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Video games get a bad rap for creating violence, but what if they could actually help prevent it? Drew Crecente says they can.
Crecente founded Jennifer Ann’s Group in 2006 after his daughter was murdered by her ex-boyfriend during her senior year in high school. His goal at first was to educate other parents about teen dating violence.
“Eighty-one percent of parents don’t realize teen dating violence is as prevalent or as dangerous as it is,” Crecente says. “After Jennifer, my only daughter, was killed, not only was it important to me to prevent other families from going through what we’ve gone through, but creating an organization in her name was a way for me to continue to be a parent.”
It wasn’t long before Crecente realized he needed to educate teens on dating violence, too. And video games seemed like the perfect vehicle for doing it.
“Teens aren’t always comfortable talking to their parents about dating. I know I wasn’t when I was young,” Crecente says. “With a video game, there’s no judgment. It’s self-paced. And they’re very, very powerful. They allow teens to explore a topic that is dangerous—something that is very unhealthy—through a video game in a safe way.”
A Lifesaving Challenge
Because Crecente is the sole full-time employee of Jennifer Ann’s Group and has no background in video game design or production, he decided a contest would be the best way to get developers involved. The Life.Love. Game Design Challenge launched in 2008. The parameters were to build a game with the goal of educating players on dating violence without using any violence in the game.
Jennifer Ann’s Group received five submissions that first year. By 2017, that number jumped to 45 submissions from all over the world. Some of the participants are students or recently graduated game developers trying to gain experience. Others are small design studios looking to expand their portfolios with a meaningful project.
“Last year’s winning game came from India and the runner-up came from France, but we’ve had winners from Thailand, Belgium, Mexico, Canada, the U.S., Argentina—all over—which is exciting,” Crecente says. “We’ve gotten submissions from five continents.”
Crecente works with the winning teams to get the games finalized and published online.
“As of 2018, we have now produced over 40 video games about topics having to do with teen dating violence like healthy relationships, consent and bystander intervention,” he says. “All of our games are free, and generally speaking, most of them can be played in a web browser with HTML-5. What’s nice about that is you don’t have to download anything to a computer.”
Crecente says some of the games are also available in Google Play and Amazon Appstore.
Using Games to Start a Conversation
Crecente has now set his sights on getting schools to use the games as educational tools. He recently had an educator create a lesson plan around Honeymoon, a 2016 winning game about healthy relationships and is currently piloting the program with 60,000 students in El Paso, Texas.
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“We’re going through this process to refine the lesson plan, but of course, our hope is to roll this out to other schools,” Crecente says. “We want to provide an effective and cost-effective resource for schools to educate students about the warning signs of teen dating violence and give them a tool to talk to students about what a healthy relationship looks like.”
Parents can access the games on Jennifer Ann’s Group website to start a conversation at home, too. Then, be prepared to listen. Talking to your teen about dating violence could save his or her life. For tips on where to start, check out “Survey Says … Parents Just Don’t Understand.”
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