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Safer sex video game in Kenya

9th March 2009

The US government has teamed up with the video game company Virtual Heroes in developing a game that teaches young Kenyans how to avoid HIV.

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Some of the most vulnerable Kenyans are young women, nearly 5% of whom are carrying the HIV virus.

Players collaborate with one another, choosing from five different characters.

As they progress through the game, they encounter situations that encourage them to use problem-solving skills, saving a happy ending for the people who succeed in making the right choices and beating the game.

The game is features a simulation of the slums and city centre of Nairobi, and is called Pamoja Mtaani, which means Together in the Hood.

University student Evelyne Mwandia said that the characters in the game teach her about HIV prevention, and how to protect herself by having one partner and using a condom.

The theme of the game, targeted at young men and women ages 15 to 19, is the result of several visits by the development team to Kenya.

The game is offered at four total sites within Nairobi, and was launched several months ago at two of them in the Mukuru area of the city, a slum.

Brad Wilson said that the first trip Virtual Heroes took to the country was in the middle of March 2008, when they took some 5,000 pictures of their surroundings.

He said that they then returned to the US, where the company's art department used the photographs to construct a realistic model of Nairobi, downsizing the cityscape appropriately.

The company developed the game on a contract basis, and it is the product of a partnership between Warner Brothers Entertainment and the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The team consulted widely with Kenyan youth during several visits to the country, asking them their opinions about different types of video games and trying to gauge their tastes.

Wilson said that, no matter which of the five characters the player chooses, they eventually end up doing something that will put them at risk of contracting HIV, and that, through their interactions, they learn the true risks and ramifications of their own behaviour.

He said that the game realistically portrays the changes that occur in real life when the player chooses certain options, and that the team hopes the Kenyan youth will understand its message.


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