Public understanding of fertility, its risk factors and interdependencies is inadequate. Recent studies indicate generally low to modest awareness of age-related fertility decline, the consequences of delayed parenthood, and how life choices and social/economic circumstances may affect an individual’s ability to have a child (Pedro et al. 2018; Deatsman et al. 2016; Daniluk & Koert, 2013). Although interventions such as the Fertility Education Initiative (FEI) are doing excellent work towards improving the availability of knowledge on fertility and reproductive health, more can be done to develop appropriate tools to support their activities. Resources are not only needed to inform the family planning decisions of people of appropriate child-bearing age, but also to help children approaching puberty establish healthy behaviours and perspectives on fertility. The later aim particularly is under-addressed in UK schools (Harper et al. 2017), which has motivated independent organisations such as My Fertility Matters to devise touring educational workshops on fertility awareness that engage concepts of meaningful play.
This post proposes the creative collision of fertility awareness and games design to generate learning resources that can help initiatives like FEI achieve their objectives. Outputs take the form of digestible, interactive experiences that communicate accurate, age-appropriate information on reproductive health and the factors that influence (in)fertility. Although resistances exist, there is growing and compelling evidence that games can facilitate learning that is transferable to the real world. ‘Serious games’ - as the form is often termed - can contribute positively to health and well-being (McGonigal 2016), handle nuanced and sensitive topics (Ritterfeld, Cody & Vorderer 2009), and more broadly enhance learner participation and motivation (Zhonggen 2019). This is achieved through leverage of role play and first-person perspectives, active decision-making with quantifiable consequences, and storytelling scenarios that induce empathy. In combination such features of serious games can help facilitate critical reflection, which in the context of fertility awareness may be most effective when accompanied by more traditional methods of knowledge building.
The image above presents several indicative assets for a serious game on fertility awareness. You are invited to interpret what each may represent. Based loosely on contemporary versions of The Game of Life, the serious game leads a player through a life journey on which they must make critical choices that affect their ability to have a child. Actions range from decisions that will likely delay parenthood (e.g. to study or pursue particular careers) to relationship choices and lifestyle options that may influence physical health and psychological well-being (e.g. diet, use of recreational substances). Crucially the player encounters also a range of unpredictable or difficult to manage scenarios that relate to social/economic circumstance, reproductive history and the various causes of infertility. The impact of each, as well as the success of actions such as behavioural changes and fertility treatment, are determined by published statistics and to some extent pure chance - that is, a spin of the wheel. The aim of the game overall then is to raise awareness of fertility and its risk factors, and to encourage timely reflection on the complexities and realities of family planning.
Deatsman, S., Vasilopoulos, T. & Rhoton-Vlasak, A. (2016) ‘Age and fertility: a study of patient awareness’. In JBRA Assisted Reproduction, 20(3), pp. 99-106. doi: 10.5935/1518-0557.20160024
Daniluk, J. & Koert, E. (2013) ‘The other side of the fertility coin: a comparison of childless men’s and women’s knowledge of fertility and assisted reproductive technology’. In Fertility and Sterility, 99(3), pp.839-846. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2012.10.033
Harper, J. et al. (2017) ‘The need to improve fertility awareness’. In Reproductive BioMedicine and Society Online, Volume 4, pp.18-20. doi: 10.1016/j.rbms.2017.03.002
McGonigal, J. (2016) SuperBetter: a revolutionary approach to getting stronger, happier, braver and more resilient. Harper Collins. ISBN: 978-0008106331.
Ritterfeld, U., Cody, M. & Vorderer, P. (2009) Serious games: mechanisms and effects. Routledge. ISBN: 978-0203891650.
Pedro, J. et al. (2018) ‘What do people know about fertility? A systematic review on fertility awareness and its associated factors’. In Upsala Journal of Medical Science, 123(2), pp.71-81. doi: 10.1080/03009734.2018.1480186
Zhonggen, Y. (2019) ‘A meta-analysis of use of serious games in education over a decade’. In International Journal of Computer Games Technology, Volume 2019. doi: 10.1155/2019/4797032