Gaming Against Teen Dating Violence

teenager playing video games

Video games with violent themes like Grand Theft Auto have been around for years. While there is much debate about whether or not these games actually contribute to real-world violence among players, there is no doubt they have left a permanent mark on our culture.

There is also little doubt that more wholesome alternatives that don’t glorify violence are in short supply.

At least one nonprofit is trying to change that. 

Non-Profit Organizes Gaming Contest to Educate About Teen Violence

Jennifer Ann’s Group is a nonprofit started by Drew Crecente in honor of his daughter Jennifer Ann who was killed by an ex-boyfriend in 2008. The organization works to prevent violence among teens through awareness, education, advocacy, and for several years now, video games. The nonprofit is currently holding its 13th annual Life.Love. Game Design Challenge.

The rules of the contest are simple. Video game developers compete to create the best game that explores topics such as consent, healthy relationships, and abuse prevention all while keeping violence off the screen. This year’s theme is culture, something Cerecente sees as an important piece in the topic of teen dating violence, knowing that it is the main source of information for many when dealing with sensitive issues.

Earlier this month, in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Crecente commented on his organization’s unique contest, highlighting the power of video games to “actually change somebody’s unhealthy attitudes or beliefs.”

What makes Crecente’s organization and the Game Design Challenge so compelling is that he is not content to settle with the way things are. While teen dating violence continues to hurt untold numbers of relationships throughout the country, Crecente, through Jennifer Ann’s Group, has introduced an innovative way to not only educate and advocate but to influence behavior at the root level. He is also working to turn video games—something that is often seen as a contributor to the problem of teen dating violence—into a way to combat the problem.

One such video game that has won the competition previously is Grace’s Diary which puts players in the place of Grace as she grapples with her friend Natalie’s changes. Grace’s Diary has been played by thousands of teens since it was introduced a decade ago and has enjoyed rave reviews. Its focus on empathy and growth makes it the perfect game to help young players understand what others are going through.

According to Crecente, other games that have competed in the Life.Love. Design Game Challenge include “…defense games, art games, walking simulator type games, trivia games — most common are RPG.” And by keeping violence off the screen, the games strive to keep both the hearts and minds of their players clean.

Using Video Games to Reach Teenage Boys

The idea to use to video games was pure genius as the industry isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, it is estimated that gamers will spend $159 billion on games in 2020 alone. That number could surpass $200 billion by the year 2023. Unfortunately, many of the most popular games are first-person shooters like Call of Duty, Halo, and Grand Theft Auto.

While the work of Crecente has done with Jennifer Ann Group’s Life.Love. Game Design Challenge is only a drop in the bucket, it is still commendable. It is also a creative way to reach a group that needs to hear the nonviolent message of these games: teenage boys. 

Earlier this year, Reuters reported that 41% of teenage boys play video games every day. Creating video games that teach consent, healthy relationships, and the like are exactly what boys need. 

In speaking to this very point, Crecente also told the Hollywood Reporter, “I don’t want to patronize these young people, I really want to speak to them where they’re at.” Reaching out to them by speaking their language, which is video games, is the perfect way to do that.

And while this year’s competition was held virtually, it is impressive to see Crecente’s commitment even during these challenging times. 

The issue of teen dating violence needs more men and women like Drew Crecente, innovators who will do whatever it takes to get their important message out to an audience that increasingly needs to hear it.

Finally, it should be noted that the Life.Love. Game Design Challenge does include a cash prize of $12,500. Previous winners and other games created to combat teen dating violence can be found at Jag Games.

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