Approaching Everyday Racism through Fiction in Co-Creation Workshops

Hillary Carey
6 min readJul 10, 2020

Everyday racism is entwined in the technology that we design, yet we have few tools and techniques to engage participants in solutioning. Participatory Design is an ideal method for bringing people from marginalized positions into the design process. It is a powerful way to imagine solutions with those directly involved in a challenge, but for sensitive topics, like racism, group discussions can be too painful and personal. Here we share how a first-person, fictional, interactive narrative can serve as a rich foundation for collaboration and discussion, and relieves participants of the need to reveal personal trauma until they are ready.

Our paper, “Fictional, Interactive Narrative as a Foundation to Talk about Racism,” will be published as part of the Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) Conference in July, 2020. It is a short paper, four pages, introducing our research within the Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon and part of Alexandra To’s dissertation research within the OH! Lab (Dr. Jessica Hammer) and the eHeart Lab (Dr. Geoff Kaufman). In this article we share how and why we designed this method.

Our objective for this work is to identify places where technology falls short and racism is present, and to facilitate design ideas to explore a different world. In this study, to focus our participants on a tangible instance of racism — but one that does not have to come from a personal, and possibly painful experience from one of the participants, we described a fictional, but relatable situation in an interactive narrative.

Interactive Fictional Stories

Interactive narratives, such as “choose-your-own-adventure” games, allow us to engage in-depth with a character in a first-person perspective. Players can make meaningful choices for how a character responds and interacts with the world, and in many cases feel transported into the world and take away experiences that feel real and embodied.

In the Twine game, Prof. Smith asks, “What are your plans for the future?” You have 3 options to reply.
Here is a scene from the fictional, interactive narrative. You, the main character, make a choice about how to respond to a question from your lab manager.

As a way to mitigate the potential trauma that comes from discussing racism with a group of strangers, we use…

Hillary Carey

Design + AntiRacism + Long-term Visions | pursuing a PhD in #TransitionDesign @CarnegieMellonDesign @DesignDept.Co