Current Projects

PlayForward: Elm City Stories

The project that serves as the foundation for the play2PREVENT™ Lab is a project funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The project’s goal is to develop and evaluate an interactive video game designed to provide at-risk young teens the opportunity to acquire and practice skills in order to avoid or reduce their risk behaviors. This videogame will be built incorporating evidence-based tools for behavior change including message framing delay discounting, social learning theory and self-efficacy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each day another 3,300 young people globally are newly infected with HIV with an estimated 1.2 million new cases occurring among 15 to 24 year olds each year. This figure represents an alarming 45% of all new infections. Similarly, in the U.S. in 2006, 34% of all new infections, the highest incidence rate in any age group, was among youth ages 13-29 years.

PlayForward: Elm City Stories completed production in early December 2012 and began a randomized clinical trial in February 2013. PlayForward is an interactive world in which the player, using an Avatar (virtual character) they have created, "travels" through life, facing challenges and making decisions that bring different risks and benefits. The player will have the ability to see how their choices affect their lives and subsequently will be able to move back in time to see how different actions might lead to different outcomes.  By negotiating challenges in a highly repetitive and meaningful way, the player learns skills that translate to real life, equipping the player to avoid situations that increase their risk for HIV. Through a series of game play sessions, there will be many points at which we can track to see if the player is making the right choices - through videogame play we can evaluate in real-time how our players are acquiring skills to help them make better choices.


Young black women, aged 18-24 years, have high rates of acquiring new human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and sexually transmitted infections (STI). Although condoms are effective for reducing HIV and STIs, young black women have low rates of condom use. In addition, although black women are aware of their own risk, this does not necessarily translate to a better understanding of their partner’s risk or risk in their environment.

With funding from the Women’s Health Research at Yale Pilot Program, we will address this women’s health issue by conducting formative research with focus groups of young black women aged 18-24 years and developing an intervention aimed at increasing risk-reduction behaviors such as condom use and recent partner HIV/STI testing. We will also examine how young black women use social support from friends in order to make better decisions to reduce their HIV/STI risk. We will design and develop an intervention manual and paper prototype of the online multiplayer, social network game, PlayitSafe, with the goal to reduce HIV/STI risk behaviors in young black women. Recruitment and enrollment for focus groups will take place at sites in New Haven that have a special focus on serving underserved and vulnerable populations. Once developed, the team will apply for subsequent funding to create the online social network videogame and explore its efficacy in increasing condom use and partner HIV/STI testing in a randomized controlled trial.


With funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse - Dartmouth's Center for Technology and Behavioral Health Pilot Core, the goal of this project is to develop and test an electronic prototype of smokeSCREEN - a videogame intervention for preventing cigarette and marijuana smoking among adolescents aged 11 to 14 years. The game will be designed as a downloadable mobile app to be played on smartphones or tablets, which negatively impacts attitudes and intentions to smoke and positively affects behavioral skills related to smoking prevention.

Given that rates of adolescent cigarette and marijuana smoking increase dramatically during the transition from middle school to high school, schools have served as appropriate and effective settings for smoking prevention interventions. Schools, however, have come under increasing pressure from academic testing requirements, and severe budget cuts have reduced teaching staff and classroom hours, reducing the utility of schools as a vehicle for intervention delivery. The current project aims to incorporate proven smoking-prevention strategies into a new intervention delivery vehicle – videogames. A videogame is ideal for the delivery of a smoking prevention intervention because (a) videogames have been shown to be effective in affecting other health behaviors and (b) adolescents in the transition from middle school to high school interact regularly with and are engaged by videogames and mobile technology. The videogame prototype that is produced from this pilot project has the potential to have a meaningful public health impact by reducing rates of smoking initiation among young adolescents.