Study: Video Games Can Help Students Understand Bystander Intervention

Oct 11, 2018

Credit Dartmouth Tiltfactor

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire and Dartmouth's Tiltfactor Laboratory have piloted two video games aimed at teaching bystander intervention skills to college students.

Bystander intervention means diffusing a situation that could become dangerous or lead to sexual assault.

In the games, students can practice intervening: in one game, called Ship Happens, players navigate scenarios in a faraway galaxy. The second game is Mindflock, a competitive team-based trivia game about college life.

Nine students from different majors and backgrounds contributed to the design of the games.

Sharyn Potter teaches at UNH and leads the Prevention Innovations Center there. She said intervention can look different for each person.

"You can intervene in a really subtle way,” Potter said. “Sometimes it's safe for you to go up and ask someone, ‘Are you ok, can I help you?’”

She’s also heard stories of people who see a situation, and spill water on somebody to diffuse the situation, instead of directly confronting the person. 

Researchers found that at the start of their study, male participants had lower understanding of what a dangerous situation looked like, compared to women in the study, who had an easier time identifying situations where sexual assault might occur.  

But that changed by the end of the study.

“What we find is that these video games help increase males’ awareness,” Potter said.

That, plus learning the tools to intervene, is an important step to reducing sexual assault.

Potter adds that these kinds of skills should also be taught before college, using age-appropriate materials.

The UNH and Dartmouth researchers are applying for funding to modify some of the games' design and to test the game's effects over a longer period of time.