Taxpayers fund video game that teaches girls how not to score

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, August 3, 2010 18:07 EDT
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Ever wish there were a video game where the point is to score as little as possible? If so, well, the Obama administration just may have several hundred thousand dollars for you.

The University of Central Florida (UCF) is one such beneficiary, with a weird idea for a game and a fresh wad of taxpayer cash to drive its creation.

Yes, thanks to the National Institutes of Health, which awarded UCF $434,800 to continue this project, a small number of teen girls will soon get to wear spandex suits and ping-pong balls all over their bodies while pretending they’re telling boys to leave them alone.

The project’s stated goal is to reduce pregnancy rates and sexually transmitted disease among the Latina community … Through video games, apparently.

“By donning a motion-capture suit, the players get to act out social scenarios that will then play out on the screen, earning points every time they turn down sexual advances,” explains Robin Marty at Reproductive Health Reality Check.

The technological premise of controlling the game by body movement sounds remarkably close to features supposedly possible on Microsoft’s upcoming “Kinect” device, which does not require a motion-capture suit and will debut later this year for $149.99 at retail. By contrast, the Nintendo Wii has been motion control capable for years. The console retails with a controller and two sports-themed games for just $149.99.

MyFox Orlando has more:

Along side UCF’s institute for simulation and training, Professor Anne Norris is creating a virtual game which works by using simulation and digital puppetry. It sounds complicated, but it’s simple technology.

“What’s radically different about this one one person controls many characters by jumping into the skin, ” said Charles Hughes, UCF Computer Science professor.

“A boy similar in age might approach the person playing the game and ask her to make out or there might be some sexual innuendo,” said Norris.

A test group of Latina females will be studied periodically during the two-year project, with researchers hoping to measure any potential impact the behavioral simulations have on their lives. Professor Norris told The Orlando Business Journal that if it works, she’ll develop a game for boys.

“Essentially, the video game is an elaborate version of the Tamagotchi, only, rather than a small electronic pet you feed and watch grow bigger, the pet is young girls, and you ‘win’ by telling them not to kiss boys,” Marty continued. “Yet for the same amount of money, Florida could hire ten educators to canvas the state, providing one-on-one counseling with teens struggling with the decision of whether or not to have sex. Those counselors could help protect those already having sex or who later choose to have sex by teaching them about prevention of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy, self-esteem and sexual negotiation, rather than just have them ‘score’ every time they refuse to kiss a boy.”

Federal funding for the program seems like it doesn’t quite fit with the Obama administration’s committment to eliminate funds for abstinence-based sex education, which has been repeatedly shown to be ineffective at reducing STD infection rates and pregnancies.

The Bush administration, led primarily by religious organizations that condemn most sexual activities, spent hundreds of millions of dollars on programs that withhold vital information on safe sex practices. While many children affected by abstinence-education did abstain from sex for a time, pregnancy and STD rates stayed the same, but many of the abstinence students became less likely to use contraceptives or seek out reproductive health services.

“A January 2007 study [...] found that almost all Americans initiate sexual intercourse before marriage,” Colombia University Doctor John S Santelli noted in a 2007 letter to top Democrats in Congress. “In fact by age 44, virtually everyone has experienced sexual intercourse but only 3% have remained abstinent until marriage.”

As a candidate, Obama pledged to end that spending and instead recommit funds to efforts aimed at reducing teen pregnancy. He followed through on that promise with the fiscal year 2010 budget, which pulled funding from Bush’s abstinence programs.

The State of Florida’s official position on sex education is that only abstinence should be taught in public schools.

This video is from MyFox Orlando, broadcast Tuesday, August 3, 2010.

Image credit: “Singles: Flirt Up Your Life“, rated “AO” (Adults Only) by the ESRB.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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