Mikael Jakobsson’s Maria: Voicing Counter Colonialism Through Board Game Creation

2018-19 Fay Chandler Creativity Grant

Conceptualization at the Puerto Rico workshop with participants Lenny Mendez, Tania Gonzales, Adriana García Soto and Javier De Jesus. Photo: Rik Eberhardt.
Neeuko, the site of the Puerto Rico Workshop. Photo: Mikael Jakobsson.
Mikael Jakobsson and MIT workshop participants Sydney Engelstein, Danniely Staback, and Eko Nugroh playing games for inspiration. Photo: Rik Eberhardt.

Understanding Puerto Rico’s debt crisis through play

About the Project

Mikael Jakobsson, an MIT Comparative Media Studies Research Scientist, focuses on game studies, game design, and social design exploration. Jakobsson and his collaborators—Mary Flanagan, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College, MIT Comparative Media Studies graduate student Aziria Rodríguez Arce, and members of the MIT Game Lab—are designing a counter colonialist board game to establish networks for social impact through creative practices. This project grew out of Jakobsson’s research on colonization and mercantilism for a forthcoming book from MIT Press co-authored by Flanagan.

Most contemporary board and card games set in Puerto Rico depict the island during the European colonialist era. The narrative of European colonialism is told over and over again in an inaccurate and “whitewashed” manner. Meanwhile, the US public in general has a limited understanding of the hopes and struggles of present-day Latin Americans. The objective of this project is to amplify these voices through game design.

Over the summer, Jakobsson and his team led a class in Bogotá at the University of the Andes and workshops at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, San Juan and at MIT in which professional game designers, students and others from Colombia and Puerto Rico shared their ideas and experiences and created game concepts. Jakobsson and his team are developing the concepts to create a new board game to be shared with students at MIT and board gamers around the world.  


Past Events

IAP: Board Games and Counter Colonialism in the Americas
January 16-17, 2019
MIT Campus, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA

Counter Colonialist Board Game Design Workshop
July 26-27, 2018
MIT Campus, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA


Mikael Jakobsson studies connections between sociocultural systems and gaming practices through embedded qualitative investigations, interaction criticism, and design exploration. His education was shaped by the the Scandinavian participatory design movement in the early 1990s, which has instilled him with a sensitivity to issues of design as political acts, and the importance of recognizing power differentials between stakeholders in the design process.

He is currently studying how the socio-technical systems we engage with when playing modern video games cast players in roles which many may be uncomfortable, or unhappy, with, and working with developers to reflect more on the benefits of inclusivity when contributing to the casting process. Another current project engages with colonialist themes in contemporary board games and includes efforts to strengthen the voices of the subaltern by creating counter colonialist games.

He the research coordinator for the  MIT Game Lab where he also teaches classes in game studies, game design, and playful and social design exploration. He has over 20 of experience in teaching, course development, research project management, as well as advising master’s and PhD students.

More about Mikael Jakobsson.