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Fight AIDS, Make Video Games

November 11, 2009

Oh I see now, this is how I should behave...

So some nice people at WarnerBros have joined the battle against HIV through teaming up with The Partnership for an HIV-Free Generation. Great! So what have they done?

Well…

Uhm…

They made a video game!

Its called Pamoja Mtaani, and young people in Kenya can go to one of the three specific locations where it’s available and play it. You see the game goes like this: Five strangers are hijacked on a matatu (minibus) ride and lose their possessions and then have to recover them. However, according to the blurb:

“As they work their way through various neighbourhoods, they uncover and experience barriers and facilitators to behaviour change.”

You see the game has been designed by “top behavioural change experts” and the “game promotes the following behavioural change objectives through gameplay: delay initiation of sexual activity, reduce number of sexual partners, increase correct and consistent condom use, and increase uptake of HIV counselling and testing.”

And furthermore each of the five characters has an objective, for example Lady D will increase uptake of HIV counselling and testing while Georgie will reduce the number of sexual partners.

But here’s the catch: the game “attracts the youth at-risk with compelling content immersing the player in their own world – a big East Africa cityscape – and placing them at the centre of the action, into something that is very real and very relevant to their own personal experiences.”

Ok, so let me get this straight for ya’ll: It exposes young Kenyans to their own world (including life-like car jackings! At least in GTA you get to do the jacking, but apparently all Africans are victims). You see apparently the problem with young Kenyans is that in their own world they’re making bad decisions, contributing to their bad situation, but if they play this computer game – in which they need to make good decisions to progress in a virtual representation of their own world – they will soon be making good decisions and so contribute to making their situation better.

Behavioural Change baby, Behavioural Change!

Hmmm… I’m not really convinced. At all. I mean if we flip it about, doesn’t it suggest that violent games like the Grand Theft Auto series – where players advance through by making bad choices in a virtual world – would behaviourally influence them to make similar bad decisions in the real world? I’m yet to become a car-jacking uzi-shooting drug-dealing criminal…

(on the other hand be sure to check out the short character videos on the website. They’re rather good).

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