HEALTH SUPPLEMENT Not playing games with sexual health
Local doctor takes innovative approach to empowering teens to avoid risk
elissa Gilliam, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and pedi- atrics at the University of Chicago Medicine, wants to keep urban kids from get- ting pregnant or contracting infections. If this goal hardly distinguishes her from a million other people working with disadvan- taged youth, her methodology certainly does: she is inviting them to play a secretive, science- fiction transmedia game on their computers to get them to rethink contraception, STIs and the cycle of poverty.
“Playing games can shape social attitudes and transform behaviors,” Gilliam said. “But I am not certain if anyone has tried to use a trans- media game in this context with urban youth.” First, an explanation: Atransmedia game is a story that unfolds across multiple digital tech- nologies. It is usually designed by a video game, movie, or television show creator for that subset of the audience who wants to take the experience out of the screen and into every- day life.
For example, maybe you’re the type of per- son to see a tiny nonsensical phrase in the cred- its of a movie and actually dig into it online. Be careful-you might find yourself sucked into a
mystery story. Over the course of a week, you get a text message from someone you’ve been mindlessly googling, you get an email with a riddle, and you find a chatroom with hundreds of people asking questions about clues they’ve found. You pick up more hints in this puzzle-on your phone, from YouTube, in your inbox, on a major website like Amazon. By the time you have solved the mystery, you know that the entire cloak-and-dagger game was orchestrated by the movie studio to create buzz. And it worked.
This transmedia game is being orchestrated by Gilliam and her colleague Patrick Jagoda, PhD, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow of New Media at the University of Chicago. The game launched on March 12th, and has been live for two weeks. The doctors and their team of game developers have been dropping clues online and in the real world, leading young players on a scavenger hunt for health and science knowl- edge and letting the players create content for each other. To get kids interested in the game, the first hint was planted at various places across Chicago. The developers also drew players into the game with Facebook and Google advertise-
Healthy Living Walking Challenge sponsored by Westside Health Authority and Emma Mitts, 37th Ward Alderman
he Healthy Living Walking Challenge will be held on Saturday, June 9, 2012, 9:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon at LaFollette Park, 1333 N. Laramie Avenue. This is an outdoor event that occurs
annually. It is open to the constituents of the 37th Ward and neighbor- ing communities. There will be activities for people of all ages and backgrounds.
The purpose of the Healthy Living Walking Challenge is to help decrease the risk of chronic diseases in residents of the Austin commu- nity of Chicago by providing opportunities and motivation for increased physical activity along with community resources to sustain it. The Healthy Living Walking Challenge recognizes that regular physical activity and healthy eating play an important role in combat- ing rising rates of chronic disease and obesity. We encourage people everywhere to be active every day, and to believe that even small daily changes can add up to big improvements in health. The Healthy Living Walking Challenge will celebrate and encourage current walkers and new walk participants to continue their walking program or perhaps launch into a different type of physical activity to improve their health. Please join us. For more information contact: Westside Health Authority at: 773.378.1878 or the office of Emma Mitts, 37th Ward Alderman at: 773.745.2894. www.healthauthority.org www.37thwardchicago.com
(The plot and characters are under wraps until it’s over. No spoilers here.)
The research group is collecting demograph- ic information, to survey the people who play, and to monitor the online forum to see what they learn by playing. Gilliam is hopeful that the game will reach the target audience of poor, urban young people of color.
“I hope they realize that their course doesn’t have to be determined for them,” Gilliam said. By helping the young players think critically about health disparities and increase their health literacy in an augmented reality game, Gilliam hopes they’ll feel empowered to choose their sexual path in real life. “Sexual and reproductive health is about your sense of relationships, and where you fit in the world. Young people who reach their full potential know what dangers they face and what hinders them. And they learn to reach beyond it.”
The million dollar question in this experi-
ment: Will their sexual behaviors change? “Telling their stories and gaining technology and research skills can help these young people decide that they have agency over their lives,” Gilliam said. “Unfortunately, many of these kids have a dismal vision of their own future, and think that their path is determined for them. Games demand that we take risks, fail, exam- ine the outcome and try again. Games are a safe way to learn about consequences.”
There’s at least one group of South Side teenagers that has already been highly influ- enced by this game: the high schoolers who designed it.
Last fall, Gilliam, Jagoda and their research team brought in eight kids from the neighbor- hood for an afterschool workshop with the goal of learning the language of game design. “No one wanted to talk about health,” Gilliam said, “but everyone wanted to be a game designer.” The students worked with one of the team's project coordinators, Stephen Healthcock, who has expertise in storytelling and theater. Together they created characters and stories based on events from their own lives, inter- views with their peers, and from the news. They learned how to create content on the internet with Photoshop, Dreamweaver, 3D modeling programs and video editors. “The internet stopped being something that was programmed for them. Now they don’t just look at it and surf it-they add to it,” Gilliam said. This is a big part of the empowerment and agency she’s trying to teach. “Once someone can see the HTML behind the websites and know how to add to it, they have tremendous power.”
While this is the first transmedia game that a hospital has ever made, it may not be the last. There are certainly easier ways to teach kids about sex. But Gilliam knows that empowering them to change their behaviors is an entirely different game.
Mercy Hospital hosts “Listen to your heart”- A free health screening @ Mercy Hospital & Medical Center
On April 14th, Mercy Hospital will host a FREE Diabetes Health Fair at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center:
WHAT: Listen to Your Heart
Join Mercy experts for a Heart Murmur Screening and Educational Session to learn more!
WHEN: Saturday, April 14, 2012 8:00am to 12:00pm
WHERE: Mercy Hospital & Medical Center 2525 S. Michigan Ave, 2nd Floor Doctor’s Office
Center Have you been evaluated for a heart murmur? Have you
been previously diagnosed with a heart murmur? AHeart Murmur can often be a sign of an abnormal heart valve, which may need to be treated. Join Mercy experts for a Heart Murmur Screening and Educational Session to learn more! 8:00am-10:30am: Heart Murmur Screening (If you wish to participate in the screening, please arrive before 10:00am). 10:30am-12:00pm: Educational Sessions led by Dr. Paul A. Jones and Dr. Dominic Tolitano. (All Educational Session attendees will be entered into a raffle for many great prizes, and will be invited to a Lunch Buffet). RSVP is requested. Walk-ins are welcome, but please arrive before 10:00am. For more information and to RSVP, call 312.567.6700, or online at mercy- chicago.org/events
Community engagement increases health-related outcomes
The Department of Health and Human Services announced the availability of over $100 million in funding for Community Transformation Grants through the CDC. Created by the Affordable Care Act, these grants help commu- nities implement projects proven to reduce chronic diseases - such as diabetes and heart disease. The grants will help improve health, reduce health disparities, and lower health care costs.
CHICAGO DEFENDER / APRIL 11-17, 2012 7
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