The project's main objective is devising a means to meet the challenge of excessive alcohol use by college students. The transition to the first year of college, in particular, is a critical age and life period when health and wellbeing are put to the test by the convergence of opportunity and peer pressure to drink heavily. Specifically, the project hypothesizes that adding the opportunity for role play in a web-based required online alcohol prevention program will improve the results compared to the web-based program only in a secondary prevention trial. All participants receive the standard alcohol prevention program required at the University of Central Florida (UCF), AlcoholEdu. Half of the randomly assigned participants have the opportunity to practice cognitive-behavioral skills through role plays. These immersive practice sessions are realistic in presenting situations that college students face in the real world. Armed with these skills and practice it is expected they will engage in less excessive alcohol use than those participants lacking this experience.
A unique aspect of the proposed treatment is the use of a state-of-the-art interactive role play experience based on digital puppetry of virtual characters. Here, digital puppetry refers to the use of a human to control the actions of animated characters in real-time. Such artistry has been employed for several decades in a number of venues including television and location-based entertainment. Digital puppetry is currently employed by one of the PIs in education and peer-pressure resistance programs. By affording natural and highly versatile behaviors, puppetry greatly increases interactivity and immersion while affording flexibility in the appearance and traits of the characters and choices for the interactive scenes.
An evaluation of this type of alcohol secondary prevention technique with college students is an advance in the field. Specifically, it allows the investigation of whether one-on-one virtual role-plays (e.g., a party scene in which college students can practice refusing to join a drinking game) can help students avoid difficult peer pressure situations. It could provide a new method to enhance and complement the programs currently used for alcohol secondary prevention.