Free web games help identify and prevent teen dating abuse

9 Jul

Grace confronts Natalie about her abusive boyfriend in "Grace's Diary."

A memorial group dedicated to educating teenagers about the dangers of dating violence uses video games to help young adults identify the warning signs of an abusive relationship and react accordingly.

Jennifer Ann’s Group awarded prize money to the creators of four entries in the organization’s 2010 Life.Love Game Design Challenge, a contest to create free flash games that point out the warning signs and dangers of dating abuse.

Drew Crecente, executive director of Jennifer Ann’s Group, said he conceived the Life.Love contest out of the desire to educate teenagers who may not have any previous dating experience to compare a current or future relationship to.

“When a 15-year-old is told to not spend as much time with their friends, he or she could be convinced that it’s because the person they’re dating just wants to spend more time with them; if a 30-something is told the same thing he or she would recognize it as controlling behavior,” Crecente said. “Sharing these ‘warning sign’ behaviors is a key component of our efforts.”

Crecente said he chose video games to help deliver the group’s message because teenagers aren’t always receptive to authority figures when discussing relationships.

“Most people like to figure things out on their own instead of feeling ‘preached to’ and I believe this is especially true of teens, tweens, and young adults,” Crecente said. “The opportunities presented through video game play are uniquely suited to this approach.”

Grace’s Diary, the first-place winner of the contest, is a point-and-click adventure game about a teenager named Grace who is concerned her best friend Natalie might be in an abusive relationship.

Players are tasked with searching Grace’s room for information to use in a phone call confronting Natalie about her boyfriend. In doing so, players learn the warning signs of relationship abuse, the proper methods to deal with it, and where they can find more help.

Crecente said he was very pleased with Grace’s Diary. “The winning entry is a really beautiful game , very professionally done, with great real-world examples of situations that are warning signs of a potentially abusive relationship.”

The boyfriend makes his disposition clear in "A Decision of Paramount Importance."

A Decision of Paramount Importance, one of the runner-up entries, uses the format of a basic side-scrolling game to put players into the role of a young woman trying to decide whether or not she should stay with her boyfriend based on his lifestyle and how its matches up with the warning signs of an abusive relationship.

While the boyfriend cooks dinner, the player observes his belongings, each of which reveals something about his lifestyle. For example, letters from his family in the living room indicate he’s a good person while excessive amounts of beer in the refrigerator indicate he’s abusive. Certain details can change each time, encouraging players to try the game more than once. After dinner, the player must decide to stay or leave based on the information gathered.

Both games feature unique visual styles and focus heavily upon identifying the warning signs of abusive relationships, but they also feature black and white scenarios where it’s immediately clear whether the relationship is abusive or not.

Crecente said Jennifer Ann’s Group originally chose to focus on educating its audience about the warning signs of dating abuse because many people did not think or know it was a legitimate issue. “A 2004 survey indicated ‘81% of parents surveyed either believe teen dating violence is not an issue or admit they don’t know if it’s an issue,'” Crecente said.

Now that awareness is spreading, Crecente said he is looking into how obvious the group’s message should be in future projects. “We are evaluating if we still need the brute force of an axe or if the precise nuance of a scalpel would be more effective; an ideal game would encompass both.”

Crecente said most entries also fail to acknowledge that relationship abuse isn’t always male-directed violence against females.

“While our group strives to make very clear that this is not a male-on-female problem, the games don’t necessarily reflect that,” Crecente said. “This sometimes has the unfortunate effect on some game players of them focusing more on this inequity than on the educational information that we’re trying to share.”

Crecente said the contest doesn’t just benefit teenagers but the game designers as well.

“I’ve received numerous emails over the years from developers who had no idea that this was such a serious issue,” Crecente said. “By going through the process of learning about the topic, they have become ‘issue evangelists’ in their own right.”

Crecente said he is working on new ways to promote Jennifer Ann’s Group and the Life.Love contest entries, but the organization has a small promotional budget and has not received much media exposure.

“We do leverage the internet as much as possible, however,” Crecente said. “In addition to our website we’ve established a presence on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and several other social media venues. Our audience continues to grow as evidenced by 1 million+ views of YouTube channel and 1700 ‘fans’ on Facebook, but this has not resulted in a great deal of discussion about our contest.”

Jennifer Ann’s Group depends entirely upon donations. For more information on dating abuse and how to identify and prevent it, visit Jennifer Ann’s Group’s website.

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One Response to “Free web games help identify and prevent teen dating abuse”

  1. Blackwatertown July 11, 2010 at 4:01 AM #

    This is a fascinating blog. Thanks for this particular post about teen dating abuse. Very thought provoking.

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