Yale Professor Creating Game to Teach The Risks of Being Sexually Active

While those who don't know anything at all about video games are quick to use them as an excuse for many of society’s ills (crime, violence, obesity, attention deficit and a myriad of psychological disorders), now everyone thinks they are bad. In fact a growing number of academics see the value in video games as teaching aids. For example, a Yale professor is trying to use them to teach sex education.

The Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention hosted a lecture by Lynn R. Fiellin, an associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine on Thursday, as part of its lecture series. Fiellin gave a lecture called "The Game of Science and the Science of the Game," which explored a video game she is helping to develop which helps inner city youth better understand the risks associated with sex. The game teaches about the risks of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies that will likely result from unprotected sex.

During the lecture Fiellin detailed the development process she and her colleagues are using to create this new type of video game. Fiellin explained how Farnam Neighborhood Help, an after-school and weekend programs for inner-city youth in New Haven, served as the site of many of her studies and interviews. Fiellin met with many of the youths there and discussed what they considered normal sexual activity and what the risks were associated with such activities. In talking with the kids she learned that many understood that pregnancy was a risk, because they had peers who had become pregnant.

"Pregnancy is much more proximal to them, so if we can demonstrate that there is a risk of HIV and STDs resulting from the same behavior that causes pregnancy, it may be easier for them to imagine," Fiellin said.

After conducting the interviews, Fiellin and her colleagues teamed with with Schell Games. Jesse Schell, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University and author of "Art of Game Design," took an academic approach to the project.

The video game, now in development, uses what Fiellin calls an "aspirational avatar." This type of avatar forces players to imagine what their end goal is, what they want in the future, and what the best way to negotiate that is.

"I used to love the game ‘Life.' Just like I was invested in those two little plastic playing pieces, players of this game will be invested in making good choices," Fiellin said.

The HIV prevention video game will target inner-city youth from ages 11 to 14. The goal of the game is to improve understanding of HIV and risky behaviors. Data will be gathered through game play, in order to give a better understanding of the players' choices.

At the end of the day the goal of the game is to delay the initiation of sexual activity, according to Fiellin.

"If it's effective or if components of it are effective, it can be models for other games, whether it be to educate about teen drinking, driving, smoking or something else," Fiellin said.

The game project remains nameless for the time being, though.

"We don't have a name yet, so if anyone has a brilliant name, let me know," said Fiellin.

Update: We erroneously reported in the title to this story that a “Harvard” professor was working on a game, when she in fact works at Yale. Yale fans will no doubt be agitated by this error. We apologize for the mistake.

Source: Daily Campus

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