(VIDEO) Real Sex Ed: Is the Obama Administration Just Playing Games?

Move over, Dungeons and Dragons.  Role-playing games are taking on a new life, and in this case, the players are expected to learn more than just creative thinking and how to properly roll 12-sided dice.

This time, they are supposed to learn how to say no to sex.

According to Fox News, Orlando, the University of Central Florida is developing a live action video game particularly targetting Latina teens that will “simulate real everyday situations” in which middle-school-aged girls may find themselves, to help them better prepare to resist potential pressure to have sex. 

By donning a motion-capture suit, the players get to act out social scenarios that will then play out on the screen, earning points every time they turn down sexual advances.

“They have an opportunity to interact with the avatars and they’ll earn points for particular social skills that they develop.”

Along side UCF’s institute for simulation and training, Professor Anne Norris is creating a virtual game which works by using simulation and digital puppetry. It sounds complicated, but it’s simple technology.

“What’s radically different about this one one person controls many characters by jumping into the skin, ” said Charles Hughes, UCF Computer Science professor.

“A boy similar in age might approach the person playing the game and ask her to make out or there might be some sexual innuendo,” said Norris.

An “interactor,” or a person controlling a character, jumps into the scenario by wearing a motion-capture suit. Infra-red lights shine down and hit markers. Those markers control the movement of the character.

“It’s a place to practice where there aren’t any social consequences,” said Norris.

The game, which is expected to be ready to be tested by real students in the spring, is being paid for with a nearly $435,000 federal grant from the National Institutes of Health.

That would be an abstinence-only grant for the “science and evidence-based” Obama Administration.

As Tracy Clark-Flory over at Broadsheets reports, it’s no surprise that this project would happen in Florida, which has a habit of skimping when it comes to providing comprehensive, age-appropriate and fact-based sexual education to its students, as well as an official state position of “abstinence-only until marriage.”

Essentially, the video game is an elaborate version of the Tamagotchi, only, rather than a small electronic pet you feed and watch grow bigger, the pet is young girls, and you “win” by telling them not to kiss boys. Yet for the same amount of money, Florida could hire ten educators to canvas the state, providing one-on-one counseling with teens struggling with the decision of whether or not to have sex. Those counselors could help protect those already having sex or who later choose to have sex by teaching them about prevention of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy, self-esteem and sexual negotiation, rather than just have them “score” every time they refuse to kiss a boy.

In the end, like many abstinence-only gimmicks, the actual program is more a show of providing sex ed than an actual plan to truly help young people know, understand, and learn to accept the responsibilties and consequences that come with sex. Much like the purity ring fad, the game is a shiny new face on a program that has been shown repeatedly to just not work.

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  • newton7

    I haven’t watched the video and it’s quite possible this particular game is a ridiculous waste of money, but this one line from the post really caught my attention: it’s a “live action video game particularly targetting Latina teens.”

    Studies have show that young Latinas are particularly vulnerable to being pressured to have sex or to have sex without protection because, for whatever reasons, they are less likely to feel powerful enough to negotiate on their own behalf when it comes to sex.

    If you can create a live action video game with role-playing that helps young Latinas 1.) feel more powerful when pressured for sex or unprotected sex, and 2.) allows them to practice these techniques, I’m for it.

    The existing game itself could be useless or even harmful, but there’s good reason to create a GOOD version of this game.

  • saltyc

    Good point, Newton. The very idea of a video game being used to educate is not wrong. It depends on how it’s done. True, if the philosophy and data behind it are crap it will fail, but the very same thing can be said about counselors. It depends what they’re saying. I guess the biggest problem with games is that even if the philosophy and data are water tight, the game can still fail if it isn’t designed well. But I do see a lot of promise in games themselves, as a medium in itself.

  • squirrely-girl

    I’m just curious as to when we’ll see a video game that teaches boys to not make sexual advances in the first place. This is just one more example of putting all responsibility/blame for sex back on the woman.

  • moosegoose

    This story popped up in dozens of sites within a few days after the Fox News tv story appeared. The Fox story was poorly done and confusing.  Tracy Clark Flory at Salon, made some horrendous assumptions from the story and Ms. Marty ran with them. After that it was off to the races, with dozens of sites – including Raw Story – quoting this article.  The vast majority simply re-posted the material they found here without checking it out. If you ever want to show someone an example of how mis-truths move rapidly through the internet, this is a perfect case study. For what it’s worth, Carole King at Ms. Magazine interviewed Dr. Norris and came away with a pretty good article.

    I’ve commented on several blogs, and contacted a couple of authors, and have yet to see any kind of retraction or correction of the original content.  I wonder if RH RealityCheck will do the ethical thing and publish a more accurate story on the research project with as much visibility as the original?

    In the mean time, the elements of the story are now kind of a myth – people “know” false things, but don’t know where they came from.

    Myth 1: Abstinence only. This project is intended to be part of a comprehensive sex ed program. Not abstinence only. It’s a federally funded program, meaning you can find the propoal abstract at the NIH site if you care to see it.  The abstract and Dr. Norris previous research (check out her web site) indicates comprehensive sex-ed. 

    Myth 2: Girls wear body suits. I think Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon started this one. The players don’t wear them, but some people running the game will in order to animate the virtual people in the game.

    Myth 3: This is a commercial game, like Tamagotchi, for girls to buy and play at home. Ms. Marty surely gets credit for this one. This is a role-playing tool to be used in a school setting with trained sex ed educators or counselors. Role playing with avatars instead of in front of your friends may have benefits.

    Myth 4: Girls will get exposed to sexy scenarios. Not so much. Girls may get asked by their virtual “peers” why they aren’t dating an older boy, or not having sex.

    Myth 5: The game video is hideous! Well, the video in the news story is hideous, but that’s not the game. The game is yet to be built.  Oddly, most of the “reports” that knock the games graphics report that it is still being developed, without catching the contradiction. IMHO, since we live in such a visual society, it’s easy for us to make this error. Poor PR handling on UCf’s part to let it out.

    Myth 6: This is a “weird” or “crazy” idea. Be aware that similar technology is being used to teach social skills in a variety of settings (e.g. autistic children, ptsd victims, phobics). If you are aware that the technology is a success there, it is not that big far a leap to investigate it in the sex-ed world. That’s not to say it is guaranteed to succeed — this is a research program to study the effectiviness of the technology in this area.