Parkgömmet – A unique game

The purpose of the game Parkgömmet is to raise risk awareness in online interactions to decrease the risk of becoming the subject of online sexual grooming. The game provides concrete first-hand experience of choices and potential outcomes of online contacts. It also bridges the cognitive maturity of younger children, and the reasoning capabilities required for understanding potential future problems of exposing oneself. The game is intended for teachers and pedagogues, to be used in schools and directed to children 8-10 years old.

The game combines a classic board game, a computer game, and augmented reality (AR) technology. The AR technology transfers the basic picture on the board into an exciting 3D world when viewed through the tablet. The theme is a park, where each player hides a treasure and gets in return a set of clues to the hiding place. The game also contains messages, similar to online chat or text messages, from an unknown character, who tries to manipulate players to give up their clues by taking pictures and send them to him/her. The players can choose whether or not to reveal a clue, bearing in mind that revealing a clue may or may not be a good idea in the long run.

The game mechanics are based on unique research of authentic online dialogues from closed forums, between children and later convicted perpetrators carried out by the University of Skövde. The research provided real-world insight into perpetrators’ tactics and strategies, some of which have been transferred into game events, but in a non-sexual and non-violent format. The game evaluations with young players show that the participating children perceived the game as fun, and that it also raises questions regarding online behaviours. Questions which will be discussed during the follow-up dialogue lead by an adult, facilitated by a guiding material, including subjects of self-awareness, boundaries and the rights of the child.

The idea of investigating whether a computer game could be used to prevent online sexual grooming came from Change Attitude. The University of Skövde was contacted by Change Attitude in 2013 and thanks to the generous support of the Swedish Foundation: Sten A Olssons Stiftelse för Forskning och Kultur, a pre-study was carried out during 2014-2015 by the University in Skövde.

'The University of Skövde has unique qualifications for this type of interdisciplinary research projects through our Informatics Research Centre. The project is of great importance to the future well-being of today's young. We want to raise the awareness of risk behavior and a computer game can be an effective bridge to reach young children', according to Dr. Ulf Wilhelmsson, senior lecturer in media arts, aesthetics and narration at the university.

Thanks to The Postcode Foundation and Childhood Foundation (financing the University of Skövde) the prototype is now developed into a deliverable product in conjunction with a guiding material to be distributed to all municipal schools for free in Sweden during 2019.