UM researcher gets grant to develop anti-drug education video game
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
It's tough to find a child who doesn't enjoy video games.
A University of Missouri researcher is hoping to tap into that love to find a new way to teach kids about the dangers of drug addiction.
Joel Epstein, an associate professor of psychiatry in the School of Medicine, has been given a $1 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop an educational video game that focuses on what happens to the brain and body when a person uses drugs.
Taking it a step further, Epstein is attempting a two-pronged approach, with the goal of making a game that targets boys and girls differently. The plan is to develop a game that offers two separate tracts — a competitive arc that targets boys and a more socially engaging arc that targets girls.
If it works as hoped, the game will reach kids in ways that classroom lectures and textbooks don't.
"If they feel good about the learning process, it's a very powerful thing for them," Epstein said.
His four-year project is just one more example of how the world of health care is trying to use technology — video games in particular — to educate or treat people. Nintendo Wii gaming systems, for example, have become very popular in nursing homes and senior centers.
The first two years will be spent developing the game, with input from fourth- and fifth-graders, educators and the grant's sponsor.
"We'll throw that all together and try to come up with an interesting and engaging story line," Epstein said.
The game will then run through two years of testing at a handful of St. Louis area schools. The students will be tested before and after game play to see if their knowledge and attitude about drug addiction changes.
So what are the odds the game will run on one of those popular Wii gaming systems? Not good.
"That would be great," said Epstein, who once worked as a freelance computer programmer. "Unfortunately, I don't have the skills or the resources."