Yale-created video game aims to teach youths about HIV risks

A video game created by Yale School of Medicine researchers to help at-risk youth reduce their risk of HIV infection will be developed by Schell Games.

The game is part of the Play2PreventTM initiative at Yale (www.Play2Prevent.org), which is aimed at forging collaborations and partnerships between scientists, educators, video game designers/developers, community-based organizations and others.

Play2Prevent director and principal investigator Dr. Lynn E. Fiellin, associate professor of medicine at Yale, says the goal is to develop innovative educational materials and targeted interventions for risk reduction and prevention in youth and young adults.

“Games are powerful tools in helping people explore roles and risks before life makes them all-too-real and risky,” says Fiellin. “The Play2Prevent initiative focused on helping its players meet the challenges at-risk youth must face head on.”

With funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute on Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the HIV prevention video game will be developed over the next 18 months and will be tested in a rigorous study with over 300 youth in New Haven after-school programs. With this effort, researchers not only hope to help youth avoid risky behaviors associated with HIV acquisition, but to better understand how best to use video game media to foster positive health behaviors.

“We are excited to be working with Schell Games on this project,” says Fiellin. “Our aim has been to combine the powerful interfaces from commercial-quality games with strong health behavior theories.”

In 2010 the Yale School of Medicine formed the Play2Prevent initiative as a platform to coordinate the activities of the NICHD-funded grant titled “An Interactive Video Game for HIV Prevention in At-Risk Adolescents.” Researchers and a team of independent game designers — including Ben Sawyer, president of Digitalmill, Inc. and founder of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio funded Games for Health Project, and Noah Falstein of The Inspiracy  worked to build a framework design that integrates ideas around game play, social learning theory, health message framing, and health risk mitigation into a cohesive design that will be further refined and developed by Schell Games.

In late 2012, once it is developed, the game will be fully evaluated through a randomized clinical trial involving hours of structured and monitored play by its target audience. Data will be collected to assess if the player-subjects exhibit a better understanding of risk-taking in the context of the game; a reduction of risk-taking behaviors in the gameplay; increased HIV knowledge; and ultimately report decreased involvement in risky behaviors related to HIV infection, including drinking, drug use, and sexual activity.

Currently the game is being targeted for play on tablet computing platforms and mobile devices. If research and development return positive findings, Play2Prevent plans to make the game and supporting systems available for play and use worldwide.

Fiellin said that Play2Prevent builds on the evolving and expanding area of “serious games,” a field defined as videogames or versions of videogames intended for use outside of entertainment — for example, in the fields of education or health.

By Karen N. Peart

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Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326