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Gaming Against Violence: An Exploratory Evaluation through Mechanical Turk of the Efficacy of Persuasive Digital Games in Improving Unhealthy Relationship Attitudes

Gaming Against Violence: An Exploratory Evaluation through Mechanical Turk of the
Efficacy of Persuasive Digital Games in Improving Unhealthy Relationship Attitudes
Ruud S. Jacobs, MSc.1 and Drew Crecente, JD2
Objective: The current article explores the general efficacy of digital games that aim to combat teen
dating violence by looking at the effect they have on players‟ attitudes towards this topic.
Materials and Methods: An online experiment was performed on 86 workers of Amazon‟s
Mechanical Turk. Participants either played one of five teen dating violence (TDV) games or one of
two control games unrelated to the topic. The TDV games were all prior winners in the annual
Life.Love. Game Design Challenge hosted by Jennifer Ann‟s Group, a charity organization focusing
on reducing dating violence. Attitudes were measured through previously validated dating violence
scales with a pre- and post-test to show the degree to which players change their views.
Results: Players of the TDV games showed greater increase on attitudes towards dating violence than
players of unrelated games, with small to medium effect sizes on different comparisons.
Conclusion: The results of this exploratory study are promising, showing that overall, the TDV
games have an effect on their players. The study is limited in the sample that was drawn and that its
sample was not large enough to distinguish differential efficacy among the TDV games, although it
lays the groundwork for future studies to further validate the viability of these games as persuasive
1 Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication, and Culture, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The
2 Jennifer Ann‟s Group, Atlanta, Georgia
The issue of teen dating violence is widespread. An estimated 40 percent of graduating college
students have been in an abusive relationship at least once in the United States.1 Despite its ubiquity,
16 million (of a population of approximately 21 million) students in United States schools are being
educated in states that lack teen dating violence (TDV) education legislation.2 It is therefore necessary
to approach this issue in a way that does not rely on institutional education practices. Digital games
are an ideal and novel method to confront the problem of TDV. Jennifer Ann‟s Group, a 501(c)(3)
nonprofit charity, produces video games through the Live.Love. Game Design Challenge, an annual
videogame competition it has run since 2008 that encourages developers to create games about TDV.3
Jennifer Ann‟s Group (JAG) hosts many of the games that were awarded prizes in this challenge on
its site,4 allowing interested parties to experience this fraught topic (for free) in a safe way.5
The current article explores the influences teen dating violence games have on players. An
exploratory online experiment was performed looking at attitude change in players of several JAG
games and compared with games unrelated to TDV. After defining the issue of teen dating violence
and positing that games about this topic can help to combat it, we discuss the study‟s methods and
The Problem: Teen Dating Violence
Teen dating violence is defined as any kind of physical, sexual, or emotional violence (including
stalking behavior) by the Centers for Disease Control.6 A 2013 estimate concluded that around 21
percent of high-school aged dating females had experienced a form of TDV in the past year, with a
lower percentage (10%) of men being victimized.7 TDV is a complex, nuanced problem. Although it
shares many of the same traits as „traditional‟ domestic violence, it is further complicated by lack of
awareness, insufficient policy focus, and the relative naiveté of those most affected.
Essentially, healthy relationship behavior is learned over time. If adolescents do not witness
healthy relationship modeling within their family they resort to learning those behaviors through their
peers8 and via media. As a result, perpetrators and targets of abuse are less likely than adults to
identify and engage in healthy relationship behaviors.
Efforts to curb teen dating violence are almost invariably rooted in educational practice.
However, in a comprehensive meta-analysis of current literature on the evidence behind these
programs, De La Rue et al.9 noted that while they do affect attitudes and knowledge, their influence
on subsequent behavior (victimization and perpetration of dating violence) cannot be proven. Apart
from being due to a lack of evidence rather than a lack of effects, this finding should encourage
creators to tackle this issue in novel ways.
Videogames Designed to Prevent Dating Violence
Approaching dating violence prevention through a video game allows creators to present their
message in a wholly unique way. Although video games are still often seen as mere entertainment,
their ability to effect both generally positive changes in players10 as well as more specific changes in
attitudes towards social issues11 is being increasingly recognized. By offering simulated
environments, TDV games can promote experiential learning in players, letting them safely but
interactively experience the issue from different angles.5,12 This flexibility lets players reach their own
conclusions about the critical aspects of TDV.13 They also learn about this topic in the context of
biographical or fictional stories, rather than in an abstract way.14 All these facets could be said to give
game-based learning an advantage over traditional methods of instruction.
Using games to discuss this topic also allows creators to come closer to the target audience of
students aged between 11 and 22: Teens prefer games over other media,5,15 and see the use of
computers in instruction as a more positive experience than other methods.16 In some cases teens see
video games as appropriate tools for their age group, appreciating that their preference was considered
when selecting an approach for them.
Apart from their viability as a tool for change and their fit with the audience that would
benefit most from efforts to curb TDV, games are also quite cost-effective as teaching tools. Digital
products are much easier to scale up or tailor to specific circumstances than physical resources, which
are constrained by manufacturing and production processes. Newer technologies also allow these
games to be played from teens‟ own smartphones or tablets, presenting more intimate experiences
while not having to rely on special devices, infrastructure, or legislation.
All of this makes TDV games more than just tools for use in educational settings. The games
offered by JAG4 are available to students via the internet at home, in schools, or public libraries,
allowing them to learn about abusive relationships at their own pace without feeling „preached to‟ by
adults. Schools and parents are then secondary beneficiaries: The games provide teachers and
administration with a free educational resource, while parents can benefit by educating themselves
and using the games as catalysts for conversations.
Like many other serious games, TDV games can affect knowledge, skills, and attitudes. On
the level of knowledge, TDV games can inform players by, for instance, making them aware of
warning signs of abuse. They can proffer skills onto players, teaching them how to react to abusive
situations (also as a bystander) or how to reach out for help. Apart from these effects, the primary
impact that a TDV game could have is by changing the attitudes of its players. Convincing individuals
that certain behaviors constitute abuse and should not be condoned is a critical issue facing TDV
interventions. This also makes TDV games so-called „persuasive games‟, games that were developed
with the intention to change players‟ attitudes about certain topics. While persuasive games have been
shown to positively affect player-held beliefs on several topics,11,17,18 evidence is still needed to
support attitude-changing effects of TDV games.19 Our study was therefore guided by the following
research question: Do teen dating violence games change the attitudes of their players towards this
topic when compared to games unrelated to the topic?
Materials and Methods
To determine if playing a video game designed to prevent teen dating violence was effective in
changing attitudes towards unacceptable dating behaviors, an exploratory online study was performed
with a 2 (TDV and Control games) by 2 (pre- and post-test) mixed experimental design. Participants
were gathered through the Amazon Mechanical Turk service (mTurk)20 between November 2015 and
January 2016. Before participating, potential respondents were informed about the study with regards
to its subject matter (relationship violence), apparatus required to participate, the identity and
affiliation of the researcher, and time investment (between 45 75 minutes). After this briefing,
respondents were free to give or withhold consent electronically by participating (or not participating)
in the study. Using an online survey tool, participants were given a pre-test measuring dating violence
attitudes. Next, participants were shown to one of 7 games that were either TDV or control games,
and asked to come back to the survey after finishing the game. Afterwards, participants filled in a
post-test questionnaire on the same attitudes. They also completed a manipulation check item that
asked them to briefly summarize the game they played. Respondents were given the chance to
comment (or pose questions) on the study and the stimulus materials before being compensated
through the mTurk payment system.
As the study was conducted by an independent researcher (the second author), institutional
review board (IRB) approval was not available. With only the exception of the IRB (point 23), the
study conformed to the declaration of Helsinki21 as well as the mTurk guidelines for academic
requesters22 and official terms of service.23 The latter two include, among others, the availability of
grievance procedures for participants and requirements on data security/privacy. As the game stimuli
used were designed for younger audiences, they contain no harmful imagery or sounds. The
transparent, sensitive design of this study and the comments of the participants afterwards indicate
that this study carefully guarded against adverse effects on its participants. The benefits of the study
therefore outweighed the negligible negative outcomes.
Apart from demographic items on gender, age, and game-playing experience, participants filled in
two measures related to dating violence. The first was definitional, asking respondents to tick boxes to
indicate what constitutes abuse (e.g. physical, sexual). One decoy item was included („allegorical‟) to
control for respondents simply checking all the boxes. This item was analyzed by looking at the
change in the number of (real) elements of dating abuse reported, whereby an increase would show a
broader definition of what constitutes abuse. The second measure was an 11-item scale taken from the
Attitudes Towards Dating Violence Scales.24 Respondents indicated on a 5-point Likert scale their
agreement with statements about abusive situations (e.g. „a guy should not insult his
girlfriend/boyfriend‟ and „it is O.K. for a girl to slap her boyfriend/girlfriend if they deserve it‟).
Calculation of Cronbach‟s alpha showed that the reliability of this scale was acceptable (pre-test: α =
.813, post-test α = .787), and so all items were included in an average scale variable. Lastly, the
respondents rated the enjoyability of the game on a scale from 1 to 10.
To get an overview of the generalized efficacy of the TDV games, 5 different JAG games were
included. The games were: Another Chance, Grace‟s Diary, Little Things, Love in the Dumpster, and
The Guardian. These games were all award winning games in different iterations of the Life.Love.
Game Design Challenge produced by JAG, and all were accessible online at the time of writing,4 with
each game taking 30 60 minutes to complete. Two control games were included, both relatively
popular browser-based games: Samorost,25 and Today I Die.26 Neither of these games contained any
information or behaviors related to TDV, while the dexterity requirements and gameplay were
broadly comparable to the TDV games.
The sampling procedure selected only participants living in the United States through address
verification. To avoid repeat participants, sampling proceeded by state, drawing a small number of
participants from each state for one game before opening the study with a different game to another
state. States sampled for the TDV games were California, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, New York,
Texas, and Vermont. The control games were assigned to New Jersey and Virginia.
This sampling strategy yielded 86 participants. The majority (68%) were men, and more than
half (56%) were aged between 25 and 34 (24% was younger than 25, and 20% was older than 35).
45% of the sample reported playing games daily, with only 13% playing less than once a week. 66
participants played one of the TDV games as part of the study, with 20 participants playing either of
the two control games.
A repeated measures ANOVA was performed to determine the influence of the teen dating violence
games when compared to the control games on their responses to the Attitudes Towards Dating
Violence scale. Significant main effects were found for the pre- and post-test difference (F(1,84)=7.1,
p=.009, η2p=.08), as well as for the condition (F(1,84)=6.7, p=.012, η2p=.07). An interaction effect
was also found, indicating that persons who played the TDV games changed their attitudes towards
the topic more than people who played the control game (see figure 1). All three effect sizes were
small. The differences between the pre- and post-tests between conditions were further tested through
two-sample t-tests. These showed that the two conditions did not significantly differ at pre-test
(t(84)=1.8, two-tailed-p=0.082, Hedges‟ gs=.45), though they were different at post-test (t(84)=3.3,
two-tailed-p=0.002, Hedges‟ gs=.83), with means indicating that the TDV players (M=4.6, SD=0.5)
had greater scores than the control players (M=4.2, SD=0.6). When looking at the difference scores
between the two observations, the increase was largest for players of the TDV games (Control M=.2,
SD=0.3, TDV M=.0, SD=0.2, t(84)=2.5, two-tailed-p=0.013, Hedges‟ gs=.64). Overall, the TDV
games incited greater attitude change in their players than the control games did.
Figure 1: Attitude change in the TDV and control game conditions. Higher scores indicate lower acceptance of
dating violence. The difference in pre-test between conditions is not significant at an alpha of .05, though that of
the post-test is.
Data were also analyzed for the definition of abuse, the TDV games separately, and for the
influence of demographic variables. For the item about definition, a ceiling effect negated any
possible effects. The average number of elements included in the definition was 5.6 on the pre-test,
and lowered to 5.5 on the post-test, though there were no significant discrepancies between the groups
on the difference score (t(65)=-1.5, two-tailed-p=0.150, Hedges‟ gs=.20). Looking at the TDV games
separately, no differences were found between the five games used in this study when they were
included in an ANOVA with attitude change as the dependent variable (F(4,61)=.5, p=.714). Lastly,
gender differences were found in the pre-test on an independent samples t-test when looking only at
players of the TDV games (t(64)=2.629, two-tailed-p=.011, Hedges‟ gs=.67), indicating women
(M=4.7, SD=.4) had higher scores than men (M=4.3, SD=.6). This difference was not found for the
post-test (t(64)=1.783, two-tailed-p=.079, Hedges‟ gs=.46). The attitude difference was close to
significantly different between genders (t(64)=1.947, two-tailed-p=.056, Hedges‟ gs=.50), indicating
that men‟s attitudes (M=.2, SD=.3) underwent greater changes than women‟s (M=.1, SD=.3), though
this was not significant at an alpha of .05.
Summarizing, the interaction effect found can be taken to mean that the change in attitudes for TDV
game players was greater than it was for control game players. This can be seen in the slope of the
graph for the TDV group in figure 1, whereas the control group showed no increase. This means that
it is highly likely that the TDV games had an effect on the attitudes of its players. Because these
results cannot be separated per game, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that, on the whole,
games intended to have an effect on TDV attitudes affect these attitudes more than games that were
not designed for this purpose.
As this was an exploratory study, it could not prove without doubt that all TDV games affect
attitudes towards teen dating violence. As a first foray into this topic, however, these results are very
promising. Further research could improve on this study in the following ways. The mTurk sampling
strategy was not equal to the target audience, and it was not possible to randomize participants
completely. Although we did not find systematic differences in our sample in the origin state of the
participants, subtle differences between respondents of different states cannot currently be ruled out.
Future studies should attempt to replicate the current results by truly randomizing participants, but
also by taking a sample that is of sufficient size to detect possible differences in effects between the
TDV games. In this way, the focus of research can begin to move from simply determining effects to
establishing what properties of games increase or dampen their influences.
To conclude, despite the fact that the TDV games used in this study were not developed with
the current study‟s sample in mind, the games clearly affected their players. This result supports the
viability of persuasive games in combating the all-too-common phenomenon of teen dating violence.
This research was funded by Jennifer Ann's Group, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization working to
prevent teen dating violence. See www.JenniferAnn.org. This article was written within the project
“Persuasive gaming. From theory-based design to validation and back” funded by the Netherlands
Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). See www.persuasivegaming.nl.
Author Disclosure
Drew Crecente is the founder/executive director of Jennifer Ann's Group and is in that capacity the
producer and publisher of the videogames hosted on the Group‟s site. There were no other competing
financial interests.
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Address correspondence to:
Ruud S. Jacobs, MSc.
Erasmus Research Centre for Media, Communication, and Culture
Department of Media & Communication
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Burgemeester Oudlaan 50
3062PA, Rotterdam
The Netherlands
E-mail: jacobs@eshcc.eur.nl
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
The incidence of violence in dating relationships has a significant impact on young people, including decreased mental and physical health. This review is the first to provide a quantitative synthesis of empirical evaluations of school-based programs implemented in middle and high schools that sought to prevent or reduce incidents of dating violence. After a systematic search and screening procedure, a meta-analysis of 23 studies was used to examine the effects of school-based programs. Results indicated school-based programs influence dating violence knowledge ( 95% confidence interval [0.05, 0.39]) and attitudes ( 95% confidence interval [0.10, 0.19]); however, to date, the results for dating violence perpetration and victimization indicate programs are not affecting these behaviors to a significant extent. The results of this review are encouraging, but they also highlight the need for modifications to dating violence prevention programs including the incorporation of skill-building components and a need to address the role of bystanders.
Full-text available
Teen dating violence is a pervasive problem that affects millions of adolescents worldwide. Although there have been various approaches to addressing this problem, using videogames had not been employed before 2008, when Jennifer Ann's Group, an Atlanta, GA–based nonprofit organization, created an annual competition. The Life.Love. Game Design Challenge rewards game developers for creating videogames about teen dating violence without using any violence in the games themselves. The resulting videogames have increased awareness about teen dating violence and provided educational information to assist adolescents, parents, and teachers in identifying abusive relationships.
Full-text available
People using wheelchairs face barriers in their daily lives, many of which are created by people who surround them. Promoting positive attitudes towards persons with disabilities is an integral step in removing these barriers and improving their quality of life. In this context, persuasive games offer an opportunity of encouraging attitude change. We created a wheelchair-controlled persuasive game to study how embodied interaction can be applied to influence player attitudes over time. Our results show that the game intervention successfully raised awareness for challenges that people using wheelchairs face, and that embodied interaction is a more effective approach than traditional input in terms of retaining attitude change over time. Based on these findings, we provide design strategies for embodied interaction in persuasive games, and outline how our findings can be leveraged to help designers create effective persuasive experiences beyond games.
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Video games are a ubiquitous part of almost all children's and adolescents' lives, with 97% playing for at least one hour per day in the United States. The vast majority of research by psychologists on the effects of "gaming" has been on its negative impact: the potential harm related to violence, addiction, and depression. We recognize the value of that research; however, we argue that a more balanced perspective is needed, one that considers not only the possible negative effects but also the benefits of playing these games. Considering these potential benefits is important, in part, because the nature of these games has changed dramatically in the last decade, becoming increasingly complex, diverse, realistic, and social in nature. A small but significant body of research has begun to emerge, mostly in the last five years, documenting these benefits. In this article, we summarize the research on the positive effects of playing video games, focusing on four main domains: cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social. By integrating insights from developmental, positive, and social psychology, as well as media psychology, we propose some candidate mechanisms by which playing video games may foster real-world psychosocial benefits. Our aim is to provide strong enough evidence and a theoretical rationale to inspire new programs of research on the largely unexplored mental health benefits of gaming. Finally, we end with a call to intervention researchers and practitioners to test the positive uses of video games, and we suggest several promising directions for doing so. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).
National estimates of teen dating violence (TDV) reveal high rates of victimization among high school populations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national Youth Risk Behavior Survey has provided often-cited estimates of physical TDV since 1999. In 2013, revisions were made to the physical TDV question to capture more serious forms of physical TDV and to screen out students who did not date. An additional question was added to assess sexual TDV. To describe the content of new physical and sexual TDV victimization questions first administered in the 2013 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, to share data on the prevalence and frequency of TDV (including the first-ever published overall "both physical and sexual TDV" and "any TDV" national estimates using these new questions), and to assess associations of TDV experience with health-risk behaviors. Secondary data analysis of a cross-sectional survey of 9900 students who dated, from a nationally representative sample of US high school students, using the 2013 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Two survey questions separately assessed physical and sexual TDV; this analysis combined them to create a 4-level TDV measure and a 2-level TDV measure. The 4-level TDV measure includes "physical TDV only," "sexual TDV only," "both physical and sexual TDV," and "none." The 2-level TDV measure includes "any TDV" (either or both physical and sexual TDV) and "none." Sex-stratified bivariate and multivariable analyses assessed associations between TDV and health-risk behaviors. In 2013, among students who dated, 20.9% of female students (95% CI, 19.0%-23.0%) and 10.4% of male students (95% CI, 9.0%-11.7%) experienced some form of TDV during the 12 months before the survey. Female students had a higher prevalence than male students of physical TDV only, sexual TDV only, both physical and sexual TDV, and any TDV. All health-risk behaviors were most prevalent among students who experienced both forms of TDV and were least prevalent among students who experienced none (all P < .001). The 2013 TDV questions allowed for new prevalence estimates of TDV to be established that represent a more complete measure of TDV and are useful in determining associations with health-risk behaviors among youth exposed to these different forms of TDV.
Recent developments in technology have resulted in innovative learning tools that couple physical activity elements with learning objectives. We aimed to determine whether Footgaming in the classroom results in learning nutritional concepts. The experiences of student participation and teachers’ perceptions of using active gaming in the classroom were reported. A total of 57 students played computerized nutritional games utilizing their feet to control mouse functions on a Footgaming pad (Cobalt Flux, Salt Lake City, UT). Nutritional knowledge was assessed at baseline and following 10 weeks of Footgaming. These preliminary findings suggest children can learn nutritional concepts and teachers and students value the educational experience when using Footgaming in the classroom. These findings are an important step in improving the understanding of physical activity–based technologies in the classroom setting.
To investigate whether a persuasive social impact game may serve as a way to increase affective learning and attitude towards the homeless, this study examined the effects of persuasive mechanics in a video game designed to put the player in the shoes of an almost-homeless person. Data were collected from 5139 students in 200 middle/high school classes across four states. Classes were assigned to treatment groups based on matching. Two treatment conditions and a control group were employed in the study. All three groups affective learning and attitude scores decreased from the immediate posttest but the game group was significantly different from the control group in a positive direction. Students who played the persuasive social impact game sustained a significantly higher score on the Affective Learning Scale (ALS) and the Attitude Towards Homelessness Inventory (ATHI) after three weeks. Overall, findings suggest that when students play a video game that is designed using persuasive mechanics an affective and attitude change can be measured empirically.
The prevalence of digital media use among children and adolescents is indisputable. One medium to which children and adolescents dedicate a sizeable portion of their time is that of the digital game. Accordingly, digital game play continues to grow as a context for cognitive development. We showcase new research and practice addressing the impact of this very popular activity on children’s and adolescents’ learning. Our goal is to stimulate new research and interest in examining the positive ramifications of digital play for development among today’s youth. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved)
In this study, a collaborative game-based learning environment is developed by integrating a grid-based Mindtool to facilitate the students to share and organize what they have learned during the game-playing process. To evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed approach, an experiment has been conducted in an elementary school natural science course to examine the students' performance in terms of their learning attitudes, learning motivation, self-efficacy and learning achievements. From the experimental results, it is found that the Mindtool-integrated collaborative educational game not only benefits the students in promoting their learning attitudes and learning motivation, but also improves their learning achievement and self-efficacy owing to the provision of the knowledge organizing and sharing facility embedded in the collaborative gaming environment.
Serious games are emerging as a new medium for social change. This study investigated the influence of presentation mode afforded by different media on willingness to help in the context of humanitarian aid. Two online experiments were conducted. The first experiment demonstrated that playing the Darfur is Dying game elicited greater role-taking and resulted in greater willingness to help the Darfurian people than reading a text conveying the same information. The second experiment deconstructed the variable presentation mode in more detail by adding a game watching condition. Similar results were found such that game playing resulted in greater role-taking and willingness to help than game watching and text reading. Implications for researchers and game developers are also discussed.