Imagine standing in front of a full bookcase. Each book contains everything anyone would want to know about succeeding in community activism or organization — topics such as making systemic changes in public education, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, providing direct services to poorer communities, or fighting for environmental justice. Now envision opening those books and finding engaging and interactive material, with user-determined choices that create outcomes. It is like gaining virtual, reality-based experience.

This is what Brandy Faulkner, a collegiate assistant professor and the Gloria D. Smith Professor of Black Studies, created with a new video game. Besides her higher education duties and interests within the Virginia Tech Department of Political Science, her passion is for helping grassroot and social-change-based organizations find success in their endeavors. Within her communities, she strives to be a resource. 

Enter “Team Yellow.”

Illustration of a young woman standing in front of a bookcase.
Game environment: Maura is at her organization's office to study strategy notes and movement actions from the past. Maybe she’ll learn something useful for her current campaign. Image courtesy of Brandy Faulkner.

“The idea to develop this game came out of interactions I was having with community members across the country,” she said. “I was leading trainings and workshops, trying to help communities understand power, how to build power, and how to think about successful political and social change. I found myself giving example after example of how decisions are made and what it looks like to engage in that process. 

“And I thought there must be a better way because, yes, they can hear what I’m saying, but unless they get some kind of experience in what it’s like to be in those situations, I won’t be as effective. And of course, as educators, we’re always thinking how to be more effective and find better ways to communicate information.”

 At first, she developed a series of case study scenarios. People from her communities would work through the decision-making processes and then create four actions and next steps.

“But then I thought, can we make this even more interactive?” she said. And the answer was a resounding YES! 

Working with a Nigerian software engineer, she spent eight months conceptualizing, planning, and writing a two-dimensional, simulation-based game people could access from their computers. And it worked, she said. People enjoyed playing “Team Yellow.” So, she included it in her trainings and workshops as a follow up to the information she taught, and she discovered the players wanted to learn even more.

“That was a good sign to me we had created something that was really useful,” she said. “That’s how it all got started. But now I’m thinking next level. I want people to play on their phones and mobile devices because that’s just what people do now. So, we are working on a 3D version of the game that will include a lot of cool graphics and real-time experience.”

Illustration of a group of protestors.
Game environment: Community members start gathering on a street following a toxic coal ash spill at the nearby fossil fuel plant. What will they do next to protect their water supply? Image courtesy of Brandy Faulkner.

Like most games, the player’s goal is to win. With “Team Yellow,” beating the game means achieving the desired change in each scenario. Faulkner gives the example of trying to modify a disciplinary policy within a public school. Winning means persuading a decision-maker in that area to work toward the change.

Faulkner designed the game for community activists and organizers who are working to create social, political, and economic change in their communities. At this point, she only offers it to those taking her trainings and workshops, although she is not averse to having her students play.

“In some classes I teach, we talk about power,” she said. “For example, in the spring semesters, I teach African American Leadership and Social Change. We have discussions about systemic power and institutional power, so I offer them access to the game.”

For those students and community members Faulkner inspires, the game can help them become effective change-makers, whether they go on to be activists or organizers. She said activists can be the voices and faces of the community at protests, town halls, and other forms of direct action. 

“Organizers are really dedicated to long-term systemic change,” she said. “They are the ones who put in the work when the streets have cleared. They are the ones who are out there building power with their communities every day, figuring out how to take on a decision-maker who can make that change. Organizers are the ones we rarely see, but who are very, very effective in making their communities better. So, it’s important that we give people the tools they need for success.”

Faulkner thinks that if organizers do not have adequate tools to challenge systems of inequity, they can begin to believe there is no hope for change, which can create devastating consequences. Faulkner wants those who finish her trainings and win “Team Yellow” to say to their communities with confidence that although they may face challenges, they can work together to achieve positive outcomes. 

“People I work with a lot and who consider themselves to be part of my squad refer to themselves as part of ‘Team Yellow,’” she said. “For many, yellow is the color of hope and happiness and optimism, all of which is essential for this type of work. You have to stay in a positive place and know you can succeed.”

And there is that moment when everything seems possible, a sudden light illuminating the darkness of doubt and unknowns. And maybe this starting point is more than just seeing the path; maybe it is a game called “Team Yellow.”

Written by Leslie King

Illustration of a group of people standing around a conference room table. There is a sign in the background that reads “Merryweather County School District Welcome!”
Game environment: These organizers have arrived at the Merryweather County School District office for their meeting with the superintendent. Will he support their plan to recruit and retain Black teachers? Image courtesy of Brandy Faulkner.