: three campaigns, related by a story:


  • Cornhole:
  • Three holes:
    • Top – $50,000
    • Bottom two – $25,000
    • Board – $10,000
  • Goal is to to make $72,150
  • Jelly Bean Guess


  • Musical Chairs


  • Tarot card reader
  • Shell Game, or Who’s holding your loan?
  • Hot Potato


  • Pop a balloon: show that bubbles — like housing bubbles — do pop
  • Communal Mural


Format of the Carnival


Call to Action/Next Steps

Appendix A:
The group convened under the goals set forth by our community partner City Life/Vida Urbana, and CLVU’s liaison Mike Leyba. We began by meeting with CLVU Executive Director Curdina Hill, who grounded us in a firm understanding of the organization’s history, mission, and current issue areas. Early in our process, Nene and Terry led the group in a “They Say, We Say” exercise in which we responded to dominant problematic arguments about the housing crisis. The counter-arguments we developed in this exercise served as a guide for us to return to throughout the process.

Each step was iterative: we met weekly outside of class to revisit the last steps in our process, determine our next steps, and ground these in the overarching concept, which was itself in constant development. At key points, we integrated the feedback and participation of others. We brought our ideas to the CLVU member leadership team several times, and incorporated their recommendations. The course professors offered criticism. We tested our design in focus groups with the leadership team, our classmates, and the public. We used class time to brainstorm design concepts and ideas, again referring to the points derived from the “They Say, We Say exercise.”

CLVU First Project Iteration

In Tuesday’s class meeting, our team was given time to workshop our project.  Following Aditi’s advice, we used the points generated in our first meeting with the “They Say, We Say” exercise, to get ideas for specific carnival games.  In groups of four, our classmates suggested ideas for games that would address these points.  One team member shadowed each group and took notes.

Our team met privately on Thursday to present the ideas to each other and pick which ones to use.  We also discussed the possibility of creating a digital game, and Mike showed us a great example one.  We took some time to brainstorm independently before discussing the strengths and weaknesses of different ideas.  Eventually we settled on a list of four live games, and shared some thoughts on possibilities for a digital game.

The team made important progress this week.  We have decided to create a carnival toolkit rather than produce a live carnival.  To test and perfect each game, we will facilitate a series of focus groups.  When the games are finalized we will create supporting graphic material, guidelines and instructions, and make these available online so that the games can be replicated anywhere.  The digital game will serve as a way to popularize and introduce our carnival to a national audience.  It will appear on the CLVU website, along with a link to the carnival toolkit.

At our next meeting we will discuss remaining concerns both about how to engage users and how to effectively demonstrate the key lessons behind each game.

Below are rough models for the four live games.





Ring Toss:

Ring Toss

Knock Down the 1%:  In this game, the goal will be to knock down a stack of milk jugs, the twist being that one or more of them is glued to the table.  Anyone can play, but the 1% will always win this rigged game!