Poor Not Guilty: An Experiential Street Law Education on the Criminalization of Poverty through Perspective-Taking

Lien Tran, Tamar Ezer, Lily Fontenot and David Stuzin

NOTE: This paper was selected by the program committee as a Meaningful Play 2022 Top Paper.


Cities and states throughout the United States impose fines for minor offenses at every stage of the criminal justice system. Without any means of escape from a system designed to punish poverty, millions of Americans lose their jobs, homes, and even their children. Two of the major roadblocks to change when addressing the criminalization of poverty are a lack of awareness and a lack of empathy. In order to educate audiences who are less likely to be exposed to or directly impacted by such unfair practices, a team of game designers and legal experts collaborated on the Poor Not Guilty Challenges, a set of experiences in which players perspective-take as someone impacted by the criminalization of such petty offenses. These challenges were used in a pilot classroom as part of a secondary education Street Law lesson plan and have additional use cases in other advocacy and learning settings.