A recent video game contest asks the question "can you design a game about Teen Dating Violence without using violence itself?" The worldwide answer was a resounding 'Yes.'
Jennifer Ann's Group, a non-profit organization aimed at preventing Teen Dating Violence, announced the winners of their Life.Love. Game Design Contest this morning. All of the games submitted aimed to spread the message of prevention and education from a variety of vantage points.
The winning game was designed by Belgian Jean HEHN, from Another Kind. His game, Finding Jane is a fast-paced flash where time is everything as you search for Jane, a friend you suspect is in an abusive relationship. While the dialogue can get a bit unbelievable at times, that doesn't take away from the lessons being taught about how to help a friend in danger, without escalating the situation. Unlike some games with a message, Finding Jane really allows you to interact with your environment and keeps the preachy facts at a minimum. It's a great example of learning by doing.
The second place winner, Moving On, was designed by Gamers of Action which is based here in the U.S. This game is more text based, but still fairly interactive. Here you play as a girl who has gotten safely out of an abusive relationship. She is telling the tale of her journey, from trapped and abused to free and independent, to another girl at risk of abuse. The girl hearing all this is embarassed to admit her plight but agrees to come to a group to seek help for a "friend".
The third and fourth place winners were more message than game. Jared Sain's Power and Control is all text based, with words to mouse over popping up on pink screen. The tone is far less rosy, however, when you realize are powerless to control anything, and the game will progress exactly the same regardless of what you chose to do. Your Face came in fourth place and was developed by Momo, based in the Netherlands. The game presents you with a battered girl's face which you must cover with copious amounts of make-up. Once you're done, you play a recording of a teen boy who was friends with both members of an abusive relationship.
The contest is in its fourth year, and has resulted in a wide variety of games. They represent many points of view, employ varying levels of realism, and fluctuate between interactivity and fact-based text, but all send the same message: action and communication are key to preventing Teen Dating Abuse. The games are particularly interesting in that they use a medium often scolded for being too violent in order to help prevent violence. In fact, a disclaimer goes along with Finding Jane as follows: Remember that this is a game—if you are confronted with an abuser or any dangerous situation in real life make sure that you contact the police!
The contest is just one of many ways that Jennifer Ann's Group is trying to raise the awareness of adolescents to this important issue. Drew Crecente, brother of Kotaku's Brian Crecente, is both the founder and executive director of the non-profit, which he formed in memory of his daughter who was killed by an ex-boyfriend in 2006.
"Providing this educational information via video games is an effective way for parents and teachers to approach this topic with the teens and young adults in their lives..." Drew Crecente wrote. "Hopefully some dads out there will view these games as an opportunity to address this very important topic with their kids this Father's Day."