Introducing: Say No More
It shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but my favorite classes as an undergraduate and graduate student turned out to be required courses, those that I would have likely overlooked had the decision to enroll been based on my own perceived interests and preferences. As an undergrad it was my Sociology of Deviance course with Dr. Staudenmeier, and in graduate school it was my Games for Change class with Asi Burak and Naomi Clark last semester.
Initially, I thought a class on games sounded fun, but I flippantly dismissed the idea that I would ever incorporate games into my own work and practice. Fortunately, that notion changed almost immediately after meeting Asi and Naomi. Throughout the semester we were challenged to create three games: a fun card or board game to get us warmed up, an outdoor/street game with an element of social impact and a final game that could be any format, including online, but that had to have strong game mechanics and real impact.
I partnered with two of my classmates, Robin Newman and Michelle Kwon for our final game project. Since Robin was already researching domestic sex trafficking for her thesis, she introduced the idea of using the topic for a game. It sounded almost impossible: how can we make a game that people actually want to play around the issue of trafficking? Michelle and I were up for the challenge.
Our first step was getting a better understanding of the topic through research and interviews. We talked to local NGOs working on the issue, social workers and survivors of trafficking. We weren’t surprised to find that most Americans perceive sex trafficking as an issue that happens elsewhere. There is a lack of awareness that domestic sex trafficking impacts thousands of minors each year, who are typically coerced into the industry between the ages of 12-14 (source). As a result of the issue being perceived as happening abroad, we found that there are not sufficient tools to address the issue that engage a pre-teen audience and empower those who are already in positions to educate and help youth.
By talking to a few social workers who are very familiar with domestic trafficking of minors, we discovered that minors who are trafficked show clear verbal and non-verbal signs and indicators (i.e. carrying two cell phones, wearing excessive makeup, withdrawn social behavior). Robin’s research also indicated that many girls are drawn into the trade with a promise of a romantic relationship. [Side note: we decided to narrow our focus to pre-teen girls, but trafficking impacts boys, too].
Could we make a game that could both empower girls about healthy relationships and serve as an assessment tool for social workers to better identify who might be at-risk of or currently trafficked? We decided to find out by using this question as the core of our work as we prototyped and built Say No More with the help of ECPAT-USA, pre-teen girls, social workers and trafficking survivors.
During the project, my teammates and I repeatedly agreed that Say No More was our most promising and challenging project of the semester. We decided to take the game a step further and work on it during an additional class, led by Rachel Abrams, to build out a full curriculum and resource guide.
At the end of the semester our ideas were critiqued in both classes. We had a solid idea, but knew that it required a lot more work. Even though we were all going to be in various countries over the summer (USA/Canada, Kenya and Korea), we decided to work on the game remotely. Part of the work included applying to the Sappi Ideas That Matter Grant.
To our delight, we have received nearly $20,000 from the Sappi Ideas That Matter Grant this September to continue developing (and eventually distributing) our game.
In the best case scenario we will be able to continue to refine our game, Say No More, to teach girls about healthy relationship boundaries and practice saying no in uncomfortable situations. The game will also assist social workers, who administer the game, to use it as an assessment tool to figure out which players may need more one-on-one support and attention.
If we find that through continued prototyping our initial assumptions are incorrect or impossible, then the game will still serve the same purpose for the girls who play it, and it will allow adults who administer the game to create a safe space for a discussion on trafficking.
How It Works
We designed this game to be played under the supervision of a responsible adult, preferably a licensed clinical social worker. The idea is that the social worker will select a group of girls to play and create a safe and confidential environment.
The game (as it is now) is similar to Apples to Apples. There are two decks of cards, a deck of scenarios and a deck of reactions. Each player has five reaction cards in her hands at all times. Each player takes a turn flipping over a scenario card, and all of the other players respond by putting down a reaction card. The player who flipped the scenario card will choose what they think is the best response, and the player who played the winning reaction card gets to keep it.
For example, the scenario card might read: your boyfriend asks you to take topless photos of you. The reaction cards might read: who cares, act distracted, pretend you got a text message, cool, forget it.
However, sometimes the scenario card will have a NO prompt on it. In this case, all of the players must use a reaction card in their hand and incorporate it into a sentence that says no to the prompt. The the adult supervisor will choose the winner of the round.
Finally, each player always has a check-in card that they can use if they feel they need to discuss something that happened during the game. The adult supervisor can also model how the check-in works during the game.
While playing, the social worker also has an assessment guide to remind her of the cues that trafficked girls display and to make notes about observations made during the game. Many of the social workers we talked to thought they could learn a great deal from how the girls judged the “winning” answer every round to get a better understanding of what was appropriate, funny or normal.
The game requires a mandatory discussion at the conclusion (usually by a time limit set before playing). The social worker is prompted to ask the girls what the game is about and can start to introduce the subject of trafficking.
As a result of our grant, we have funding to continue testing and prototyping our game with the help of our non-profit partner, ECPAT-USA. The staff at ECPAT-USA helped us as we first tested our idea, and we could not be more thrilled to work with the experts on staff to continue to ensure that our game is both safe and effective. We will spend the fall months continuing to talk to social workers, teens, trafficking survivors and ECPAT-USA staff in order to test our hypothesis and continue working on the game’s curriculum and additional resources (for example, suggestions on how to frame a conversation on trafficking based on different ages and where to go next for further information). We’ll continue working on the game mechanics with the help of our professors Asi and Naomi and their network of game experts to ensure that the game remains compelling and interesting to play.
In January, we’ll move into the production phase and finalize the game design and branding. We’ll work with a printer and use Sappi paper to print and package 500 copies of our game. Then, with the help of ECPAT-USA, we will distribute the game to 500 schools in urban areas.
Over the course of this year, we are also taking a leadership and entrepreneurship course where we are tasked with starting a group business. One of our professors, Bill Gordon, has already asked us to work on this project as our business so that we can continue our momentum while learning about various business models. More to come, but we will likely also be offering our game for sale if we find there is enough interest.
Michelle, Robin and I celebrating with congratulatory cupcakes from Sappi
We have already been overwhelmed with gratitude and delight by the outpouring of encouragement, support and interest in helping with this project. If you want to test the game, purchase a copy or just stay up-to-date on the project, please let us know using this form. We’ll respond to everyone, but it make take a few weeks! Thank you.