Reconocer: Creating safe spaces for the recognition of sexual abuse
Jessica Wendorf Muhamad
NOTE: This paper was selected by the program committee as a Meaningful Play 2016 Top Paper. It has been submitted to the Meaningful Play 2016 Special Issue of the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations (IJGCMS). Due to the copyright requirements of the journal, only the abstract is available in the conference proceedings.
Extended AbstractCurrently, close to 20,000 children are victims of sexual exploitation in Colombia, with 3 of every 4 cases of sexual violence reported being cases initiated by a member of the child’s nuclear family (ICBF, 2014). In 2013, 83% of the cases included girls under the age of 18, with 71% of the girls being 14 years or younger (Medicina Legal, 2013). Perhaps even more alarming, current data indicates that every hour approximately two girls are sexually abused. In an effort to contribute to the existing sexual violence prevention efforts, as well as developing a psycho-social tool for mental health practitioners, health care professionals, and young girls in Colombia, emerges Reconocer (“Recognize” in Spanish) a culturally tailored, tabletop role-playing game for pregnant and postpartum girls (ages 11-18), whose pregnancy is a result of intrafamilial sexual abuse.
Following two years of extensive in-country fieldwork and formative research, a multidisciplinary team has been assembled and the game is now in the development phase. Real time data on the status of sexual abuse and pregnancy has been incorporated with narrative interviews, focus groups, and observational data to form a more robust understanding of the phenomena and the game components essential for an efficacious intervention. Games function in many of the same ways that other entertainment-education programs do, with processes such as transportation and identification being key to their success in enacting change. However, while serious games share many constructs and processes with EE, the mechanisms by which games work mean that these processes are potentially enacted differently. Games move beyond embedded prosocial messages and mere entertainment value; games are facilitators of deeper and more personalized processes.
Incorporated within existing psychotherapeutic groups, Reconocer enables young girls to explore their past experiences as characters, thus providing a healthy emotional and psychological distance for internal reflection in case of prior sexual abuse. Reconocer draws on Freire’s (1970) participatory learning model by utilizing problem posing and participatory exercises to promote active involvement. Through enacting situations and corresponding responses, Reconocer aims to increase identification as well as to provide mechanisms for discussion and reporting. Given the unfortunate normativity of intrafamily sexual abuse in Colombia it is essential to balance the free and force choice options during gameplay. Reconocer provides young girls an opportunity to execute choices that might not otherwise be accessible. This ranging from exploring the possibility of having been sexually abuse (targeting denial) to formally reporting to local agencies or governmental offices. As such, instances in which players might encounter reactance and/or counterargument have been considered. Psychological reactance entails the selective avoidance of uncomfortable or difficult information via two types of resistance: inertia and/or fear. Inertia can be explained as an individual’s desire to avoid things that contradict (dissonance), thereby preferring to not change attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs (Knowles & Linn, 2004). Fear stems from an individual’s active attempt at coping with arousal through either ignoring it or adopting a defense position (Witte, 1994). As a persuasive EE tool, Reconocer seeks to move away from threat and closer to transportation through purposeful engagement with charged content framed within entertaining media. Counterargument, or the rejection of a message post elaboration, within this context is particularly challenging. Although the game seeks to create situations that are accurate representations of cultural and social norms, contextual expressions of abuse, and the possible responses, it must do so in a space that does not feel threatening.
During the game design and development phase careful attention has been brought to ensuring a collaborative, participatory framework, in which local knowledge and expertise is considered.