Associate Professor Kate Senior, UOW’s School of Health and Society, on +61 412 913 227 or email@example.com.
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Unique board game helps adolescents navigate life’s ups and downs
RESEARCHERS AIM TO BREAK DOWN STIGMA AND ENCOURAGE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT SEXUALITY AND RELATIONSHIPS
A new board game that aims to address the stigma of sexual health and get young people talking about relationships will be rolled out to high schools and youth centres throughout Australia.
Created by researchers from the University of Wollongong (UOW), in collaboration with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District’s HIV/AIDS and Related Programs unit, Life Happens is a unique, interactive way of helping teenagers and young adults to break down the barriers often associated with sexuality.
Associate Professor Kate Senior, from UOW’s School of Health and Society, said the game was developed from research she conducted in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia to explore young people’s sexual health and relationships.
“We needed to develop an engaging way to involve young people in our research and encourage them to open up about their relationships and their sexuality,” Associate Professor Senior said. “At the same time, we were working to address rates of sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancy in these states because in the past, nothing else had made a difference to these problems.”
Life Happens uses life-size bodies and a series of challenges to guide its characters through a relationship or navigate a sexual health issue. The characters are not assigned a gender – it is up to the participants to decide which gender they want to be – and can deal with both positive and negative challenges when working through the story.
Participants are able to discuss the risks and issues, such as dealing with a sexually transmitted infection or an unexpected pregnancy, and pose hypothetical questions without feeling as if their own vulnerabilities are being laid bare.
Associate Professor Senior, an anthropologist, said it enables young people to have uncomfortable discussions by providing a sense of distance and a safe space in which the participants can discuss their own concerns through the guise of their characters.
“It is a safe and comfortable space for the adolescents, and the nature of the game meant that, as researchers, we didn’t have to ask questions. We just listened and they responded to their character’s challenges and the challenges of the characters around them,” she said.
“The response has been so positive. Relationships can be very isolating, particularly when a relationship breaks down there can be a lot of shame and stigma.”
When it came to the design of the game, the researchers drew on UOW’s artistic strengths. The team reached out to UOW’s third-year graphic design students, who worked on creating the look and feel of Life Happens as a project. The winning design combines bright colours with a quirky style that is sure to appeal to the young players.
Life Happens is aimed at those aged between 15 and 25, from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Associate Professor Senior said the response from adolescents has been overwhelmingly positive.
The game will be implemented in high schools and youth groups in the North Territory, Western Australia, South Australia, and New South Wales, with the support of NSW Health.
Research assistant Laura Grozdanovski, from UOW’s Centre for Health Initiatives, worked on the development and production of Life Happens and said much of the appeal of the game lies in its variety for participants and its ability to encourage young people to share their experiences.
“Life Happens never gets repetitive. There are so many different challenges and characters that the participants get a new experience every time,” Ms Grozdanovski said. “The challenges they are faced with can be sad or happy. They learn how to understand and deal with relationships and sexuality.
“The game’s motto is, ‘When life gives you lemons’. The format meant that we could strip away the isolation and bring people back together to have these conversations in public, and the participants realise that they are not alone, and often there is someone else who is going through the same thing.”