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On Drug and Alcohol Messaging in this Game

The game aims to fit with progressive drug and alcohol education aims.  This game helps players practice realistic decision-making around a variety of independent living.

This page explains the drug and alcohol related features of the game:

Aims:

  • Handle peer drug and alcohol related problems
  • Protect themselves from harm when adults in their life use drugs and alcohol
  • Make choices around drinking and drug use, and be held accountable for the consequences
  • Experience the hidden costs of drinking and drug use

Key Messages:

  • Using drugs adds risk and burden to your bid for survival.  It can cost you your job and keep you from getting an apartment.
  • Friends who need to drink and use drugs impact your life differently than friends who don’t.
  • “Going with the flow” leads to trouble. You must seize control of decisions being made in your life.
  • When adults who hold power over you, such as bosses and landlords, drink or do drugs, it can impact your life.
  • Landlords may hold you accountable when others drink or do drugs in your apartment

Design

This game focuses player attention on strategic (not dramatic, fun) decisions around drug and alcohol use.

Giggling, then engaged. This game grabs player attenion by showing drunk or stoned game characters. This portrayal is rare in educational games, which is inherently funny for almost every teen player….at first. This game intentionally downplays the entertainment value: Drunk characters do not stagger comically. Stoned people don’t walk slow or have red eyes. Instead, icons over character’s head show their drunk and drugged state.   Most teen players giggle at first, then shrug and focus on winning the game.

Getting Beyond Scare Tactics.

Even when negative consequences are shown, TV and movies often glamorize drug and alcohol use. Drugs and alcohol are often shown as an exciting, “forbidden fruit” choice: Drug users have a short, exciting life full of lots of thrill and drama – arguments, big money, cool weapons, car chases.

Teens are developmentally less able to correctly value long-term consequences agains short-term gains.  So, even jail or death is not as motivating as adults might assume. Scare tactics don’t work.

Social Norms, Peers, and “scenes”

In real life, and in this game, drug use is a common social norms. Expectations and status revolve around drug use. This game’s social life lets the player decide how involved with drugs and alcohol use, in their social life, they want to be, showing consequences for each decision.  It is possible to win the game while tolerate peer drug use, in a way that does not isolate the player from drug users.  However, to win the game, the player must decide, set, and enforce clear boundaries with drug users who threaten player safety (by using drugs in their apartment, which could get them evicted).

The game models two types of peer characters. One type are “unreliables” – easy to befriend, and very accepting of you. They are more likely to ask you for resources – your time, cash, and attention – have less to offer in return.  Reliable peers are the second type. They are harder to befriend, and pickier about who they hang out with.  They shun characters who smell, who need drugs and alcohol. They are also the ones with jobs, who landlords like, and who enjoy healthy activities like jogging, skating and biking.

As a player, you can belong to either, or both, social scenes (if you can manage the bickering).  To win the game, it making it more difficult for you to secure an acceptable roommate.

There are a few dramatic moments: Drunk friends may ignore or fight you when you ask them to leave your apartment. However, these moments are rare. Most of the decisions are short-term, familiar, practical choices. For example, the player will decide: do I hang with Nancy who likes to drink? Or do I go have a shower so Ned, who won’t sit with anyone who smells, will talk to me?  These decisions add up to loss of personal freedom, money, and social opportunities.

The Language is “video game”. In video games, the “icon over head” is a standard way game players get strategic info about their character. “This is an enemy” or “I have a quest to give you.” Players frame this data in their big goal: “win the game.”  This game uses this assumption to educate: players implicitly consider drug and alcohol use in a strategic approach, since the game gives them strategic, not tactical, information.

Long-term consequences matter NOW. Teen brains are biased to discount long-term consequences. This game addresses that bias in two ways: First, it compresses time: Game time runs four times faster than real world time. Second, the game focuses on near-term consequences of drug and alcohol use. They see how choices today affect their choices tomorrow, and in a week, not three months or years away.

A “Middle Ground” between a Progressive Approach and Strong Messaging

The game’s design resembles the approach used in National Institute on Drug Abuse’s “The Cool Spot”:

  • Resisting spoken pressure
  • Resisting unspoken pressure (peers stoned)
  • Myth vs Reality of drug use
  • Know your no’s – choosing the right way to decline invitations to peer drug and alcohol use
  • Drinking impacts more than the drinker.

On Autonomy

This game aims to improve teen players’ autonomy and self-responsibility.

Teens in overly protective environments can fail to imagine that soon their decisions will be truly theirs.  This realization is best learned through experience. In the real world, only you can make decisions, and no one can make you choose wisely. This game provides a simulation of that experience, with consequences that are realistic enough yet free of judgement enough to have impact but not feel preachy.

Two Examples

The game does not tell teens to “take control of their life.”  Instead, teens practice making tough decisions on their own.

For example, the game offers teens opportunities to either “go with the flow,” following advice from peers, or “be a hard-ass,” enforcing their rules on their peers. Either way, the game shows the consequence: the player is held accountable for following friends’ advice

A second example is expressed in finances. The player can borrow money accidentally, just by overdrafting their checking account, so players experience the trap of consumer debt.  Only players who can discipline themselves to stop buying can survive.

Design: A Balance between Freedom and Purpose

The mechanics of the game are not a branching narrative. The game does not reduce complex situations to 2 predetermined “right” and “wrong” choices. Instead, the game tracks multiple consequences from each choice, Over twenty variables are at play: e.g. each peer character has a level of friendliness toward player, as well as desire to drink and smoke, employment status, and level of reliability.  Bosses and landlords have further, specific variables such as cumulative work performance, number of past failures, current mood. Players are allowed to take any job they like, including roles that conflict. Bosses respond to player choices dynamically using rules, not preset sequences of events.  These variables combine to allow a variety of paths to success. There are many acceptable roommates throughout the game, who can be befriended through a variety of strategies, including talking at work, dancing at parties, sharing interests, matching levels of hygiene, loaning money, and sharing activities like jogging and biking.

This game does deliver messages, but only through player-expected methods.  “Win/lose”  is a judgement of player performance that players expect and demand of most video games.  The winning player passes this test: did you end up with a job, enough savings, and a roommate the landlord will accept?  Players can win by getting quitting lots of jobs, or by being loyal to the first employer who accepted you.  The evaluation is factual: are you earning enough money to keep your lifestyle and savings?  However, the messages are high-level.  The player is evaluated only on their outcomes, not their individual choices.

 

To appreciate the unconditional love you (hopefully) got, roleplay a world without it.

Most of us have experienced unconditional love. Teens in the foster care system are not so lucky.  How can everyone else imagine a life that lacks unconditional love? This game helps you begin to imagine the loss of identity, culture, and social isolation — a deep loneliness.

In this game, players are cast as an isolated teen.  You, the player, will feel alone.  Feel the rush of relief when someone, anyone, notices you.  Reflect on that.  Can you notice a hunger for …something deeper than chatty friendship? Can you see that hunger is yours, the player, not the character?  Like the dotted lines on a tummy tuck, players will be become consicous of the gift their parents gave them: unconditional love. It’s irreplaceable and infinitely precious.  Role-play lets you notice it.

This game aims to give the player an inkling of a preverbal, subconscious feelings.

Perhaps you hated your parents, or still do. That is a different pain, like the loss of a leg through accident. Children who have never had a parent are like those born without legs. There is no memory, no awareness of the loss, no scarred skin. There is only a smooth, hollowed area where love, security, and safety should have gone. There is no “differently abled” in motherless children: it is a outright handicap, a crippling blow that a few teens must somehow endure.

Unconditional love from an early age is a tough thing to notice and appreciate.  This game is a tool to let you do so.