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September 13, 2019

Yale video game will aim to prevent HIV, other STDs

PHOTO | Courtesy Yale School of Medicine "One Night Stan" is a card game aimed at teaching safe sex and preventing sexually transmitted diseases. A new grant enables developers to transform it into a video game for young people.

All young people need to learn about safe sex and disease prevention, but many learn in the classroom via a lecture.

Since most youths love games, particularly video games, researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine have been developing a fun way to get the safe-sex message across. 

The government is lending its support, too. This month, Yale announced that the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development had awarded $460,000 to Yale research scientist Kimberly Hieftje toward the project. The money will support her research on “A Digital Intervention for HIV Prevention in Black Adolescent Girls.”

Hieftje is deputy director of the play2PREVENT Lab at the Yale Center for Health & Learning Games. The center creates and evaluates video games that aim to prevent disease and promote healthy lives for young people.

According to Hieftje, researchers previously developed a multi-player social card game called “One Night Stan.” This project was funded by the Women’s Health Research at Yale Pilot Program. The goal of the card game is to increase risk perception and empower women to make positive decisions, such as insisting on condom use and partner testing.

Players of the game collect “Empowerment Points” by being protected (condom cards), getting potential partners tested (test cards), by recognizing risky behaviors (fact cards) and refusing risky encounters (response cards). Players win by earning the most empowerment points.

With this additional $460,000, Hieftje and her colleagues plan to develop the card game into a video game, and then do a trial with 80 young black adolescent females. The grant is for two-years, and includes studying the efficacy of the game in education and prevention. 

“We are really excited about getting this funding,” Hieftje said. “We proposed to develop out the card game into a video game.”

According to Hieftje, a video game is much more easily disseminated than a card game — it could be made available over the Internet, for example. She foresees it potentially being used as a learning tool in high school health programs or at Planned Parenthood clinics.

“We see it as a good conversation-starter about staying healthy,” Hieftje said.

She expects to have a video game prototype within six to eight months, followed by the study and evaluation.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, individuals aged 15 to 24 account for 50 percent of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections in the U.S. each year.

For more information, visit or the lab’s web site

Contact Michelle Tuccitto Sullo at

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