UW Graduate School

Diane Lopez on empathy and games

Diane Lopez sitting in a room with bookshelves wears a bright yellow shirt and smiles at the camera.

Diane López Morán, master’s student in Library and Information Sciences, thinks our conversations about immigration are lacking empathy.

“We live in a world that’s on opinion overload,” Diane says. The barrage of opinions about migration and immigration is obscuring the lived stories of migrants and creating confusion on the topic, she says.

To cut through the noise, Diane is drawing on her coursework to develop a game that will share the obscured or untold stories of Central American migrants. Opening these games to libraries and other public spaces, Diane hopes to bring nuanced conversations about migration to areas of the country that are more removed from the issue, and in the process, to build empathy for the struggles of migrants.

The daughter of Honduras immigrants who grew up along the U.S.-Mexico border, Diane holds an intimate and multi-faceted view on migration from Central America.

“I’ve witnessed numerous immigrant crossings,” Diane says, and “I’ve seen the hopes and fears of people trying to cross.” These experiences, and her family living in Honduras, have fostered Diane’s compassion toward the experiences of migrants.

The feelings used to be overwhelming, but “the privilege of going to graduate school has inspired me to channel my emotions in a more structured way, and to focus on what I can contribute to my community,” Diane says.

The idea that if more people could experience a personal connection to immigrants, they, too would have more empathy for their struggles is the basis of Diane’s project. To foster empathy, Diane is drawing on the real stories of Central American migrants — those who have crossed to the U.S. and were deported, the thousands of people walking in the Caravan — to develop a share activity. Diane plans to model this game after top-table games that center storytelling and are highly interactive.

She is acutely aware of the potential for such a game to trivialize or disrespect the lived experiences of migrants, and, with peer Amanda Chin, has critiqued the practice of game-building to develop rules of what “not” to include in the game. For example, the game will not include mechanisms like a “death” or “deportation” card, which could potentially desensitize people to the violent experiences migrants face. Diane emphasizes that the purpose is first and foremost to connect people to the real experiences of migrants – the game is secondary.

Diane’s concept for the game grew from a course with Dr. Ricardo Gomez on information, technology and migration. For the class each week, students were asked to create an activity or game to engage with others on the topic of migration. This piqued Diane’s interest in how these activities could be used specifically to build empathy.

Last fall, Diane was further encouraged to pursue this work while presenting at a panel about “The Caravan,” hosted by the Jackson School. The attendance at the event was overwhelming: audience members were standing in the aisles and sitting on the floor of the packed lecture hall. And when several audience members approached Diane after the talk to thank her for bringing a “human face” to the issue, “it made me realize the value of what I’m doing with this game,” she says. “What I’m doing is not just for me — it’s bigger than I had thought.”

Published December 2018