Can Interactive Games Tackle Drinking and Sexual Assault on Campus?

By May Wilkerson 08/20/15

Game developers are hoping to open frank discussions while encouraging students to look critically at their drinking.

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Could interactive gaming help combat the problem of drinking and sexual assault on college campuses?

Two new interactive games have been developed with the aim of helping students to think critically about alcohol use and sexual decision-making. Developers hope the games will be used to open up discussion between families and students before they head off for college.

The first game, called ​"Decisions That Matter," focuses on bystander intervention, a popular violence-prevention strategy. It walks users through various scenarios involving unwanted sexual advances and asks bystanders to decide if and how they might intervene. The game, which is in the style of a graphic novel, was created as part of a class at ​Carnegie Mellon University and will be tested this fall.

The game shows how sexual assault is not always a black-and-white issue, and intends to get students to think critically about how they would respond in a gray area scenario, said Kirsten Rispin, one of the student co-producers. The scenarios are meant to be as realistic as possible and to show how a bystander’s decision whether or not to intervene can have a real impact on whether a sexual assault happens.

Rispin urges families to discuss the outcomes of the game with their college-age kids, and also to discuss consent and healthy sexual decision-making. "It’s more than just saying don’t rape someone," said Jessica Klein, coordinator of gender programs and sexual violence prevention at Carnegie Mellon University. "Part of sexual violence prevention is to talk about sexual empowerment and that includes not having sex as well."

A second game specifically tackles alcohol abuse, another huge problem on college campuses that is closely tied in to sexual assault.​ "What Kind of Drinker Are You?" was created by Clarity Way, a rehab center in Pennsylvania, to help students think critically about their drinking.

In the interactive game, users log their gender and weight before navigating a night of partying. They see how their blood alcohol content changes throughout the evening as they participate in drinking games, and receive a drinking profile score at the end of the game.

"We wanted to give these students a realistic view of what college drinking culture encompasses and show them how their drinking decisions can affect their night but even in the long term, their college experience and their drinking habits," said Savannah Flynn, product manager at Clarity Way.

Developers of both games encourage parents to have a frank discussion with students. "When the student hears the parent or a professional or someone really acknowledging that these things happen and being realistic about it​, they’re much more prone to listening to the messages," said Raeann Davis​, a health educator at the University of California—Davis​.

Bystander intervention can also be applied to drinking, said Davis. She urges parents to talk to their kids about intervening to help someone who is drunk and might be a hazard to themselves or to others.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.