The past decade has seen a steady rise in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Australia.1 In 2010, young people aged 15-24 accounted for 42% of new HIV infections in people aged 15 and older.2
The adolescent population presents a unique set of challenges when it comes to sexual health education and behaviour change. Adolescence is a time for exploring sexuality, experimenting with risk-taking behaviour and finding new ways to connect that sets them apart from the adult world.
How do we reach young people to prevent STIs?
Moving health messaging into the digital gaming space, says Lynn Fiellin and colleagues at Yale University who presented their results at the Young People Epidemiology and Prevention Strategies oral abstract session at AIDS 2014 today.
Digital health technologies are growing at an unprecedented rate, particularly in the smart phone and tablet space. Mobile phone networks are now reaching up to 85% of the global population and the World Health Organisation estimates close to 5 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide.2
A recent infographic reported the State of the Mobile 2013:
• 91% of all people on earth have a mobile phone
• 56% of people own a smart phone
• 80% of time on mobile devices is spent inside games or apps
• Majority of teens play video games as long as they have access to them.3
And the largest audience of apps and video games? Adolescents – the digital natives or our techno world.
Serious Gaming delivers serious health messages
‘Serious Gaming’ is an emerging platform for imparting health messages and delivering health education. Serious gaming holds the promise of delivering STI prevention messages to teenagers through game-based learning.
Anyone who has talked to a teenager lately knows that gaming experiences can be engaging, immersive and educational. Many Australian schools now set homework where students are using video gaming platforms and apps to entice and encourage literacy and numeracy and to connect and collaborate with remote schools.
Applying health messages to video games has the potential to improve health literacy around STIs and may go some way towards prevention.
Studies into serious gaming cite neuroplasticity improvements, faster processing, increased cognitive flexibility and a deeper creative learning experience as just some of the results reported by young people who took part in serious gaming compare to those who played non-educational games.4
Today, Fiellin and colleagues showed that when teens were randomly assigned to 10 hours of gaming sessions that included: Sexual health and HIV knowledge, self efficacy, risk perception scenarios, short vs. long term priorities and an epilogue illustrating the consequences of their choices, their HIV risk knowledge had improved at 6 weeks, with knowledge levels maintained at 3 and 6 months.
Participants enjoyed the gaming experience, found it challenging, and reported that they felt responsible for the decisions made during game.
During question time, criticism of the study was aimed at the game’s apparent representation of heteronormative and gender-based stereotypes. Ms Fiellin agreed that the video game was limited in its choice of characters and diverse sexual orientation but that the research group now have proof of concept to develop the game further including the potential for a multiplayer platform.
Read our blog Chlamydia in Teens: What’s working…What isn’t?
- Australian Bureau of Statistics ABS June 2012
- UNAIDS Fact sheet Adolescents, young people and HIV www.unaids.org/
- World Health Organisation (WHO) Website. Tobacco Free Initiative. www.who.int/tobacco/mhealth/
- www.digitalbuzzblog.com/State of the Mobile
- Glass BD et al (2013) Real-Time Strategy Game Training PLoS ONE 8(8): e70350. doi:10.1371/