The VR FestLab

The earlier adolescents start using alcohol and other drugs the more likely it is that they will abuse substances later in life. That is why alcohol prevention programmes for young people are so important. However, several early efforts to prevent the onset of alcohol and drug use failed because they were based on wrong assumptions about adolescents´ motives or flawed programme theory. Better understanding of what leads children and adolescents to begin using alcohol or other drugs has led to better programmes more recently. In fact, peer pressure has been identified as one of the most common reasons for adolescent uptake and continued consumption of alcohol and other drugs. Several prevention programmes conducted in schools comprise elements of refusal skills training, with a particular focus on resisting peer pressure.

The project VR FestLab investigates whether a virtual party (Danish: “fest”) stimulation can strengthen young people's skills in dealing with alcohol. The research project consists of two sub studies. The aim of the first sub study was the development of a virtual reality party simulation through co-creation – thus involving users in a real-life setting. As a method, “The Living Lab framework” (1) was used. It structures the design process into six steps in which relevant stakeholders are actively involved in a real-life setting. Two prevention practitioners, two prevention scientists, two social marketing scientists, one VR game designer, two VR game scientists, one film production expert and eleven students who represented young end users participated in the co-creation process. The school of the involved young people provided the venue for the entire co-creation process, from workshops, to the filming for the simulation and follow-up interviews.

A virtual simulation from Australia served as a template, and the young people suggested alterations to create a contextually and culturally appropriate party setting. Moreover, they developed ideas for mini games to be incorporated into the party simulation, which was not initially planned by the researchers. Additional students were involved as actors for the filming of the party scenes for the simulation (Figure 1).

The outcome of this phase was the VR FestLab prototype which consists of a computer simulation that shows a typical party situation for young people (Figure 2).

As a game participant, you can move around the party and make decisions in situations where peers encourage you to choose to either drink alcohol or soft drinks. This can increase the awareness of how social pressure can influence your own decisions. A recently published research article describes the different steps of the co-creation process and the young people’s perceived roles and influence on the co-creation process (2).

The second sub study will test and refine the virtual party simulation “VR FestLab”. The aim is to test if this virtual reality party simulation can help young people to build their skills to make decisions and to say "no" in situations where they may feel that they are subject to peer pressure in relation to alcohol and other drugs. This will be tested in a cluster-randomised controlled trial on pupils aged 15-18 in Danish schools. Furthermore, the development of a German version is in progress, which will be tested with regard to its preventive effects at schools in Berlin and Brandenburg.

The projects started in 2018 and it is financed by internal funds and TrygFonden (Danish Safety Foundation).

The article „Co-creating a virtual alcohol prevention simulation with young people“ (2) received a QUEST Award für Patient & Stakeholder Engagement.

You can find more information on the project here.

Consortium

  • Institute of Health and Nursing Science, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
  • Unit for Health Promotion Research, University of Southern Denmark
  • Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Institute, Embodied Systems for Robotics and Learning, University of Southern Denmark
  • Social Marketing @ Griffith, Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia

References

  1. Dell'Era, C., & Landoni, P. (2014). Living Lab: A methodology between user‐centred design and participatory design. Creativity and Innovation Management, 23(2), 137-154. doi: 10.1111/caim.12061
     
  2. Vallentin-Holbech, L., Dalgaard Guldager, J., Dietrich, T., Rundle-Thiele, S., Majgaard, G., Lyk, P., & Stock, C. (2020). Co-creating a virtual alcohol prevention simulation with young people. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(3), 1097. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17031097