Grant-funded game to help fight drug addiction

Grant-funded game to help fight drug addiction

Published on: July 11, 2019


Screen shot of the Journey to Blackwood gameBecker College recently received a boost in its efforts to design games that can help battle addiction. The College’s School of Design and Technology has been presented with a grant from the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office to fund the creation of a youth-focused drug prevention game.

“We’re excited to see this app the Becker College students are putting together,” said Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr., “One of the most successful strategies is prevention. It is so important that we reach children early to prevent opioid addiction, and this app is a creative, new and innovative way to do that.”

“We’re thrilled to receive the grant,” said Alan Ritacco, dean of the School of Design and Technology, “and very grateful to District Attorney Joe Early for the support.”

The game is being designed for 3rd and 4th graders. But while the focus will be on drug prevention, the game is not specifically about drugs.

“Really it is about choices and the cause and effect of your actions. In the game, the choices you make impact your health and well-being,” Ritacco said. “Students can use this to understand the negative effect of making bad choices.”

Becker College professor Ilir Mborja and his students from the game design program have been working on the effort for over a year now, with help from Dr. Beth Greenberg, professor of psychology, who is the coordinator of the Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling program at Becker and her students.

“We worked with Dr. Greenberg and her graduate students to help create a psychological profile and platform which fits this narrative,” Ritacco explained.

“Nicholas Dill, a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling program, also worked collaboratively with Professor Mborja and his students to provide information and guidance regarding social and emotional skill development strategies built into the game,” Greenberg said.

Dean Ritacco said he knew that battling opioid addiction is a key initiative of both Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. So he connected with the district attorney and the Department of Public Health to talk about creating an app for early prevention.

“Becker College can really make an impact here and help with this initiative,” Ritacco said. “So we put together a group of students, and they worked to create an initial design document.  We then took this into our premier Game Studio class, last fall and spring, and those students have expanded on this great work to create the Game Art and Programming needed to create a world-class game for 3rd and 4th graders.”

Paul Cotnoir, director of design programs and associate dean for the School of Design and Technology, noted that Professor Mborja and his students have been hard at work on completing the project as part of Becker’s unique studio-based curriculum.

“The studio experience is critical to student success following graduation, and, in this case, also highlights the broad range of social benefits that video games can provide,” Cotnoir said.

“The game isn’t finished yet,” Ritacco said. “We’re at an alpha stage, and look to have a working world-class release by December.  Once it is ready to be introduced into the school system, we will work with Dr. Greenberg and others on health-based curriculum that will enhance the messaging of drug prevention.”

“We’re extremely impressed with the quality of the app thus far and we’re looking forward to the final version,” District Attorney Early said.