gamifying consent education

I’m an intern with the Office of Respect here at Emory and help plan their annual conference about sexual assault/ interpersonal violence prevention in campus communities. The conference was this past weekend and one of the sessions I attended was called “Gaming Against Violence: Engaging Education and Empowering Students Through Games.” The presenter was named Drew Crecente and is the founder and director of Jennifer Ann’s Group, a nonprofit focused on preventing dating violence with video games.

Crecente came into the violence prevention field after his daughter was murdered by her boyfriend with a background in gaming technology. He was looking for a unique approach to contribute to prevention efforts that he could pioneer and started creating video games that addressed serious topics without feeling as serious. Traditional pedagogical approaches to teaching consent and advocating against sexual violence have had a hard time facilitating the full blown culture shift we need to put an end to it. Gaming offers a fresh new genre of strategies that can be used across age groups and contexts to come at problematic culture from a different angle.

One example of a game he created that is targeted at elementary/middle school aged children is not about sexual violence at all explicitly, but instead focused on the concept of consent more broadly. In the game, the player is the pilot of a spaceship that is under attack and malfunctioning receiving very specific instructions for what to do from the ship’s AI system. You have to follow the AI’s instructions exactly in order to succeed including waiting for permission to do certain things and stopping one task in the middle in order to complete something else or let the system process. The idea behind it is that if children can internalize the rewards of getting consent and being patient from the game, it can help them apply those concepts in other areas of their life. Crecente has also looked into how playing games like this can prime children to be more responsive to consent/ violence prevention education.

Before this presentation, the idea of gamifying serious things like dating violence and sexual assault was very troubling to me and solidly in the “evil” category of the expansion of gamification in daily life. However, after seeing hearing Crecente speak, I’m confident that it’s an important tool that can be taken advantage of to facilitate a more respectful culture towards others. Gamification of violence prevention makes a serious topic more approachable. As long as it addressed with proper sensitivity, games about it are another way to reach people and teach them about violence.

Additionally, generic consent games like the one I described above provide otherwise impossible access to children that is crucial in changing culture. Once people are set in their ways, it’s much harder to teach new standards of respect. As manipulative as it sounds, children’s minds are still malleable and it’s important to take advantage of that. It looks like gamed might be the way to do that.

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