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GDC 10 Serious Games Summit: Videogames Can Make A Difference

Via: Game Developers Conference 2010 - Serious Games Summit

SGS Session: Violence Prevention - Playing A Video Game Can Make A Difference

Speaker: Allan McCullough (President, Child Safety Research & Innovation Center)

Session Description

Video games haven’t always been associated with preventing violence against children but a new Serious Game entity intends to change that. The Child Safety Research & Innovation Center (CSRIC) is a non-profit organization that uses video games to teach children how to respond safety to potentially dangerous situations.

One of the most difficult challenges violence prevention experts have is measuring prevention, CSRIC uses the power of video games to track and measure the child’s change in behavior game play by game play - tracking the child’s prevention skills. To help bridge the child’s learning from the game to the real world CSRIC provides parents and educators with animated vignettes showing the teachable moments with guides these trusted adults can use with children.

Idea Takeaway

Attendees will learn about a new "Serious Game" entity whose primary medium for preventing violence among children is video games.

CSRIC's primary focus is on the child safety issues that have an offline and online component such as sexual predators and bullying / cyberbullying.

About Allan McCullough

Allan is President of Canada’s non-profit Child Safety Research & Innovation Center and CEO of the video game developer Entertaining Knowledge Inc. He is also an expert in the field of child safety and street proofing of children.

Allan founded Child Safety Research and Innovation Center to work with his computer game company to blend the non-profit world of advocacy and safety with the engaging world of computer games. The partnership is designed to develop computer games to teach and reinforce safety skills, as well as measure vulnerabilities in children.

Born and raised in Prince Edward Island, Canada, and trained as a ships navigator with simulation computer programmers, Allan adapted the tools designed to train navigation to training children on safety. 

His passion to help protect children from sexual predators began in 1985 when two members of his family were involved in the search for a missing girl in the United States. Her body was discovered hours later - she had been abducted and murdered by a known child molester.

From that point forward, Allan devoted himself to finding ways to street proof children. Early in his work, Allan determined that the most effective way to engage, entertain and educate children is through role-playing computer game so that the safety skills could be acquired by having the player simulate the safe practices he or she should use in real life.

Sydney Safe-Seeker and The Incredible Journey Home Game

His first product, released in the Fall of 2008, was Sydney Safe-Seeker and The Incredible Journey Home.

Sydney Safe-Seeker and the Incredible Journey Home is a suite of products focused on “Street Proofing”. It is comprised of an entertaining CD-ROM game to teach child safety; parent and educator assessment tools that track the child’s safety knowledge; and a wealth of support materials and activity sheets for parents, educators, police, and other child safety professionals.

The game provides an interactive exploratory environment where 5 - 10 years old children are asked to make decisions based on game scenes that were developed to mirror real and sometimes dangerous situations. The game actually measures and reports back to teachers and parents the vulnerability of the child to ten different ploys used by sexual predators. 

In addition to measuring and reporting, the game develops safe habits through the use of prompts and feedback during the course of the game. The more the child plays, the more they learn about safety.

The game is a role-playing adventure style game with numerous interactions that lead up to a potentially unsafe situation. The player is presented with an audio/visual decision prompt for each potentially unsafe situation that must be answered to continue the game. Based on the player’s selected answer, the game branches to one of two outcomes showing either a safe or potentially unsafe situation (no violence will be shown). Animation and audio will be used to provide more detailed feedback, and animation branches provide educational outcome knowledge.

Sydney Safe-Seeker enhances a child’s confidence and self-esteem by teaching them safe behaviors when they encounter a potentially threatening situation.

Educator and Parent applications identify particular situations where a child responds unsafely and then coaches them on how to handle the “teachable moment” without raising the anxiety of the child.

Allan’s work has received the support and attention of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Victims of Violence, Chris Hansen (of Dateline’s To Catch a Predator series), and many others.

Allan continues to reside in Canada and splits his time between there and the NY Metropolitan area where he maintains a second home with his wife.