Yale researchers are developing a video game to help black teenage girls make healthy dating decisions

A team of researchers from Yale School of Medicine and Public Health have created a video game to help black teenage girls make healthy choices about dating and sex.

Staff reporter


A group of Yale researchers from the Schools of Medicine and Public Health are creating a video game to educate black teenage girls to navigate the modern, technological world of dating and, if sexually active, to avoid sexually transmitted infections.

The game, called InvestiDate, is created by Yale’s play4REAL XR Lab, a group dedicated to creating behavior-altering games. The game received a grant from the National Institute of Health and is undergoing a randomized controlled trial to assess the game’s ability to bring about positive behavior change.

“I was a black teenager growing up in a society where I was often viewed as inferior just for being a black teenager, living in communities where we are generally over-sexualized, we are expected to engage in behaviors that we could or even not be comfortable with,” Ijeoma Opara, an assistant professor of public health and collaborator on the project, told the News. “And then we’re also dealing with outside forces that are sexist toward us, even colorism and all those things that impact who we are in addition to the decisions we make in relationships and the decisions we make when it comes to sex.”

The game was originally developed as a card game targeting black adult women through a Yale Women’s Health Research Grant awarded to Kimberly Hieftje, assistant professor of pediatrics, director of the play4REAL XR Lab and head of the project, and Lynn Fiellin, director of the Yale Center for Health and Learning Games.

But the card game eventually evolved into a prototype web-based multiplayer game, conceptualized by the play4REAL XR Lab and programmed by PreviewLabs.

“With a card game, it can sometimes seem like there are winners and losers, but that’s not really the message we wanted for this type of game,” said Brandon Sands, former research assistant for play4REAL XR Lab. “We want it to be a win-win for everyone, so we’ve changed it to this idea that it’s not a zero-sum game, where everyone is able to make a decision that’s right for them. from the choices presented to him.”

InvestiDate uses a points system to look at ‘red flags’ and ‘green flags’ to help girls decide who is worth pursuing, and also to help them learn more about STI prevention. From that day on, someone earns 50 points, “unfollowing” a character with two or more red flags is 80 points, and getting tested by a doctor for HIV is worth 120 points.

Becoming more collaborative in nature, the game now draws inspiration from social media apps, designed to foster discussion on topics that might otherwise not be covered in class or at home.

“I think we have to be realistic that teachers and school administrators are not experts in HIV prevention,” Opara said. “You have to think about racism, sexism, the environments that black teenage girls can live in and receive certain messages that encourage sexual behavior and encourage behaviors that can affect them, and how they feel about themselves and also how they see how society views them. . So it is a big task for teachers.

The game is based on research that proves that video games are a viable method of teaching behavior change, but is also heavily dependent on the experiences of its target audience.

The researchers spent a lot of time shaping the cultural experience of the game, including using focus groups to test the game. They also had an advisory group of black teenage girls who helped provide insight into the game and interpret the results of the focus group.

“I looked at the profiles they had created, some of the questions and basically all of the content in the game, to make sure it really captured the black experience but also a youthful experience,” said Sydney Hussett. -Richardson SPH ’23, a collaborator on the project, said. “I added things that, in my experience, were like, ‘You know, that would have been really cool to know in high school. “”

Opara said that centering the experiences and representation of black women is not only important in education, but also important in video games, because few video games provide black girls with representative characters.

A 2021 study by gaming website Diamond Lobby found that only 8.3% of video games from the previous five years featured a main character who is a woman of color.

“I’m really excited about the representation of black girls and women in video gaming,” Oparah said. “In one of the scenes in the video game, one of the doctors providing teaching materials is a black woman. Just thinking about me growing up and thinking about the video games I’ve seen and the graphics I’ve seen, it was very rare for me to see the image of a black woman as a doctor in a fictional video game. Representation, to me, is so important.

After proving its effectiveness, Yale researchers plan to offer the InvestiDate game to schools and community programs.


Dante Motley covers the black communities of Yale and New Haven. He is also an associate editor of YDN magazine and works on “The Yalie” podcast. He is a sophomore at Grace Hopper majoring in anthropology.

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