COMPUTER games can fuel aggression, but research shows that they can also be a tool to improve behaviour and social responsibility. Now, a University of Huddersfield social work professor and her team have been awarded over £4.5 million to develop computer games that aim to reduce domestic violence by raising awareness and altering attitudes among young people.
The UK, China, Uganda, Pakistan and Jamaica are the territories where “prosocial” games developed by a new research centre named None in Three will be introduced, tailored so that they address the most urgent local forms of violence against women and children.
The £4.5 million award comes from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), administered by Research Councils UK as part of the country’s overseas aid strategy. It has announced total funding of £1.5 billion to a wide range of projects, making it one of the most ambitious international research programmes yet devised.
At the University of Huddersfield, the None in Three group is headed by Professor Adele Jones, with a leadership team comprising Professor Eunice Ma, Professor Dan Boduszek, Professor Paul Miller, Dr Graham Gibbs, Dr Anna Powell, Dr Agata Debowska, Gill Kirkman, Vikki Hart and Ryan Greene.
What the award will allow us to do, together with funding from the University’s own research fund, is to establish the very first centre dedicated to prosocial games for the prevention of gender-based violence
Professor Adele Jones
“The award is a recognition that prosocial games as an intervention for changing attitudes around violence are a valuable educational tool with long term benefits. There is a growing body of work that shows that games can have a major impact on shaping attitudes and behaviours, as they shape reasoning and problem-solving skills in particular ways,” added Professor Jones.
None in Three – which takes its name from figures showing that one in three women and girls experience violence in their lives – originated as a multi-faceted research project focused on the issue of domestic violence in the Caribbean. It received funding of 400,000 euros from the EU.
A prosocial computer game was developed and will soon be piloted in schools in Grenada and Barbados. The results will be appraised, to assess its success in changing attitudes.
Developed in conjunction with computer games experts at the University of Huddersfield, the Caribbean-focused game centres on a character named Jesse, a child from a home where there is domestic violence. The game is informed by research carried out in the Caribbean, explained Professor Jones, adding that its focus, storyline, characters, dialogue and voices have all been made culturally relevant to the region.
“We have developed a very robust method of evaluation so we will be able to gauge how playing Jesse changes attitudes towards violence and increases empathy. Our research has shown that many young people regularly witness violence in interpersonal relationships and often think this is normal or inevitable – we are challenging these ideas and also tackling negative attitudes towards women and girls while they are being formed.”
Now that the £4.5 million plus, four-year GCRF award enables None in Three to expand globally, the research group will work with university-based partners in the UK, China, Uganda, Pakistan and Jamaica, and new games will be created based on the language, culture and social issues of each country, said Professor Jones.
The goal is to produce prosocial games that will be made freely available and will be playable on the widest possible range of computers and devices. It is expected that in the UK alone, the research group will expand by about ten new members, including PhD students and games developers, but there will be a growth in research capacity and skills in the partner countries too.