Outplaying danger: Raising awareness of gender-based violence through gamified reality

Two women experts who provide consultations on the National Domestic Violence Hotline have developed a gamified quest to educate Ukrainian youth to recognize and avoid dangerous situations

November 30, 2022

Valeria Bondar (left) and Tetiana Kharkivska (right) from the NGO “La Strada” finalizing preparations for the launch of their online interactive quest "Live Without Illusions" for Ukrainian youth. The quest is designed to help raise awareness among youth of gender-based violence through gamified reality.

Photo courtesy La Strada Ukraine

Valeria Bondar has been working for seven years at the National Hotline for the prevention of domestic violence, human trafficking and gender-based discrimination, which is administered by the NGO "La Strada-Ukraine." She started to work there as an intern, and now works as a psychologist, develops methodical manuals, and provides consultations on two national hotlines (the other being for children and youth). Together with her colleague, Tetiana Kharkivska, a manager of the social sphere with eight years of experience as well as a counsellor on both hotlines, she came up with the idea of developing a gamified online quest for students.

Their extensive work with hotlines laid the ground to develop an online quest on real-life situations. The creative format helps to ensure this sensitive topic is presented to young women and men in an attractive, digital manner. The quest offers four case studies focused on four forms of violence – psychological, economic, sexual and physical.

Tetiana Kharkivska (left) and Valeria Bondar (right) providing consultations at the National Hotline for the prevention of domestic violence, human trafficking and gender-based discrimination, on behalf of the NGO "La Strada-Ukraine." Their extensive work with hotlines laid the ground to develop an online quest on real-life situations involving domestic, intimate partner and gender-based violence. Photo courtesy La Strada Ukraine

"We didn't want to do the quest in a lecture format,” Tetiana says. “What we had in mind was not just to educate, but to do it in a sort of a game – so that while completing various interactive tasks, the participants are actively engaged in the process via practical cases taken from real life."

The creators seek to involve users in solving specific challenges using gamified practices and mechanisms in a non-game context. "This is a unique format,” said Valeria. “The user's attention is focused on achieving a specific goal and not on the game itself."

The authors of the quest, which they named "Live Without Illusions," plan to present their product during this year's 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign at an internal presentation for 500 participants to test the product.

Last year, Valeria and Tetiana participated in Hack for Locals 3.0: Together against violence. The hackathon was dedicated to the global initiative "16 days of activism against gender-based violence," which was organized within the framework of the UNDP-led Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme with the financial support of the European Union and the governments of Denmark and the Netherlands. Their team, Girls_Power, made it to the finals and took third place. To take forward their initiative, the team received a grant of $15,000 from the European Union and UNDP.  UNDP and UN Women also assigned experts to provide them with mentorship support.

“We were very passionate about our idea, so during the hackathon we worked on the quest non-stop. We had an idea to create some kind of product for young people, and since we work in this field, we know how relevant combating violence in relationships is,” Tetiana said.

Valeria Bondar presents the “Live Without Illusions” project, a gamified online quest, at the hackathon "Hack for Locals 3.0: Together against violence,” which was held online in November 2021 under the UN Recovery and Peacebuilding Programme led by UNDP.

Currently, in the conditions of a large-scale war, issues related to gender-based violence (GBV) have become even more relevant, with an increase in domestic violence due to aggressive behaviours and stress. In the first half of 2022 alone, the number of calls to the National Hotline, where Tetiana and Valeria work, reached more than 17,000 compared to 10,000 calls the previous year.

Multiple forms of GBV are continuously being reported across Ukraine, with exceptionally high insecurity and risk for women and girls on the move, at border crossing points and even in bomb shelters.

Even before the war, seven in ten Ukrainian women had experienced psychological, physical, or sexual violence, and the situation is getting worse now. A recent OSCE study showed that 67 percent of women in Ukraine over the age of 15 have experienced psychological, physical or sexual violence. In most cases, the perpetrator is an intimate partner.

Living free of illusions – and toxic relationships

Valeria and Tetiana say this project is much more than creating a quest. From the beginning, it was essential for them to develop this interactive product based on the study of the target audience’s opinion – students aged 17-25 from eight educational institutions in four pilot regions – Ivano-Frankivsk, Luhansk, Cherkasy and Kyiv city. During focus groups with young women and men, they discussed what they would be interested in seeing in this quest, how to define psychological violence, and what situations could be potentially dangerous. Apart from that, they conducted a baseline survey in the educational institutions to estimate the current level of awareness about violence in relationships to compare the indicators later after the online quest was launched.

Creators of the "Live Without Illusions" gamified quest, Tetiana and Valeria, getting ready to present their product during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence 2022 campaign. Photo courtesy La Strada Ukraine

"We try to explain to the user what violence is, what abuse is, what abusive relationships are, what these four forms of violence mean,” says Valeria. “Before starting the quest, it is worth explaining the basics. That is why we first explain the basic concepts to users so they can easily identify what is happening in any given situation.”

According to data collected by the NGO "La Strada-Ukraine", 52.7 percent of calls to the domestic violence hotline in January-June 2022 were related to psychological violence, 28.9 percent to physical violence, and 17.1 percent to economic violence. 75.8 percent of all calls came from women.
Source: https://la-strada.org.ua/garyachi-liniyi

Valeria said the quest covers the issues of domestic and other types of violence, as danger can be waiting anywhere. That is why the locations selected for the case studies in the quest are a shopping centre, social networks, a coffee shop, and a party.

The war in Ukraine inevitably left its mark on the content of the quest: that is why two case studies show the situations faced by young people during the war. “The stories were taken from real life, as well as from the work of the hotline," Tetiana said. “Some situations were described by young people during focus groups and supplemented the quest concept.”

The highlight of the quest, according to Valeria, is that after completing it, the user takes off the rose-coloured glasses and sees reality as it is. The quest aims to raise awareness of young women and men about different types and signs of gender-based violence, to empower young people to help reduce violence and build a safe environment free from any violent behaviours.

In addition, if the participant realizes during the game that they have been affected by GBV in real life or is in a toxic relationship, at the end of the quest, they will see an action button to call the hotline and get the necessary counselling – informational, psychological or legal.

In the future, the pair plans to improve the product through user feedback (there will be a particular form in the quest at the end of the game), as well as promotion on socials and scaling up of the quest, which has no analogues in Ukraine.

La Strada's National Hotline for the prevention of domestic violence, human trafficking and gender-based discrimination has been operating in Ukraine for 25 years and received national hotline status in 2003. Hotline numbers are 0 800 500 335 (from mobile or landline) or 116 123 (from mobile).

National Hotline for children and youth: 0 800 500 225 (from mobile or landline) or 116 111 (from mobile)

All calls are available for free, anonymously, and 24/7.

The story is prepared in support of an annual international campaign, The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, taking place annually from 25 November till 10 December.

UNDP has zero tolerance for GBV or any form of abuse and is working with the government of Ukraine, UN sister agencies, civil society and other partners to ensure that all recovery efforts are fully gender-inclusive and expose and combat GBV wherever and whenever it appears.


Photos courtesy La Strada Ukraine

Text: Tanya Kononenko, editing: Adam Rogers