Brittany Allen
June 16, 2014 2:58 pm

Video games and video gaming have been called many things, but rarely “productive tools for improving society.” Thanks to a new mobile game from Pixelberry that’s about to change. A new game, launched by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and Pixelberry and aimed at teenagers, is all about promoting body positivity and self-esteem.

The game is part of NEDA and Pixelberry‘s “High School Story,” for iOS and Android—previous iterations of the game have focused on “anti cyber-bullying” campaigns that swept the Twittersphere not long ago. And though High School Story might (at first), seem like a guidance counselor’s tool with little application for real life teens, it’s actually proven its legitimate popularity: It’s been downloaded over 10 million times since its initial launch last year.

So here’s the gist, for those who play: In this fictional “High School,” gamers can move around with Mia, a young girl who’s conflicted about her body image and starts dallying with harmful weight-loss practices. Surrounded by a cast of friends who also feel like “misfits” in adolescence, the goal of one game quest is to have Mia reach a Mecca of self-esteem. In its earlier format, players could also use “High School Stories” to design their perfect high-school—one absent of bullies and filled with accepting figures. Players could build and decorate their dream high schools while completing challenges like “throw parties to unlock over thirty characters.” You can play as a “jock,” a “nerd,” or a self-styled character, and jump around social groups. It’s basically the high school we—and maybe The Breakfast Clubalways dreamed about.

Pixelberry first got involved with this positive social agenda after their team corresponded with one young gamer who publicly confessed her intention to commit suicide. According to a company rep (via TechCrunch), this interaction helped spur the creation of “High School Stories,” once the team realized “how powerful games can be in influencing players.”

NEDA helped create an “in-game FAQ” section, where teens can find more information about body image issues. There’s also a hotline distressed players can access throughout their quests, and consistent links to Proud2BeMe, an affiliate support site. Pixelberry and NEDA have also directed some of the games’ proceeds towards CyberSmile, an anti-bullying charity.

Stats on teens’ negative body image and self-esteem issues—particularly young girls’ self esteem—remain quite alarming, which you probably recall if you ever attended an American high school. Teenagers can be cruel, and pressure to be thin can be constant. “High School Stories” promises to help young people re-contextualize their body image issues, work and function as part of a community, and (perhaps!) begin thinking of high-school as an actually fun place to spend time. If this game gains a foothold with pre-teens, it could presumably shape the way kids interact in the future. Super good stuff. So consider setting aside The Sims and the Oregon Trail (. . . or whatever it is you whippersnappers play today. . .) for a bracing, ultra-cool click of perspective instead.

 Featured image via Shutterstock