Sexually transmitted diseases
Developing teaching aids to improve sex education and sexual health awareness in young people
The UK has one of Europe's highest rates for unplanned teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Despite this, the national curriculum does not include compulsory in-depth sex and relationship education. Now Dr Penny Cook, who's based in LJMU's Centre for Public Health, is developing innovative teaching aids to address the shortfall in resources currently available to assist classroom staff in this often difficult subject area.
Appreciating the role that computer games play in young people’s daily lives, Dr Cook and colleagues based in LJMU’s International Centre for Digital Content, have developed a unique interactive computer game specifically for sex and relationship education.
Sexually Transmitted Invasion is described as a 'fun, colourful, fast-paced experience' that uses modern gaming technology to graphically reinforce the safe sex message. The game is based in a solar system of planets with humanoid inhabitants. Players are represented on screen as alien life forms who must gather information about each planet. The only way they can do this is by visiting each of the planets in turn and 'probing' its humanoids for information. The problem is that some of these humanoids are infected with sexually transmitted infections. Players must use a condom in order to avoid becoming infected but these are not always readily available. Players accumulate points by adopting safe 'probing' techniques when gathering information.
Dr Cook suggests that, as in real life, young people playing the game will be impatient and gamble by probing humanoids without taking the necessary precautions. By enabling them to take risks in a safe but fun environment, she hopes that they will gain a greater appreciation of the danger of practising unsafe sex and taking risks with contraception. She also hopes that the game will demonstrate how easy it is to catch and spread a sexual infection.
Initial indications of the game's potency have been encouraging. Focus group results on a pilot version have shown that Sexually Transmitted Invasion targets the right age group, and that the young people involved would welcome such a tool in their Personal, Social and Health Education classes. Some even said that they would opt to play it outside of the classroom. Furthermore, the game platform could be translated into mobile phone format.