The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Mar 05, 2012

Social game demonstrates importance of youth voices in community issues

Posted by Jessica Goldfin

Any parent of tweens and teens knows it’s tough to talk with them about important issues. This makes one of the results of the Knight-funded real-world social game, Battlestorm, even more surprising. The game results showcase the power of youth as catalysts for conversations about hurricane preparedness among families, friends and communities along the Gulf Coast, which is still struggling to heal from past disasters.

A combination of dodgeball and freeze tag, Battlestorm was played by members of the Boys and Girls Clubs in communities throughout the region. The game used preparedness-related terms, symbols and game mechanics to promote the importance of hurricane preparedness through activities focused on youth as leaders. For example, in the course of the game, the “Town” team transports resources (balls) from one side of the court to the other while “The Storm” team plays and “shelter” power tokens offer players safe haven on the court from Hurricane players.

An evaluation of the game found that as a result of being involved with Battlestorm, players started conversations with parents and friends about hurricanes. 

  • 68% of Battlestorm players started/continued talking with parents about the topic vs. 38% in a control group.
  • One third of Battelstorm players’ parents reported learning something new about hurricane preparedness from their teen.
  • By the end of the game, 64% of Battlestorm players had spoken with friends about hurricanes, and 40% of players spoke with friends about the elements of a hurricane prep kit.

For example, on the way home from an after-school program, a girl from the East Biloxi Unit told her father that she was playing a game about hurricanes called “Battlestorm.” This reminded her father that the family’s flood insurance needed to be updated.

Unexpectedly, the evaluation also found that the conversations were often cathartic for both youth and their parents — more than half of which were directly affected by Hurricane Katrina. The family conversations offered an opportunity for both parents and kids to process their experiences of Katrina in a unique and beneficial way.

  • Seventy-five percent of parents of Battlestorm players who responded to a post-game survey said that games like Battlestorm can help children who experience emotional or psychological problems related to hurricanes.
  • Nineteen percent of parents of Battlestorm players said that playing the Battlestorm Game improved their own child's symptoms of stress or anxiety.

During the game period, a boy who was severely traumatized by his experience during Hurricane Katrina told his mother about the Battlestorm game and its theme. For the first time, the family began to talk about the devastating effects of the 2005 storm. This player later took a leadership role in explaining some of the details of hurricane prep to his younger siblings.

As a result of playing Battlestorm, hundreds of Gulf Coast families assembled or received hurricane prep kits. And community partners such as the Boys and Girls Clubs and Save the Children are keen on replicating Battlestorm and holding future tournaments.

With each new hurricane season, community organizations in at-risk regions look for new ways to get residents engaged. By using innovative strategies like the Battlestorm game, engaging youth first can lead to more parents becoming engaged and getting their families more prepared.

Jessica Goldfin will talk tomorrow about the Battlestorm game, and its impact, at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.  

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