Video game development university The Guildhall at SMU has announced a collaboration with Dedman College’s psychology department to create a program to help women practice strategies for averting sexual assault in "a controlled situation that is safe, yet feels realistic."
As described by the university, the system is to feature two automobile seats "bolted to a raised platform" with an actor in the driver's seat. The female user sits in the passenger seat wearing video goggles and a headset to transport her to a "parked car during a howling rainstorm," where she "doesn’t see the actor with her" but "sees a three-dimensional video game character at the wheel of the car … [who]turns increasingly aggressive, eventually demanding sexual intimacy."
The concept for the system emerged from professor Ernest Jouriles difficuly in teaching relationship violence avoidance techniques to a high school health class in the late 1990s using the established method of role-playing.
"The role-playing produced giggles," Jouriles says. "And from my perspective, it didn’t capture the imagination of the students."
Jouriles and Renee McDonald, associate professor, have since worked with the Guildhall at SMU to create the system that intends to "immersing a woman into not just a virtual location, but also a 'conversation' with a potential attacker."
"We created an enclosed environment," said Perryman, Guildhall lecturer, who worked on the program with Tony Cuevas, Guildhall deputy director. "We wanted our participant to feel powerless. The rain was added to isolate her. The car is particularly creepy -- we worked hard at that."
Jouriles, McDonald and their team have stuied the responses of 62 undergraduates in a test of traditional versus virtual reality role-play, and have found that the women who donned the headgear and went through the virtual scenario "rated the experience’s realism higher than those in the traditional role-play group" and that "behavioral observations also suggested that women experiencing the virtual car scene appeared more angry and afraid."
Jouriles calls those results "very promising," and stated, "This is a potential breakthrough opportunity for gaming technology -- to help solve an important social problem."