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A new mobile game helps teens' with body-image issues

According to National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 95% of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25. Only 10% of people suffering from an eating disorder will seek professional help.

A fun way to learn about a serious concern among young people.
High School Story

One common thread young people have is their electronic devices.

Recently Pixelberry's popular mobile game, High School Story, added a version educating their audience about body image. It promotes a healthy attitude toward their bodies and avoiding eating disorders.

Oliver Maio, co-founder of Pixelberry in 2012, took the time to answer a few questions for Examiner this week:

Q. How do teens discover High School Story?

A lot of teens discover our game through word of mouth. They hear about our game from a friend and give it a try. They end up sticking with the game because we release new quests every week. Our studio has fond memories of playing games with friends over the summer and we hope our game will be a fun way for teens to be both entertained and learn more about relevant topics to them.

Q. Why did High School Story choose to address the topics of eating disorders? What is the next topic?

After we released a cyberbullying campaign last November, we got a lot of positive feedback from our players. They loved the fact that we were addressing a problem that they saw friends facing. We also had players who suggested we focus on body image issues. Some people on our team struggled with body image issues in high school, so there was a personal connection, too.

We’re getting ready to launch a “Your Voice” feature that gives our players the ability to share their voice to friends on both fun and serious topics. We thought we’d make it fun with questions about popular memes and topics, but also incorporate more serious questions to encourage discussions about news and issues that will have effect an entire generation.

Q. How can games create actionable results on issues like body image or cyberbullying?

Games are far more powerful than I ever imagined them to be. The main storyline of High School Story focuses on a group of misfits who don’t always fit in at their old school coming together to create their dream school. Players really feel connected to the stories. In fact, we had one player tell us that they were planning to commit suicide. We were shocked and scared. After calling the suicide prevention hotline ourselves for advice, we urged the player to get professional help, but also let her know that we cared about her and were available to listen. We exchanged messages with her for a week when she told us that she was finally getting help and that she was still there because of our game. When we first designed High School Story, we never thought it would actually save a life.

Since we released our cyberbullying quest, every week over 100 new players contact our partner, The Cybersmile Foundation, often with questions about bullying, self-hurting, or even suicide. We’ve also raised over $300,000 for Cybersmile to enable them to open more helplines and create more resources to educate teens about cyberbullying.

We just launched our body image quest with NEDA and we’re already getting really positive feedback from players who have had a history with eating disorders. They are really excited that we’re addressing an issue that has been so devastating to them. We’re hopeful that we can make a difference with body image issues and eating disorders.

Ultimately, we see our game as a great platform that allows our non-profit partners to reach teens where they spend time playing.

Q. Since you have been a victim, what personal advice do you have for teens that have struggled with bullying because of the way they look?

I was bullied in middle school and I never told my parents about it. In fact, it wasn’t until I was talking High School Story’s partnership with Cybersmile that my mom first learned that I had been bullied. Because I didn’t talk to my parents about it, I stayed in a dangerous situation for far longer than I needed to. I highly recommend to anyone being bullied to talk to a parent, a relative, or another adult about it. They really can help put things in perspective and help stop the problem.

For both victims of bullying and bullies themselves, I’d also share the advice that I gave to a gym full of students at my old high school for an invited talk I gave for Yellow Ribbon Week that focused on mental health. There were two things I really tried to get across.

  • No matter what high school is like for you, things change. I gave examples of classmates that became things you wouldn’t always expect: a cheerleader who became an English professor at Yale, a class clown who became a neurosurgeon, an academic team member who became a TV sports anchor. Be confident in yourself because things will change after high school.
  • The biggest regret I had was after being bullied myself, teasing a friend of mine about having a girlfriend. I was so immature and stupid. And one day he didn’t come to class. He had died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. Never being able to say sorry to him has been my biggest regret. Next time before you say something mean, think about how you would feel tomorrow if you found out your friend had died. Learn from my regret.

In fact, I hope that what Pixelberry is doing with our game can make up for my shame. So that my friend, if he was still here, would know that his life continues to make a difference in the lives of teens today.

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