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Video game seeks to curb domestic violence

Last year, approximately 10,000 victims reported incidents of domestic abuse in Rhode Island.

As part of efforts to combat this issue, Sojourner House, one of six affiliated agencies of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, announced last week the official release of a new preventative, educational video game called "The Real Robots of Robot High." The game - targeted to children ages 11 to 14 - is structured as an interactive narrative through which students can explore the consequences of domestic violence abuse and learn the importance of healthy, stable interpersonal relationships.

Sojourner House partnered with E-Line Media, a game development firm that focuses on education and empowerment products for youth, to develop Real Robots after being awarded one of the 11 prestigious $1 million Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grants in 2008. The game is currently in a beta testing phase and will launch nationally in early 2013. 

The coalition is dedicated to informing and educating the community about the prevalence of domestic violence issues, while also providing resources and support for victims. According to statistics compiled by the coalition, half of the visitors to domestic violence shelters in the state in 2010 were children. Today, national figures indicate that 15.5 million children live in violent homes, and 90 percent of these children are cognizant of the abuse perpetrated against their parents.

 "Domestic violence affects the whole family," said Kris Lyons, executive director of the Women's Center of Rhode Island. "Watching your mother being assaulted is serious and can have a long-term impact."

Statistics show that children who grow up in violent households have a greater risk for stress and anxiety disorders later in life, and Lyons added that children often "model" behavior and attitudes they pick up from parents and other figures as they grow into their own identities and begin relationships, creating a cyclical culture of violence in some communities.

While most educational programs target older teens and young adults, Kelsey Collins '13, who works with students at the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center in Providence through the Swearer Center's Sexual Health Advocacy through Peer Education program, said targeting and educating children early on about the dangers of domestic violence is important. 

"There was an almost unanimous agreement that abuse isn't a problem because it's just a given," said Collins. "It's definitely a huge issue in romantic relationships and sexual relationships in high school."

In the United States, one in three adolescent girls has experienced physical, emotional or verbal abuse during a romantic relationship, according to a 2008 focus report by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

"This is an age when children are developing ideas about relationships," said Vanessa Volz, executive director of Sojourner House. "If you provide this education early on, when they are still young, you can start strong and help them develop healthy relationships as they grow into adults."

Volz said the nonprofit enlisted the help of local students through Rhode Island's Young Voices initiative, which seeks to empower youth to participate in political advocacy and activity, to develop a game that would engage students who spend so much of their free time either online or using some form of technology.

The game's narrative is set at a high school that is the subject of a popular reality show in "Robot Land." The characters, with names like Jette, Bro, Emo and Perfect, experience typical high school drama. The story's main conflict is a messy relationship between the two main characters, Jette and Bro. Players of the game are immersed into this world and must draw on their knowledge of healthy relationship themes in order to solve Jette and Bro's problems and save the school.

The beta phase of the game's development has involved a variety of focus groups and has given Real Robots the opportunity to improve based on student feedback. 

"Students are kind of excited that they are able to play a video game during school," Volz said. "But it provides a mechanism for kids to talk about this issue."



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