The aim of the project in Phase II is to develop and evaluate a stand-alone, Web-based serious game titled Vstreet-G, and to complete the interactive multimedia instruction on money management by adding a component on investment skills. Emancipation from dependence to living independently is one of the most challenging and feared life events for youth, especially those in care. Prior to emancipation, youth in supported living situations fail to grasp its impact and are not prepared to meet the enforced change. The Vstreet-G simulation game will help to prepare at-risk youth for emancipation by motivating them to learn and apply life skills in a Web-based environment specially adapted for this population that emphasizes applied learning experiences. In Phase I we produced two items: 1) a concept paper on the design and development of the Vstreet-G serious game and 2) the core interactive multimedia instructional component on money management, titled Money Medical: Healthy Money Management for the Web and as a CD. The proposed serious game will encapsulate and utilize the content of our previously developed and currently used Web site, Vstreet.com, which contains a rich variety of research-based curriculums and resources for teens on life skills. Vstreet-G will provide a simulated emancipation experience while encouraging youth to access the life skills materials on Vstreet.com to advance in the game. In the case of children in foster care, the federal Chafee Act requires that all whom the courts recognize as likely to emancipate directly from the care system be given life skills training beginning at age 14. Although legislators and educators recognize the critical need for this education, youth themselves do not, until they are on their own and their lives have started to unravel. The Vstreet-G game will 1) increase youth's awareness of the life skills they will need to prepare for taking this big step;2) allow them to practice applying these skills in simulated living situations (without both the awareness and the opportunity to practice, emancipating youth are much more likely to fail in the real world);and 3) provide life skills educators with interactive materials that stimulate awareness about preparedness among youth who have a range of literacy levels and learning styles. The findings of the Phase I study showed that Money Medical was effective in improving youth's knowledge and confidence in managing their money. In the Phase II study, to be conducted with a minimum of 150 at-risk youth recruited from two sites, we will examine three basic research questions: 1) whether the Vstreet-G serious game increases aspects of users'motivation and readiness to change in ways that are relevant to their impending emancipation - including key components such as self-efficacy and empathy - compared to those who, using Vstreet.com, do not have the experience of the simulated environment;2) whether the game environment of Vstreet-G is more effective at increasing users'money management skills than the existing Vstreet.com site;and 3) whether outcomes are differentially affected by the presence of self-identified disability.
By playing the proposed Web-based serious game, at-risk youth who are typically resistant to traditional educational approaches, and who are in line to transition to independent living, will have an opportunity to practice the transition in a virtual world. As a result, many of these youth will be better prepared to emancipate successfully, thereby reducing their impact on such public health problems as homelessness, physical and mental illness, drug abuse, and prostitution. This project, by providing life skills awareness and training, will help increase the chances for the at-risk youth population to live life as healthy, independent, and productive citizens.