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NewsSep 7, 2021

New game shows traps in juvenile justice system

Through iThrive, Associate Professor Beverley Cush Evans coaches youth to gold medal

Logo of The Run Around with samples of the cards
Image courtesy: iThrive Games

There are many ways in which The Run Around is different from a traditional tabletop game. The creators are young adults who have been involved in the juvenile justice system, the game features characters of color navigating that system, and no matter how you strategize, you can’t win.

“Of course you can’t,” says Associate Professor Beverley Cush Evans. “That’s their lived experience.”

The six character illustrations in The Run Around game
Illustrations of the characters in The Run Around. Image courtesy: iThrive Games

Last September, Evans began volunteered with iThrive Games, a nonprofit that coaches young adults in the juvenile justice system, as they create games that reflect their experiences. Evans, in collaboration with staff from iThrive and Janelle Ridley of the Boston nonprofit Transition H.O.P.E, began meeting with formerly incarcerated young men and women to develop a game based on their experience in the “school-to-prison pipeline” — the trend in which low-income youth of color are disproportionately incarcerated for criminal activity than their white, more-advantaged peers.

More than a game

In creating the game, the designers wanted to present realistic scenarios that show how challenging, often impossible, it is for young people with criminal records to succeed.

“We tried to shape the game the way the justice system is," said K.C., one of the game’s designers whose name we are withholding to protect their identify. ‟And we tried to base our directions and rules on what would happen in real life. One of them was like, when we are on parole or talk to our caseworker, any little thing can get us put back into the predicament that we were in before. So we made the rules and regulations in the game to show that. It was to show how hard it is for you to get out."

The Run Around game on a table
The Run Around's creators designed every aspect of the game. Image courtesy: iThrive Games

Players choose one of six characters, and as they advance on the board, those characters experience constant trauma and setbacks, stymied by “Trap” cards that often lead to reincarceration.

Throughout the game, players also pick up discussion cards that encourage thoughtful dialog and change with questions such as, “How does the game reflect policies at your school or institution?”

Going for gold

The game, which has not been distributed yet, recently won a gold medal at the 2021 Serious Play Awards in the Educational Tabletop Games category.

“The Run Around was developed to encourage empathy and systems change. Since winning the award, multiple organizations have reached out for more information about the game and to use it in their communities,” says Susan E. Rivers, PhD, executive director of iThrive Games.

"Trap cards" in The Run Around
Trap cards keep players from ever winning the game. Image courtesy: iThrive Games

Evans wants to get it into the hands of as many educators and youth as possible, starting with teachers in our Lesley Institute for Trauma Sensitivity (LIFTS).

“Her commitment to working with teachers to understand the lived experiences of young people who are involved in the system is an important part of the systems change work,” says Rivers.

Evans, Ridley and the designers presented The Run Around to educators in our LIFTs Trauma Certificate Program last semester and are working with the program’s leadership to determine how the game can be incorporated into a course on race. They also plan to offer professional development workshops in spring 2022 for school districts so that faculty, staff and students can play the games and collaborate on plans to change systemic issues in their schools and classrooms.

She is also working with the designers and iThrive to expand the game’s reach to school districts where educators and students can benefit from it.