In “Dot’s Home,” Players Explore Housing Inequalities and Homeownership

published Mar 12, 2023
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With redlining, generational trauma, and gentrification actively affecting people of color in low-income neighborhoods, one video game is encouraging players to build meaningful relationships and choose community-first actions while battling housing inequalities.

Dot’s Home” — which recently won one of Apple’s App Store Awards for Cultural Impact — is an adventure game tackling homeownership and racism throughout four chapters. The game follows Dot Hawkins, a young Black woman living in Detroit as she travels through time to relive key moments in her family’s history. As if the science fiction aspect of the game isn’t exciting enough, the player’s choices determine the game’s ending, which reflects how an individualistic mindset can benefit or harm an entire community.

Similar to popular decision-based games like “The Walking Dead” or “Life is Strange,” players are encouraged to make wise choices that will affect Dot’s journey to buying or selling her grandmother’s home. And thanks to the team that created Dot’s Home, the award-winning game doesn’t shy away from exploring the predatory practices and exploitation that people of color experience in the housing market.

Produced by Rise-Home Stories Project, a collective of artists, writers, and community organizers, “Dot’s Home” is one of five projects that have explored social justice issues via podcasts, children’s books, an animated web series, and other interactive media. According to Paige Wood, a supervising producer for the game, the location of the game is intentional for its storytelling, but the team hopes that audiences understand that the tales of racial discrimination surpass Detroit.

“As a majority Black [populated] city with a story that explores Black family history, [the storytelling is] a microcosm of everything we’re discussing,” she told Apartment Therapy.

In an interview with Apartment Therapy, Wood — along with Luisa Dantas, the project director of Rise-Home Stories Project — revealed the collaborative effort between software developers and organizers to create the game’s storytelling aspect.

Apartment Therapy: As a gamer, I understand that the gaming industry can be very white and male-dominated. How is this game breaking barriers for adding to the little-to-no representation of Black female protagonists?

Paige Wood: Going beyond Black female protagonists, I think one of the things that is most important, at least in the origin of this game, is that we were told it wouldn’t be possible to make it in the way that we envisioned with Black and brown developers and artists. Outside of representation, I think what this signals is that these stories — particularly looking at Black stories — are often told from a really grounded point of view. And what I really love is that we’ve taken something and put magic in the mundane, so that there is this sort of hyper-fantasy that shows that Black women can exist in a multitude of genres in a multitude of ways.

Luisa Dantas: “Dot’s Home” is part of this larger project called Rise-Home Stories. I’m the project director, and it’s a project that brings together housing, land, and racial justice advocates from all over the country, who work with artists, journalists, storytellers from all over the country to create this body of work. We are a mission-driven organization, and one of our major principles and values that we’ve brought to every project is that it’s by people of color for people of color.

AT: Could you tell me more about the Rise-Home Stories Project and how technology is being used to provide a narrative about housing, land, and racial justice?

PW: One of the reasons why we decided to make “Dot’s Home” a video game is actually credited to one of our producers, Christina Rosales, and thinking about how video games are good at utilizing the concept of agency. So how are we putting players in the role of Dot to actively learn as if this was their story too while applying it to their real life? And when it came to telling a story about housing, we really wanted to work with storytellers who could understand the basis of the themes that we’re trying to get across.

LD: The projects [at Rise-Home Stories] are in many different formats — there’s a children’s book, podcast, an interactive web experience, and an animated web series. With “Dot’s Home,” we are interrogating and challenging systems, specifically racist policies and history that have really impacted people’s lives.

Credit: Apple

AT: Housing inequalities for people of color isn’t new, and it certainly hasn’t gone anywhere. Why is it important for the main character [of “Dot’s Home”] to be a Black woman in Detroit?

PW: So many of these histories that we’re talking about are present in Detroit in very physical ways. For example, in chapter one, the theme of that story is redlining. And in Detroit, we even have a wall that is still up to this day that is a testament to how that separation was an action during that time that we’re looking at in the game, which is somewhere around the ‘50s. With all of Rise-Home, we’re also trying to establish certain settings that [audiences are] able to resonate with who may or may not be from the place that we’re sort of highlighting in each project. 

AT: What was the vision behind the creation of this game and its subliminal messages? I see that some personal stories from the game’s creation team were intertwined into the plot.

LD: With Rise-Home, we were really looking to figure out how we could create a diverse body of work in format, genre, and medium that prioritized audiences of color coming from different backgrounds, age groups, etc. When we settled on this story of redlining and the racist history of land and housing policies, we realized that a game was going to be the optimal format.

PW: When thinking about the story and working together with our writing leads, some of our personal histories came into the making of the overall plot. So in chapter one, you have Dot’s grandparents who are looking to either buy or rent a home, and their history is that they’re actually former sharecroppers from the South. And that directly mirrors Renee Willis, (Senior VP at the National Low Income Housing Coalition) whose grandparents were also sharecroppers from South Carolina that came to the North to reestablish roots. One of the characters in chapter two is named Amos — that is also my grandfather’s name — and in my history, it’s somewhat reflective of it.

AT: I see that reviewers have compared “Dot’s Home” to Telltale games for its use of multi-choice endings. Why did you decide to make a “good” and “bad” ending?

PW: We were really influenced by “Undertale,” which has a bunch of different endings based on decisions that the player makes. With that as our guiding star — at least in terms of the butterfly effect — it’s part of the reason why we wanted to do multiple endings, and I would say that our endings don’t have a good, bad, or neutral format. It’s more of a question based on what the player feels are right and wrong decisions for their future and family.

LD: One of the big narratives we’re challenging in “Dot’s Home” and other Rise-Home stories is the question of individual versus collective relationship to land and home. Basically, depending on the choices you make throughout the game, you do end up either in a more individual situation, or in a more collectively grounded community that can be perceived as good or bad, right or wrong depending on how you feel about it. 

“Dot’s Home” is available to play for free on multiple platforms including Apple Store, Google Play, Steam, and