Pomona undergrad’s game invention bridges divides

by Janice Hoffmann

‘Tis the season to think that everyone else is happier than you, having more fun with less stress while eating less sugar, and gaining fewer extra pounds. Add another layer of not connecting with the family generations older or younger than you, and you have a perfect recipe for the holiday blues.


Still, I recently came across an antidote that works exceptionally well on this last problem of intergenerational communication. So, if you don’t know your grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, and cousins, heck, if you don’t know your kids or your parents as well as you would like, read on.

Recently, Serena Lin, a junior neuroscience major at Pomona College, designed and developed an intergenerational card game called Uplift that mixes conversational questions focusing on motivations and decision-making approaches rather than shared knowledge of current culture. Uplift was a manifestation of her independent study under the tutelage of professor Fred Leichter, executive director of the Rick and Susan Sontag Center for Collaborative Creativity, aka the Hive, an interdisciplinary center located on the Pomona College campus serving the students, staff, and faculty of all the Claremont Colleges, with particularly close ties to the human centered design courses taught by Harvey Mudd engineers.

In addition to bridging intergenerational and cross-cultural chasms, the cards minimize gender and right-brain/left-brain differences as they prompt stories and foster open ended discussions.

“It’s hard to initiate a meaningful conversation when you’re trying to balance depth while also being politically cognizant and worried about accidentally offending people,” Serena said. In addition to the aforementioned communication barriers, in Serena’s case there is also the subtle cultural barrier of language. Her grandparents are fluent in Taiwanese and Mandarin, but their English is less than perfect, whereas their granddaughter’s native tongue is English, and her Taiwanese and Mandarin are rudimentary. However, to illustrate the ability of Uplift to smooth out differences, she shares a favorite outcome: after her 89-year-old grandfather pulled the card, “What is a song that makes you happy?” he spontaneously started singing his answer, and Serena heard this reticent man sing for the first time in the 20 years she’s known him.

Since Uplift is still in beta testing, you can’t add it to your holiday gift list this year, but it should be widely available for next season. Order early though, as rumor has it a local alumni office has already ordered 30 sets.


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