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On Transmedia Storytelling and Sexually Transmitted Infections: Leslie Gailloud

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Our daily development blog series for the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab’s alternate reality game The Source continues with the perspective of transmedia storyteller and Lab fellow, Leslie Gailloud. Leslie is an undergraduate at the University of Chicago who is majoring in biology.

I think the closest I’ve come to having multiple personalities in my life was in the beginning stages of the The Source planning process when I created and directed 8 or so Facebook pages that belonged to different characters. Creating a post as one character, I would then log in and respond to the initial post as a different character, and then join in the discussion again as a third.  Sometimes even a fourth figure would enter the conversation. I was essentially talking to myself, over and over again, through these 8 profiles. As fun as it was to be a mastermind of personalities, they were eventually distributed to different Game Changer Chicago game developers so they could be fleshed out more fully. I kept only Adia Clark, our willful heroine, and have since been writing blog posts, Facebook updates, e-mails, and even text messages as her.

Although I act primarily as Adia now, I did one supplemental blog post recently as her cheeky best friend, Ros Jackson. While all of the Adia posts are largely utilitarian relative to the game (they serve to forward the narrative, introduce online challenges as well as daily activities, and are a forum for reflection on the week’s themes), Ros’ post was different. She used her blog post to speak out about a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) she contracted when she was younger. This was by far the most controversial thing we had done up to that point, and there was much debate within the Game Changer team as to whether this was a good or useful idea. Ros was a player favorite, how would this news change her image? A counterargument one developer brought up was that it was incredibly unrealistic for a teen to speak out about an STI she had on a very public forum. We also had to be mindful of the actress playing Ros. Her face, voice and personality were tied to the character, and we had to consult her about this sensitive topic before moving forward. We eventually decided to go ahead and post it, upon which players thanked her for talking about such a hard topic.

Unbeknownst to coworkers, however, this post was more important to me than just as a statement about STIs coming from a character. The reason I thought up of the idea and wanted to write the post myself was much more personal, and based on an event that happened in my first year of college, before I even started at Game Changer Chicago. The decisions that Ros makes and her thought process afterwards are exactly what I went through. I too was a party where the combination of alcohol and attraction led to unprotected sex (although like Ros, I also was on birth control). I knew it wasn’t the smartest action I had ever taken, but I wasn’t too worried, and overall reflected very positively on the hookup.

It was a couple weeks later when the boy alerted me he had an STI, and that I needed to get tested. I received an e-mail from him (whereas Ros received a text from the boy with whom she had been involved). Scared, I went to our student health care center, and explained the situation. They ended up testing my urine and blood for gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV. I then had to wait a couple of days in complete anxiety until the results came back, and I discovered that I was positive for chlamydia. My emotions were exactly what I wrote for Ros:

I started crying when I saw it, I felt so ashamed. Me!? Get an STI?? How could that happen! I never thought it would happen to ME. What do I do now? I can’t face my parents, my friends. They would all judge me. Never see me the same.

I took the same medication that she did, refrained from any sexual activity for a couple of months, until I was re-tested and the results came back that I was clean. I did end up telling my mom, my sister, and my best friend right after I received the results, and they were all overwhelmingly supportive, but I was still ashamed.

This was a transformative experience for me. I, like Ros, learned the hard way about how to practice smart and safe sex. But it also prompted me to apply for a summer internship at Game Changer Chicago, attracted to its mission of promoting sexual health awareness to Chicago youth. This internship turned into my current position of Design Lab Fellow, and has allowed me to help others not make the stupid mistake I did. I know now how common STIs are, but back then I thought I was the only one going through the process. If I had seen the post I wrote as Ros when I found out I had an STI, I would have felt far less alone.