Game On for Students' Sports-Themed Game with Social Message
October 17, 2014

Game On for Students' Sports-Themed Game with Social Message

Anita Sarkeesian is being targeted by male gamers…thanks to the efforts of many female game designers at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. 

Students there may have the only game designed to combat violence vs. women and girls. It is a sports-themed video game created by more than 120 students at Champlain College along with their faculty advisors that may provide one approach to change the hearts of potential abusers and the underlying cultural norms that lead to this kind of abhorrent behavior.

BREAKAWAY is an innovative, serialized soccer game for boys ages 8-15, designed specifically to stem violence against women and girls, and four years after its debut across the world, the game has been proven to have positive educational and transformative social impact in a study conducted by Dr. Hua Wang at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York.

With support of the United Nations and behavior change experts at the Population Media Center, BREAKAWAY has reached youth in more than 140 countries, and the newly released study confirms that it works.

In 2013, the BREAKAWAY team joined with the UN and the University of Sonsonate to host facilitator training and two youth camps in Sonsonate, El Salvador. El Salvador has the highest rate of gender-motivated killing in the world, but the exemption from punishment is an astounding 77% (UN Women, 2013).

During the camps, participants aged 7-18 played the game on computers, and participated in activities led by the Champlain College students and newly trained Salvadoran facilitators. These included group discussions, hands on activities, and play. Additional insights were obtained from the game’s Facebook page, which engaged more than 4,420 users during and after the camps.

Through the soccer-based video gameplay and in-game dialogs with the main characters, BREAKAWAY camp participants faced increasingly challenging situations. The Salvadoran youth learned what constitutes good sportsmanship and the personal qualities of a champion. They debated the rationale of decision-making processes, wrote individual letters to the abusive character, and co-constructed rap songs about respect.

Using a 5-star rating scale, on average, participants rated the camp experience 4.92 stars, the facilitators 4.66 stars, and other campers 4.66 stars. They exclaimed that “the camp is the best thing that has happened to me,” they learned that “the abuse of women is bad,” and to “not react to violent situations in a violent way because it can make things worse so it is best to remain calm.”

The participants reported that BREAKAWAY changed them in many ways. One said, “It opened my mind that girls can do the same things as boys.” Another said, “ BREAKAWAY changed me morally in terms of respect to others.” Not only did the participants’ responses indicate growth in awareness of the issue of violence against women and girls and reveal changed personal attitudes, but some responses also indicated behavioral change. For example, one boy stated, “before I liked to bug the shit out of other people and now I have changed and I am not like that anymore.” Still another, “Now I play more with girls….”

The participant’s responses showed sympathy and empathy to the characters that were mistreated in the game episodes, and admiration and approval for the positive role models. They were also able to sketch out real-life bullying scenarios and demonstrate some of the strategies they learned from the game and camp activities. 

As an added indicator of success, the communities of Sonsonate have begun to integrate BREAKAWAY into school curricula and the BREAKAWAY team is raising funds to return this December to run more facilitator training sessions and youth camps ( ).  

BREAKAWAY offers youth the chance to discover how to become a champion both on and off the field. The game offers an engaging and fun way to develop successful intrapersonal skills,” explained Ann DeMarle, director of Champlain College’s Emergent Media Center. “Now this study confirms that this game and camp model is an effective tool at changing behavior around violence against women and girls.”          

The groundbreaking game project is funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with the Shelburne, Vermont–based Population Media Center, the leading authority in using the Sabido methodology for social and behavioral change using radio and television dramas around the globe. The game is an integral part of the UN’s ongoing worldwide fight against poverty, violence against women, hunger, disease and environmental destruction. The game is also part of the UN Secretary Generals’ Campaign UNiTE to end violence against women.