The Engagement Lab is an applied research lab at Emerson College focusing on the development and study of games, technology, and new media to enhance civic life.

The Lab works directly with its partner communities to design and facilitate civic engagement processes, augment stakeholder deliberation, and broaden the diversity of participants in local decision-making. Along with the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, the Engagement Lab also serves as the hub of a global network of engagement and new media organizations.


Eric Gordon

Director & Associate Professor

Eric studies civic media, mediated cities and playful engagement. He's a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and he is an associate professor in the department of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College where he focuses on the design and research of digital games and social software that foster local civic engagement. He is the co-author of a new book about location-based media called Net Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World (Blackwell Publishing, 2011) and the author of The Urban Spectator: American Concept Cities From Kodak to Google (Dartmouth, 2010).

Paul Mihailidis

Associate Director & Assistant Professor

Paul is an assistant professor at Emerson College in Boston, MA, and the Director of the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. His work focuses on media literacy and emerging civic voices. He has spoken and written extensively on the need for media literacy as a core competency in engaged citizenship.

Mariko Davidson

Managing Director

An urbanist and civic entrepreneur with an adventurous spirit, Mariko's career spans over seven years of creative development experience with much of that time leading and designing successful domestic and international civic programs. Some of her previous achievements include launching civic programs at the East-West Center and the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics. She holds a Master's in City Planning from MIT where she focused on issues of civic engagement, governance, and social equity. Most recently, Mariko served as an Innovation Fellow where she led the open data initiative for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.


Aidan O'Donohue

Art Director

Aidan graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in painting, and has also studied design and architecture. In addition to her work at the lab, she works as an illustrator and teaches art to children with special needs. She splits her time between Boston and NYC and still loves to draw.

Christina Wilson

Project Manager

Christina's abiding interests in open access to a participatory democracy, ethics, and the role of technology in shaping human experiences drew her to the Engagement Game Lab. With degrees from the University of Chicago (A.B., English Language & Literature) and University of Southern California (M.A., English: Film, Literature & Culture), she brings a love of language, philosophy and the visual arts to bear on her work at the lab, thinking through and spreading the word about the possibilities opened up by meaningful play in public deliberation, broaching reasonable solutions to complex problems. Email at

Sam Liberty

Chief Games Officer

Sam is lead writer for EGL's projects, including Community PlanIt and Civic Seed, and one half of the Spoiled Flush Games design studio. His designs took top prize at Game Chef 2011, as well as at the 2010 Rio Grande game design competition. Games include Forsooth, Gladiators (Rio Grande), and Cosmic Pizza (Cambridge Games Factory). Sam has been featured in the Ideas section of the Boston Globe ("Inside the Board Game Renaissance"), and spoke on the topic of board game design at TEDxBoston 2012.

Becky Michelson

Project Manager

Becky coordinates research projects on playful civics​, urban innovation, and​ media literacy. Becky graduated from UC Davis with a degree in Cultural Anthropology. She was a Jeremiah Fellow with Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice where she honed community organizing skills. Her research ​interests include participatory culture, transmedia storytelling, and ethics with technology.

Johnny Richardson

Lead Developer

Johnny is a veteran games, UI, and web engineer and consultant based in Boston, MA. Having worked on many sides and in every stage of the development pipeline, he specializes in creating world-class software and games, with an emphasis on tightly-controlled standards and obsessive code quality. Through his work he strives to empower colleagues and fellow stakeholders in every possible way, no matter what it takes. Johnny believes that fluid and transparent teamwork is vital to a final product of the highest quality. As an alumni of Emerson, Johnny is excited to be bringing his skills and experience back to campus and the Engagement Lab. On the side, he is also Director of Industry Outreach for The AbleGamers Foundation, and has given many talks and workshops on improving accessibility in games.

Jay Vachon


Jay enjoys making things, especially games and music. At the lab, he has lead the development of Risk Horizon and the mobile version of @Stake. He has also collaborated on NewsPix, a browser extension developed at the MIT Center For Civic Media. Jay is one third of the Astro Assembly design studio.

Sean Van Deuren

Lab Manager

Sean is responsible for maintaining productive and vibrant relationships, workflows, and communications for the Engagement Lab community. He earned his BFA in Writing, Literature & Publishing from Emerson College. His short story chapbook, I Am Happy You Are Here, was published by Wilde Press in 2011. He was raised in Maryland and currently lives in Somerville.

Jordan Pailthorpe


Jordan Pailthorpe is a Producer and also organizes the game discussion group where Emerson students come together to play and discuss alternative indie games. He also teaches game studies and design at Emerson College and holds an MFA in creative writing. In his free time, Jordan rides adventure motorcycles, writes poetry, makes weird art games, and plays with his two cats Virginia and Goku.

Roma Dash

Editorial Assistant

Roma is a Research Assistant at Engagement Lab and an Assistant Editor of Journal of Media Literacy Education (JMLE). She holds an MBA in finance, and is currently working towards a master’s degree in publishing & writing from Emerson College. Her interests include academic publishing, copyediting, and research in LGBT+ issues, civic media, and immigration literature.

Wade Kimbrough

Project Manager

Wade Kimbrough is a game designer, researcher, and project manager. His primary focus is using games in a humanitarian and development context to help alleviate the impacts of climate change. He has designed and developed games for the Red Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre, UNICEF, PLAN International, and the World Bank. Wade also teaches 3D computer game design at Emerson.


Lab Assistants

Graduate Students
Brandon Sichling- Research (games and identity)

Undergraduate Students
Alex Eby- Graphics
Sean Vaccaro- Production Assistant
Dan Barkus- Handyman
Erica Salling- QA Tester
Sophie Calhoun- Graphic Design
Matt Benson- Illustrator

Fellows & Affiliates

Catherine D'Ignazio

Fellow & Assistant Professor

Catherine is a researcher, artist and software developer who investigates how data visualization, technology and new forms of storytelling can be used for civic engagement. She has conducted research on geographic bias in the news media, developed software to geolocate news articles and designed an application, “Terra Incognita”, to promote global news discovery. She is currently working with the Public Laboratory for Technology and Science to create an open source water sensing toolkit for journalists. Her art and design projects have won awards from the Tanne Foundation,, the LEF Foundation, and Dream It, Code It, Win It. In 2009, she was a finalist for the Foster Prize at the ICA Boston. Her work has been exhibited at the Eyebeam Center for Art & Technology, Museo d'Antiochia of Medellin, and the Venice Biennial. She is also a Research Affiliate at the MIT Center for Civic Media.

Miranda Banks

Researcher & Assistant Professor

Miranda's primary area of research is the American film and television industries, with a specific focus on creative and craft guilds and unions. She is co-editor of Production Studies: Cultural Studies of Media Industries (Routledge, 2009). She has written for Television & New Media, Cinema Journal, Popular Communication, Flow, Cultural Studies, and The Journal of Popular Film and Television, as well as for the anthologies How to Watch TV (NYU Press, 2013), The Handbook of Television Studies (Sage, forthcoming), Teen Television (BFI, 2004), and Garb: A Reader on Fashion and Culture (Prentice Hall, 2007). Before arriving at Emerson, she spent two years as a Visiting Assistant Professor in USC's School of Cinematic Arts.

Russell Newman

Fellow & Assistant Professor

Previous to his arrival at Emerson, Russell Newman served as the research director for the national nonprofit advocacy group Free Press. There, he focused on media and telecommunications policy, tracking current issues, writing issue briefs, creating Web content, and speaking publicly regarding emerging debates. With Robert McChesney and Ben Scott, he is the co-editor of The Future of Media: Resistance and Reform in the 21st Century (Seven Stories Press, 2005), named as one of Working Assets' Recommended Reads for July 2005. He spent several years as a freelance multimedia designer and as a promamduction designer for a number of independent films. He was active in noncommercial radio in Boston for nearly a decade. Russell was a Waterston Fellow at Suffolk University's Sawyer School of Management, where he earned a master's degree focusing on the political economy of mass communication, nonprofit management and documentary production; he earned his bachelor's degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Russell is interested in exploring the intersections of the political economy of media, the epistemological foundations of media policymaking and governance, and ongoing struggles against existing structures of power.

Vincent Raynauld

Fellow & Assistant Professor

Vincent Raynauld is a Ph.D. graduate from Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication with a research interest in political communication, social media, Web persuasion and e-learning. In October 2013, he defended his dissertation, which is nominated for a Carleton University Senate Medal, one of the most prestigious awards for a Ph.D. student at Carleton University. Vincent is also serving as a research associate for the Groupe de Recherche en Communication Politique and an academic adviser for Samara, a non-profit organization researching political participation in Canada. In 2013, he was nominated as an everyday mentor for the "Million Skills Project" headed by researchers based at the University of Indiana. In 2007, he was awarded a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship (CGS) as well as a David and Rachel Epstein Scholarship, one of Carleton University’s most competitive awards for graduate students.

Sarah Zaidan

Fellow & Assistant Professor

Sarah Zaidan is an illustrator, game designer and researcher whose work explores how identity, gender and society are shaped by mass media, particularly video games and comic books. She is Kingston University London's first recipient of a Ph.D. by practice in superhero art and history with research findings presented in the form of an award winning video game, The Adventures of MetaMan: The Male Superhero as a Representation of Modern Western Masculinity (1940-2010). She is one of the creators and illustrators of the feminist superhero comic series My So-Called Secret Identity, in collaboration with Batman scholar Will Brooker.


Stephen Walter

Founding Managing Director

Stephen is a person who makes and studies media that aim to foster experiences of complexity, difference, and play. He's worked at Boston EMS, the Boston Public Health Commission, the Boston Center for the Arts, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the PBS television shows Frontline and Nova. At the EGL, he's helped lead the development of civic media projects in Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, South Africa, Sweden, Moldova, and Zambia. Here is a cv.

Jedd Cohen

Curriculum Developer

Jedd is working to adapt Community PlanIt for use in schools and other community and advocacy organizations. He earned his EdM at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and has worked throughout the education sector as a policy researcher, community organizer, and teacher. He's interested in the ways that people and organizations learn. Contact:

Maya Wagoner

Curriculum Developer

Maya is a community technology organizer and user experience designer interested in designing digital services with people's political, historical, and experiential knowledge in mind, and in empowering people to create digital services and networks for themselves. She graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in American Studies, and completed a User Experience Design Immersive program at General Assembly. While in San Francisco, she organized the Code for San Francisco Brigade, a local civic technology volunteer group. She is currently working on strengthening the networks in civic media scholarship and practice in the Boston area through a civic media conference, consortium, and website.

Rob McKenzie

Lab Coordinator

Rob helped the lab function on a daily basis and coordinated lab events, student outreach, and impromptu Nerf Gun battles. He graduated in 2013 from Emerson College with a degree in Writing for Film and Television and has previously worked for Antiques Roadshow and Good Universe Productions. His interests include theater, internet culture, and of course, whitewater kayaking.

Jesse Baldwin-Philippi, PhD

Researcher & Visiting Professor

Jesse was a visiting faculty member in Emerson's Department of Visual and Media Arts, and studies civic engagement, citizenship, and digital media. Her work is fundamentally concerned with how engagement with new technologies can restructure forms of political participation and ideas about citizenship, and has covered a variety of topics from political campaigns to games to government innovation. Visit her work or contact her at Jessica_Philippi [at] Download latest cv here.

Russell Goldenberg

Hacker in Chief

Russell is an interactive developer. When not coding, you can find him cooking up something fierce or playing basketball, fiercely. He has a longstanding relationship with Processing, but lately has been flirting with Node, JavaScript, and real-time web apps. He studied computer science at Union College and became a Master of Fine Arts a Emerson College. He makes games, data visualizations, interactive documentaries, and experimental code projects.

Featured Press

Emerson Game Lab Aims to Fix Local, Global Problems
in The Boston Globe, August 12, 2013

Detailed coverage of the lab, its goals, design philosophy, and projects, especially our flagship game, Community PlanIt.

Connecting Citizens to Their Government By Turning It Into a Game
in Fast Company, March 29, 2013

"Community PlanIt is a game about the issues that face local government, designed to get people (especially young people) more involved and understanding of what goes in to managing their communities."

Is School Enough?
on PBS, September 3, 2013

Community PlanIt is featured in this PBS special about how new technologies are breaking new ground in education.

Games Grow Up: Colleges Recognize the Power of Gamification
on EdTech, March 28, 2013

"At Boston's Emerson College, the Engagement Game Lab focuses on crafting complete game experiences that lower barriers to civic involvement."

Interactive Game Helps With Urban Panning
on NBC 10 Philadelphia Nightly News, January 29, 2013 (Video)

NBC10 reports on Philly 2035: The Game on Community PlanIt.

24/7 Detroit and the Future
on NPR's Craig Fahle Show on WDET (Detroit), June 6, 2012

Eric Gordon joins Craig Fahle of WDET in-studio to discuss the Community PlanIt game, Detroit 24/7.


The UNDP blogs about lessons learned from our game in Moldova by United Nations Development Programme, June 2014

PLAN TO PLAY, PLAY TO PLAN Insight Labs, March 07, 2014

Connecting Citizens to Their Government By Turning It Into a Game in Fast Company, March 29, 2013

Games Grow Up: Colleges Recognize the Power of Gamification on EdTech, March 28, 2013

Researchers Say Turning Community Planning Into a Game Actually Works in TechPresident, March 1, 2013

Philly 2035: Game On on PlanPhilly, January 29, 2013

Interactive Game Helps With Urban Panning on NBC 10 Philadelphia Nightly News , January 29, 2013 (Video)

Whats "The Point?" Video Game, Planning Project Focused on Salem Neighborhood on Salem News , January 29, 2013

"24/7 Detroit and the Future" on NPRs Craig Fahle Show on WDET (Detroit), June 6, 2012

"New Digital Game, Social Network to Help Detroiters Map Citys Future" in Xconomy, May 4, 2012

"Game to Allow Quincy Residents to "PlanIt" in Patriot Ledger, May 4, 2012

"Knight Foundation merging media, minds and money" in The Boston Globe, November 22, 2011

"Community PlanIt turns civic engagement into a game" in Nieman Journalism Lab, September 15, 2011.

"[Interview] Networked digital communities" on ABC National Radios By Design, June 25, 2011.

"Weigh in on planning process online" in Lowell Sun, June 25, 2011.

"In Boston, City Hall Pursues Innovation In-House" in TechPresident, April 21, 2011.

"Video game hopes to spur civic involvement among Quincys Asians" in The Boston Globe, November 14, 2010.

"Saving the World, One Game at a Time" in, May 14, 2010.

"Using Games To Increase Civic Engagement" in Next American City, September 24, 2010.


"Can Violent Games Promote Peace?" in Huffington Post, July 5 , 2011.

"Games for Change 2011: The Best New Green Apps & Video Games" in Treehugger, June 22, 2011.

"Quand la conception des espaces publics devient un jeu" in La Fabrique de la Cite, April 14, 2011.

"Participatory Chinatown" in Creative Thailand, February 7, 2011.

"Susana Ruiz and her take on our top games of 2010" in Games for Change, January 7 , 2011.

"Your top 5 social impact games of the year!" in Games for Change, December 12, 2010.

"Participatory Research as Path to Equitable Transportation" in The City Fix, September 23, 2010.

"Bostons Chinatown Goes Sim City" in The Architects Newspaper, June 14, 2010.

"Serious Games Engaging Next Gen in Community Planning" in Serious Games Market, May 30, 2010.

"Using a video game to help chart Chinatowns future," in Mass. Market, May 16, 2010.

"A 3-D approach to community meetings" in Sampan, May 14, 2010.

"Chinatown, the video game" in The Boston Globe, May 6, 2010.

"Participatory Chinatown" in Shareable, May 4, 2010

"Shaping the Future of Chinatown with a Game" in Game Politics, May 4, 2010.

"Chinatown planners hope game pulls crowd" in The Boston Globe, May 3, 2010.


"A Second Act for Second LIfe, as an Urban Planning Tool" in Fast Company, June 11, 2009.

"Q&A: Eric Gordon on Community Planning with Second Life" in Metropolis POV, June 8, 2009.

"Virtual Business, For Real?" in The Boston Globe, November 10, 2008.

"Virtual Tool Puts Residents in the Planning Process" in Boston Business Journal, March 28, 2008.

"Bostons Public Spaces are Getting a Second Life" in The Weekly Dig, December 21, 2007.

"Hub of the Online Universe: City Plans a Virtual Boston" in The Boston Globe, July 21, 2007.


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