New online game educates teens about the dangers of vaping

With the help of a Stanford scientist, a Southern California school district released a free gaming app called BeatNic Boulevard to teach kids and teens about the dangers of vaping.

“Vaping devices are marketed in a way that appeals to teenagers,” said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, PhD, professor of pediatrics at Stanford Medicine who studies teenage tobacco and marijuana use and has helped develop the game. “It makes sense to counter this with creative, adolescent-friendly tactics in anti-smoking education.”

In BeatNic Boulevard, players see how the evolution of character tobacco use affects a virtual city.

Over the past few years, Halpern-Felsher has developed the Stanford Smoking Prevention Toolkit – which provides a set of school curricula, fact sheets, games, and quizzes – to educate students college and high school students on the dangers of all forms of nicotine use, including vaping. The free lesson plans have been used in schools across the country, reaching nearly 2 million students. Helping turn some of these materials into an educational game was a natural next step for the researchers.

“We had discussed with the Toolkit team about the gamification of our material, then the San Bernardino schools team came up with their idea to create a game showing the effects of tobacco use, especially vaping,” on the individuals of a city, ”says Halpern-Felsher.

BeatNic Boulevard is designed to be played on a phone or other mobile device. Players roam around a virtual city while changing the level of tobacco consumption of its inhabitants, then observe how the city’s landscape changes as a result. (In general, increased tobacco use makes the streets more run down.) Players can experiment with different prevention tactics to prevent characters from vaping, and then observe the effects downstream. The game also offers built-in quizzes to reinforce its educational content.

Much of the information in the game – about addiction, the content of vaping devices, and how the vaping industry’s marketing is largely targeting young people – comes from the Smoking Prevention Toolkit. The new game will become an integrated activity with the lessons in the toolkit, but it can also be used outside of the classroom.

“I hope the students want to play it on their own and, because it’s a game, it won’t feel like homework,” said Halpern-Felsher.

Photo by 1STunningART; screen image of BeatNic Boulevard courtesy of the San Bernardino County School Superintendent.

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