Professors at the University of Central Florida's Institute for Simulation and Training are developing a serious game application designed to help Latina middle school students resist peer pressure and abstain from sexual activity.
Funded by a $434,800 grant from the National Institutes of Health, the game outfits players with motion-capture technology. Participants are placed in a 3D world inhabited by human-like avatars, all of which are controlled by an "interactor" at a remote location, who is also equipped with motion-capture technology.
Players must resist a simulated peer's sexual advances and develop skills to handle social interactions in which sex plays a role. The game's development is headed by UCF computer science professor Charles Hughes and Anne Norris, a nursing professor at the University.
Norris notes that low-income Latina adolescents are particularly susceptible to contracting sexually transmitted diseases, and are more likely to become pregnant than their peers of other races.
"Our ultimate goal is to reduce pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease among the young Latina population," said Norris. "In lower- income communities, there is often a lack of clear role models for adolescents. "Parents are concerned and want to help, and teachers try to intervene and make a difference, but there needs to be more for these girls."
UCF's game will be played primarily by students enrolled in after-school and youth outreach programs managed by trained counselors. The project is expected to launch next year.
[Photo: Jason Greene, University of Central Florida]