Saturday, October 2, 2010

Combating Bullies, Real and Virtual

Herotopia provides a safe and anonymous way for young gamers to build self-confident approaches to combating bullies, and they just might learn some cool stuff about world geography, foreign language and cultures along the way.
As evidenced by a recent string of needlessly tragic endings, bullying tactics and their consequences have reached new extremes. Sadly, there is nothing that can undo the horror that occurred earlier this week on the Rutgers University campus.
Tyler Clementi paid the ultimate price, and the lives of students Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, charged in connection with the his death, will never be the same. It all begs the question, "could this have been prevented?"
The creators of Herotopia sure hope so.
Bullying is widespread. It’s believed that nearly half of all school kids receive intentional verbal, physical or emotional abuse by peers at some point during childhood, and approximately 10 percent are singled out as regular targets of bullying. The effects of bullying are far-reaching and damaging for everyone — for those who inflict abuse, those who receive it and even those who observe from a distance, are known to suffer an impaired sense of self-esteem and security, perform worse in school and exhibit challenged mental health.
Catch 'Em While They're Young
Arming kids with the best tools to combat the scourge of bullying — integrity, self-empowerment, compassion and respect for self and for others — is the core mission carried out by an exciting and free new online game designed by the New York-based husband and wife team Wade and Caryn Teman. Launched in July, Herotopia provides a safe and fun virtual world for kids to travel and explore while they learn the personal skills necessary to becoming their own super hero.
And they just might get so wrapped up that they may not even notice or mind that along the way, they’re learning all about world geography and culture as they move throughout the Herotopia environment.
The Temans, watching their own two children become engrossed with their online games, experienced an a-ha moment that would give rise to their new enterprise. While they shared a sense for the online gaming environment as being in the early phase of a major new development in entertainment, they also shared a sense that much of the available virtual gaming content leaned in dark and violent directions.
To introduce something positive and uplifting into the virtual environment struck Wade and Caryn as an opportunity too ripe not to pluck.
"Why not create a game that’s clean, fun and educational," Wade Teman posed rhetorically, speaking to Tonic. "There’s good versus evil, and we identified bullying as an important theme. We created our bad guys as bullies, because that’s what kids deal with every day," he added.
Creating a World Virtually Free of Bullies
In Herotopia, which offers varying levels of upgrade, but whose basic game is absolutely free to play and enjoy, players choose their own super hero character (there’s a girl, a boy and even a baby) and customize their super hero’s overall look. Once they select their own super power, the players are set to go on their way.
Using a world map as the basis for the layout, players travel between major world cities where they can learn about major landmarks, geographic features and different cultures, safely interacting with friends as they move about. By using non-violent super powers in their interactions with The Bully Bunch (Herotopia’s super villians), players earn points, develop self-confidenceand help build a bully-free world.
Caryn Teman explains the underlying purpose behind developing Herotopia:
"Our big corporate mission is to empower kids to be heroes not just in the virtual world, but in the real world as well."
She observes that there is a need for kids to develop an understanding of what bullying is and how to deal with it outside of the classroom environment. Wade explains that prior to Herotopia, there was no other online platform designed for fun that educates kids about bullying.
The added benefit to Herotopia, the Temans explain, is that it is an expressly safe environment (kids and parents can play together), but kids are able to actively learn about bullying in a completely anonymous way.
The approach to education and empowerment that the Temans are staking out with Herotopia has earned not just the attention but the direct participation of expert and Bully Coach Dr. Joel Haber who serves as consultant and author of the Herotopia website’s Bully Blog.
"Our goal at Herotopia is to teach kids superhero skills to empower them and improve the quality of their relationships so if bullying occurs they know how to handle it and make it less likely to happen again,” says Dr. Haber. “Bullying behavior can start at a young age so teaching kids early is essential."
By fostering positive, emotionally healthy pathways to confronting abusive behavior in others, and by teaching these skills in the virtual world, the Temans have their fingers crossed that they have a winning approach to encouraging kids to be and to do good. Early response since the July launch has been positive and brisk: nearly 30,000 users have logged in in just over a month without the support of any advertising.
And Caryn offers with a combination of justifiable pride and perhaps a bit of surprise that the world of new young Herotopia super heroes represent more than 130 countries.
In Herotopia, kids now have a colorful, fun, dynamic and wide open space to explore and interact, and to learn the most positive and affirming ways to confront and snuff out mean and damaging behaviors they may confront in both the virtual world and in the real one as well.

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