Middlebury Institute of International Studies, United States reported that researchers of their Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism (CTEC) will partner with the game company iThrive Games Foundation on a two-year project funded by the Department of Homeland Security for preventing and countering violent extremism (PCVE)


Said project will focus on the development of a new simulation game and curriculum designed to build resilience among adolescents and give them the tools to recognize and reject overtures from violent extremist recruiters. CTEC will combine its world-class expertise in how radicalization impacts digital and real-world communities with iThrive’s experience in designing meaningful and transformative experiences, with and for teens. They believe the end product will fill an increasingly important need in the US education system.


According to CTEC researchers, extremist recruiters are well-aware that an adolescent’s need for social connections, status, and belonging can be exploited in the radicalization process. The social needs of adolescents, as well as the development of the brain itself combine to create a “perfect storm” of both vulnerability and opportunity for building resilience.


According to the research team, the plasticity of the adolescent brain makes them more vulnerable to negative influences, but it also makes them more receptive to positive inputs. Education initiatives that create genuine engagement, offer challenging, relevant, and respectful content, and social and emotional skill building can create resilience and resistance to recruitment.


The researchers saw that both the need and opportunity for programs on PCVE were great in U.S. middle and high schools. The few programs that do exist often focus disproportionately on Muslim students and may not incorporate monitoring and evaluation steps, they noted.


Collaborating with the Newton, Massachusetts-based iThrive Games, CTEC will build the new program on the iThrive Sim platform. The web-based, role-playing simulations of this platform are designed to deeply engage students with rich content, storylines, and each other. It’s a type of experiential learning wherein players assume specific character roles and use both predetermined plot points and improvisation to interact with each other and solve problems within the context of realistic scenarios.


As students play, they’ll encounter source documents, contextually grounded news stories, memos, photos, and social media content that is both prepopulated and written by fellow players. Students use this information to fuel their real-time interactions with fellow players and to make decisions that move the scenario forward.


The research team believes input from the target audience—middle and high schoolers—was essential for creating an effective product. They plan to partner with students and educators at three secondary schools in California, New York, and Vermont during the design and implementation phases of the project.


“Curricular surrounds” will provide important context to help students transfer what they learn from the game into their own lives. These might include character profiles, important background information, and discussion prompts to enrich the learning experience. The researchers hope the surroundings will offer a jumping off point for meaningful reflection in discussions and activities following the simulation.


Reference: https://www.middlebury.edu/institute/news/middlebury-institute-team-will-develop-game-counter-extremist-recruitment-schools