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On Learning about Health Inequities and Research Through The Source Game: Karriem Watson



Our daily development blog series for the Game Changer Chicago (GCC) Design Lab’s alternate reality game The Source continues with the perspective of Karriem Watson, the research manager for the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health (Ci3). Karriem writes about using a game-based intervention to explore health disparities on the South Side of Chicago.


I am excited about the 140 plus youth that we have on our campus taking part in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) learning program called The Source. I’m also interested in examining how innovative ways to stimulate learning and inquiry can impact the trajectory of youth development, particularly around sexual and reproductive health. In addition to the weekly STEAM activities that the youth engage in, they also get an opportunity to interact with undergraduate and graduate youth mentors and STEAM professionals. It is this type of natural mentoring and exposure to STEAM professionals in an organic way that has been documented to positively impact health outcomes in Adolescents. 

 I know first-hand what the impact of exposure to innovative thinkers can be in inspiring youth to go into careers that address issues of health disparity and health inequity. Some twenty years ago, my parents enrolled me in a summer STEM program. It was at this program where I first learned how to view the health disparities that I observed in my community through a lens that actually empowered me. You can never tell the moment when youth will be inspired to seek out and follow their paths nor is every young person inspired in the same way. Therefore, programs like The Source alternate reality game, that uses innovative ways of exposing you to STEAM professionals and STEAM skills can have a broad and multifaceted impact on youth development. As part of the research team it is my role to ensure that we examine the multiple ways that youth are gaining agency in their ability to link STEAM skills to improved behavior in sexual and reproductive health.

This week in the program I am particularly excited about the youth learning about HIV and STIs. We are interested not only about the impact that increased health literacy has on self-efficacy and youth empowerment, but also eager to observe how youth expand the breadth of their knowledge. For example, as I follow the fictional character in The Source for whom the Alternate Reality is based, I think about health disparities that exist in her South Side neighborhood and how youth view these health disparities in the context of their own behavior. I can imagine Adia asking her Source community; “What are some of the reasons why HIV rates are growing in certain communities more than others?” I am thrilled to know that one of our expert presenters this week who is a Community Health Epidemiologist explores HIV and its inequities in communities of color. It will be skills and tools that students gain through programs like The Source that will allow them to examine both local and international health disparities related to sexual and reproductive health.  In addition to the skills and tools, The Source provides knowledge that will help youth serve as community advocates in their community to promote improved health behavior.  By understanding HIV rates and social determinants that impact those rates on the South Side of Chicago, youth will gain a platform to expand this thinking globally. In addition to our public health expert, we will also have a physician who is a fellow in family planning discuss how she has examined STI rates in Russia and how policy impacted the spread of STIs in Russia.

For me, my inquiry was inspired more than 20 years ago to ask the research questions I continue to ask today. I am excited about the information the research evaluation will provide on how games like The Source can impact sexual and reproductive health behavior as well as overall interest in STEAM professions for you who participate in this amazing game!