Promesa: Voicing Counter Colonialism Through Board Game Creation

2020-22 CAST Visiting Artist Grant
2018 Fay Chandler Creativity Grant

Promesa Board Game: Understanding Puerto Rico’s debt crisis through play. Image credit: HErickson/MIT.
Promesa Board Game: Understanding Puerto Rico’s debt crisis through play. Image credit: HErickson/MIT.
Promesa Board Game: Understanding Puerto Rico’s debt crisis through play. Image credit: HErickson/MIT.

Understanding Puerto Rico’s debt crisis through play


Mikael Jakobsson, an MIT Comparative Media Studies Research Scientist who focuses on game studies, game design, and social design exploration, and his collaborators—CAST Visiting Artist Rosa Colón Guerra, 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—have designed 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.

Throughout 2018-19, Jakobsson and his team led a class at the University of the Andes in Bogotá, Colombia and workshops at both MIT and Universidad del Sagrado Corazón in San Juan, Puerto Rico. At these events, professional game designers, students, and others from Colombia and Puerto Rico shared their ideas and experiences and created game concepts. In spring 2020, Jakobsson and Colón Guerra led an MIT Independent Activities Period (IAP) course and a series of collaborative workshops with the goal of developing and producing a small print run of a new board game that challenges narratives of colonialism and foregrounds Puerto Rican voices and lived experiences. 

Promesa was launched in May 2022 with a presentation by Jakobsson, Colón Guerra, and the MIT Game Lab and an opportunity for the MIT community to play the board game.


Past Events

Promesa Board Game: Presentation and Play
April 27, 2022 / 5:00-7:00pm
32 Vassar Street, Building 32, room 124
Cambridge, MA 02139

MIT Game Lab researcher Mikael Jakobsson, CAST Visiting Artist Rosa Colón Guerra, and their collaborators in the design collective Popcicleta present Promesa, a strategic dexterity board game for the whole family about the Puerto Rico debt crisis and its only realistic solution.

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

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

Counter Colonialist Board Game Design Class
Summer 2018
University of the Andes
Bogotá, Colombia


Mikael Jakobsson conducts research at the intersection of game design and game culture. With a foundation in interaction design, he investigates how gaming activities fit into social and cultural practices, and how this knowledge can inform the design and development process. His research has partly been supported by research grants involving collaboration with the game industry. He is currently involved in creating a research strategy for the MIT Game Lab where he also is teaches classes in game studies and game design. He has nearly twenty years of experience in teaching, course development, research project management, establishing external funding and collaboration, as well as advising master’s and PhD students.

Biography: MIT Game Lab
Social: Twitter

Rosa Colón Guerra is passionate about storytelling through comics and illustration. She has been drawing and self-publishing her comics (along with writer Carla Rodríguez) as Soda Pop Comics for 10 years. Colón Guerra writes and illustrates comics focusing on Puerto Rico’s financial crisis and life during Hurricane María and its aftermath.

Biography: The MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology
Social: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Aziria D. Rodríguez Arce, a lover of tacos, memes, and all things funny, earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). She is also a community organizer and web developer. Aziria has worked in various non-profit organizations in Puerto Rico designing and developing participatory tech solutions to deal with government transparency, technology accessibility, capacity building, and economic development issues on the island

Biography: MIT Comparative Media Studies

As Program Manager for the MIT Game Lab, Rik Eberhardt spends his days playing Tetris: with people, boxes, tasklists, equipment, money, and time. He is also an instructor for two MIT Game Lab classes on game production and has served as a mentor and director for multiple game development projects including elude, a game about depression produced in the summer of 2010.

Biography: MIT Comparative Media Studies

Mary Flanagan is the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities, Director of the Tiltfactor game research laboratory, and Professor in the Department of Film and Media Studies at Dartmouth College. She is the author of Critical Play: Radical Game Design (MIT Press).

Biography: MIT Press

Shey Rivera was born and raised in rural Puerto Rico and identifies as a queer, nonbinary femme of color. They come from a background in arts management at the intersection of art and culture as economic drivers, focusing on planning for sustainable and equitable cities and communities. Rivera is a multigenre artist, primarily in the mediums of performance, video, and installation; a wild path of intersections that led them to MIT CoLab at DUSP, where they serve as Director of Inclusive Regional Development (IRD). Their work at CoLab centers on making transnational connections between social movements, with a special focus on Latin America. For the past six years, CoLab has been building deep connections in Colombia’s Pacific Region, working alongside a group of brilliant community organizers, innovators, and artists in the region.

Website: MIT Community Innovators Lab (CoLab) Inclusive Regional Development

In the Media

“With its unconventional premise and solutions-geared gameplay, Promesa stands out from other options already on the market.” — Popular Science, September 2022