Can an App Stymie Gang Recruitment?


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You don’t normally think of computer games and mobile apps as crime-fighting equipment, but Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and George Mason University President Alan Merten today announced the creation of a series of interactive and educational computer games and mobile phone applications that teach kids about the risks and consequences of joining gangs, in an attempt to stem gang recruitment.

This spring semester, GMU students combined their programming abilities with the extensive gang knowledge of the attorney general’s office to create the games (video demo).

“Gangs are constantly working to recruit new kids to replace those going to jail and getting killed.  Their recruitment techniques are evolving, even to the point of using online gaming and other technologies. We have to work even harder to stop them,” said Cuccinelli.  “The goal of this partnership with GMU is a novel approach in the war against gangs to beat them at their own game. These mobile games serve as a cutting-edge educational tool to teach kids that if they join gangs, there are no winners:  Ending up in the hospital, jail, or the morgue means game over.”

Game over

Students began work on the project at the beginning of the spring semester in January 2012. Throughout the semester, students worked together on written scripts and storyboards, art and sound design, programming, coding, and musical compositions. The “Choose Your Own Adventure” games are designed to target middle and high school students, and present a variety of scenarios where the players are asked to make decisions based on what they encounter while playing the game.

The games will be available for mobile download free of charge by summer 2012.  The games will also be available on the attorney general’s web site, as well as the web sites for George Mason University, the Department of Criminal Justice Services, and Virginia Rules.

Three games were demonstrated at the news conference:

  • “A Second Family,” created by Michael Katz, Romel Ramos and Brandon Miller. The game tells the story of Justin, who is trying to fit in at a new school and becomes involved with some questionable people. He is forced to rely on his friends and mentors to overcome these negative influences.
  • “Influenced,” created by Austin Fain, Tiffany Nguyen, Con Son and Lamesha Coley. In this game, the player chooses various scenarios in which he or she can either help or betray members of the community, influencing the impact gangs have on the community.
  • “New Kid on the Block,” created by Stephen Berrigan, Steven Fernandez, Devin Gibson, John Murphy, and Daniel Paquette. In this game, the player has just moved to a new town and is faced with assimilating into a new school. He or she must make the right decisions to find a trustworthy group of friends.

“This partnership is a great example of Mason students using the skills they have learned here to give back to the communities in which many of them grew up,” said Merten. “If these games discourage at least one young person from joining a gang, then all of their hard work will have paid off.”

“Partnering with the attorney general’s office has been a great learning experience for our students and has exposed them to invaluable knowledge of how to work together as a professional team,” said Scott Martin, director of Mason’s Computer Game Design program. “I hope this process has taught them what it is like to work with a real client, create a game with an end user in mind, as well as present a finished product to a public audience.”

Cuccinelli added, “This is just the beginning for us.  We hope to partner with George Mason University in the future to create games for bullying, internet safety, and other critical public safety issues involving young people.”