Personal Growth

“Patronus”: Can a Video Game Prevent Sexual Assault?

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Children use educational video games to learn basic math, phonics, and spatial reasoning. The colorful graphics and interactive media help them to fully engage with the program, creating an all-around effective learning experience. Patronus, an “interactive graphic novel” that takes the reader through instances of sexual harassment and potential assault, has a similar educational objective.

Through a unique project course at Carnegie Mellon University called “Morality Play”, “students from many disciplinary backgrounds work side by side with faculty to build a creative solution to a real world problem,” (Carnegie Mellon). The self-proclaimed goal is to “deepen moral sensibilities” with an interactive, and perhaps more personal, understanding of a particular ethical issue. A talented group of artists, programmers, writers, and actors came together to produce.

Posing choices for speech and action along the way, Patronus allows you to truly make decisions that affect not you, but your virtual friends that you meet in your first welcome to the story. In these instances, you are choosing a method of approaching harassers, or electing whether or not to get involved in a situation that could result in a friend encountering assault. This seems effective in eliminating the, “I would just tell the guy harassing me to leave me alone” excuse, one that is often posed outside of a true decision-making moment. Making decisions to look out for those around you is a more realistic test of “what would you do?”

In my first play-through of Patronus, I succeeded in preventing the sexual assault of my virtual friend, Natalie, in a typical college party setting. I decided to go it a second time, wondering if it was possible to fail to prevent it. As it turns out, it is possible with a “wait and see” option that you can press in a moment at which you are given options to intervene in several different ways, thus avoiding action altogether. I won’t spoil the end, but I will say that it was chilling to watch.

Regardless of your choices, the finales in either situation put the focus on you. You are the one that is forced to watch the lead-up to an incident in it’s beginning, middle, and most intense stages, and you are incriminated if you don’t step in—and rightfully so. Alternatively, as the video promo suggests, you might leave the experience feeling empowered by the impact you can make with your own decisions. Through this lesson, something so important is learned: you have the ability to step in and take action when you see a friend in danger, and in the end, their safety is reliant upon whether you do your best to get them out of that situation. This particular story is entitled, “Decisions that Matter.”

It looks like a comic book, plays like a video game, and deals with mature situations. What do all of these qualities have in common? They all appeal to the minds of young males. One of the enormously important points in sexual assault prevention is that men (and women) should be taught from childhood to ask for consent, taught not to push if someone says no. If we’re so concerned about boys taking cues from violent video games, why don’t we use their addiction to gaming to our advantage? We don’t we put this video game in front of them and let young men—most effectively in their middle school years—play through and see what happens? Though college parties might be a foreign idea for them, different stories can be developed to address relevant situations.

Orthodox “textbook and notes” methods of sexual assault education are still not as effective as they could be with sexual assault in America occurring at the high rate of one every 107 seconds. “Decisions that Matter” removes the emphasis on victim-blaming and rather lauds immediate action, even if that action is merely asking a friend if he/she is okay throughout a murky situation. Though it may have a ways to go in terms of development and popularity, Patronus is the future of awareness, education, and moral reformation.

I will certainly be passing the word on to my male friends, and so should you. Four out of five assaults are committed by someone know to the victim (, and 47% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance. Shouldn’t we start with the people we know then? The first logical step in preventing rape and assault is to educate our friends. Spread the word, stop sexual violence.


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