Video Gamers Tackle Powerful Project - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Video Gamers Tackle Powerful Project

Winooski, Vermont - September 30, 2008

One keystroke, one mouse click at a time, Wesley Knee wants to change the way people see video games. They don't have to be shoot-em-up gore-fests used just for entertainment. Knee says, "I really like to think I conquer big problems, and I do that through an interactive medium."

So he's studying game design at Champlain College. But Knee also works at Champlain's Emergent Media Center. It's a new place that gives young thinkers opportunities to shape real projects for companies and non-profits. Knee doesn't get class credit, but he does pull down a paycheck and is building his portfolio with a powerful project.

Aminata Toure, the chief of the gender, human rights, and culture branch of the United Nations Population Fund, says, "You are not a man if you are beating up a woman."

Toure works for the United Nations on gender and human rights issues. She helped land a $200,000 grant for the Emergent Media Center and 15 students to develop a video game to teach South African boys -- 8, 9, or 10 year olds -- that violence towards women should not be tolerated. The region, as the Champlain students saw firsthand on a visit in August, struggles with widespread sexual and physical violence against girls and women.

Toure explains, "We're trying to create a new discourse with role models. The game would also present options. 'If I am facing violence, what would I do?' 'If I am provoked, what would I do?'"

The team plans to put a heroic male figure at the center of the game. He'll be presented with choices about interacting with women. The tricky balance? Making a game that's fun to play but with a lesson that will stick with the boys as they grow into men.

Ann DeMarle of the Emergent Media Center explains, "It needs to be about 70 percent entertainment, 30 percent message. You become interested in the story, the characters, and as you're following that, you get to see the message delivered."

The United Nations says gender violence is directly linked to poverty so the tool may help South Africa on two fronts. Wesley Knee is optimistic that the game can have a serious impact. His goal? "That we can reach out and touch a couple people's lives over there."

The students are still in the concept and development phase. They hope to deliver their game to the U.N. in two years.

The Emergent Media Center is developing other game-themed projects to promote literacy and for use in training first responders and hospital staff.

Jack Thurston - WCAX News

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