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Video Game Created To Curb HIV Epidemic Among Minority Teens

Artwork by DeMarus Rogers; Chicago, IL

Research scientists at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDs at Yale have assisted in developing an unconventional way to curb HIV infections in minority teens. They conducted research -with the goal to determine the factors that drive risk behaviors among adolescents- by interviewing three dozen boys and girls, between the ages of 10 and 15, in New Haven, Connecticut. The results of their research have lead to the designing of a video game intervention for the iPad that will specifically target at-rsik teens. The scientists integrated the findings from their study into a game format by creating scenarios, story-lines and characters that reflect the recurrent themes elicited from their discussions with adolescents.

Adolescents described factors within themselves, people in their lives, and their neighborhood that impacted their ability to negotiate high-risk situations,” research scientist Kimberly Hieftje explained. “These factors included balancing the tension between individuation and group membership, having stable mentor figures in their lives … and being able to navigate the hazards within their neighborhood.
Hieftje also provided in-depth information about the game. “For instance, we incorporated the theme of self versus group membership by creating situations in which the player has to choose between following their own choice or choosing to go along with their group of peers,” Hieftje said. “An example of this is a scenario in our game in which the player must decide whether or not to attend an unsupervised party with his or her friends where alcohol will be served. As the game progresses, the player can experience how their choices about whether or not to go along with their group of peers might influence their future aspirations and goals later on.

 

Players begin the game as a 7th grader and must navigate through several risky scenarios each year until they graduate from high school. The goal of the game is not for the player to make the “right” decisions, but rather to learn the cognitive processes and behavioral skills to negotiate similar scenarios. The game also allows players to go back and change their decisions to see how the outcomes may have differed, Hieftje added.¬†“For this population, their environment is particularly challenging, given that these adolescents have additional risk factors in their lives to deal with such as poverty, drugs and neighborhood violence,” Heiftje said of the minority demographic the game is targeting.

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