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Located in east Brooklyn, Brownsville is often dubbed one of the most dangerous and divisive neighborhoods in New York City. While outsiders attach only this narrative to the neighborhood, resident 20-year-olds are trying to challenge this assumption by highlighting what they view as the key strengths in their community: neighborly commitment and pride despite collective struggles. They are doing this through an immersive, virtual reality video game, titled Fireflies: A Brownsville Story.

Using GIS mapping data, the tech lab team at the Brownsville Community Justice Center is recreating their hometown digitally. From barber shops, to parks, to the kitchen of the neighbor you’ve never talked to, the team is in the final phase of building the virtual reality game.

The goal of this game is not only to give outsiders an insider view to their neighborhood, but to ease the tension and violence among the different complexes within the community. Players can experience different parts of their digital neighborhood and hear stories of the people in their community they might not normally speak to.

The team who is building the game conducted more than 100 interviews with residents of Brownsville. These interviews aim to convey stories with common themes such as loss, love, and nostalgia. By pulling overlapping themes from the interviews, the team hopes to show members of the community that they are more similar than they are different.

Brownsville suffers from multiple urban problems, including being the holder of the lowest life expectancy in the city and having over 40% of its residents classified as poor. This can cause inner neighborhood tension and create negative narratives about the community, which are perpetuated by external systems and forces in place. The Brownsville game developers are using these problems as a pivot point to show both community members and outsiders that the problems in their neighborhood are not individual, but collective ones.

By recreating Brownsville in a homegrown, digital way, the Brownsville game developers are hoping to illuminate such issues in a positive way so other New Yorkers can see the light of the neighborhood and Brownsville residents can acknowledge the love, creativity, and hard work held by the members in the community.

Next, check out Is Brownsville Brooklyn Ready for its Jane Jacobsian Comeback? 

 Brooklyn, Brownsville

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