For decades, teachers, parents, school boards, state legislators and even Congress have been deeply divided over the best way to approach sex education in public schools.
In many communities across the nation, conservative activists parents argue that the curriculum should emphasize sexual abstinence and not rob students of their innocence. Those who favor the concept of comprehensive sex education contend that with so many young people turning to social media for sex-related information, it is more important than ever for students to be equipped with accurate, reliable information on sexual health.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has invested nearly a quarter of a million dollars into ensuring that all young adults have access to sexual and reproductive health information, regardless of the ideological approach to sex education that their schools decide to take. In August, the NIH awarded a joint project to The University of Chicago’s Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Resilient Games Studio, a video game developer, to create a STEM game for teenagers about reproductive health.
According to the grant for this project, “These partners share a commitment to using game-based learning experiences to empower youth with the skills, capacity, and support to achieve optimal health and well-being.”
The video game will be called “Caduceus Quest” and will seek to “engage youth in STEM learning, facilitate reductions in sexual and reproductive health risk behaviors, and promote asset development toward holistic, long-term well-being.” The theory-based, role-playing game will allow players to build a team of educators, policymakers, researchers and youth advocates to help solve medical mysteries around Chicago. African American and Latino teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 who live in or near Chicago are the target audience for the game.
According to the Game Changer Chicago design lab, where the game is being worked on and tested, a number of healthcare professionals have been consulted to ensure that the game contains accurate information regarding sexual rights, physician treatment of STIs and healthcare public policy. The design lab hopes that “Caduceus Quest” will show players “how different occupations can approach the same problem with radically different perspectives and how crowdsourcing across professions can drastically improve an idea.”
“Caduceus Quest” is not the first project to be spurred from the idea of creating games to supplement sex education for teenagers. In spring 2013, students at Parsons The New School For Design were challenged to create inclusive and accessible sex education-based games that could be used in middle school and high school classrooms. The design students crafted four interactive games – Sex Phrase, Perfect Pair, Sexploration Through High School and Sex Phrase Icebreakers: Broken Sex Phone and Sexy Singing. Each game seeks to familiarize teens and tweens with topics such as puberty, common sex slang, healthy relationships, STDs, birth control, LGBTQ awareness and sexuality in society.
Back in 2010, a Canadian health organization created a sex education video game called “Sex City,” a parody of “Sin City”, which featured “an elite team of superheroes dedicated to keeping the citizen of Sex City safe from STIs.” While the overall design of the game was a little out-there, “Sex City” did a good job of educating teens about how to protect themselves sexually in a way that wasn’t completely academic.
When “Caduceus Quest” is completed and released, it will join the ranks engaging, interactive supplemental materials that strive to revolutionize sex education for teens.