Drug and Alcohol

(this page is a pre-release work in progress)

The game “surviving independence” broadly aims to help players practice and discover realistic, smart choices around independent living decisions. This page explains the drug and alcohol related features of the game:


  • Handle peer drug and alcohol related problems
  • Protect themselves from harm when adults in their life use drugs and alcohol
  • Make choices around drinking and drug use, and be held accountable for the consequences
  • Experience the hidden costs of drinking and drug use

Key Messages:

Players ultimately learn:

  • Using drugs can cost you your job and keep you from getting an apartment.
  • Friends who need to drink and use drugs are more of a burden than friends who don’t.
  • Passive strategies like “go with the flow” don’t work. You must seize control.
  • When bosses and landlords drink or do drugs, it can impact your life.
  • Landlords may hold you accountable when others drink or do drugs in your apartment


This game focuses player attention on strategic (not dramatic, fun) decisions around drug and alcohol use.

Giggling, then engaged. This game grabs player attenion by showing drunk or stoned game characters. This portrayal is rare in educational games, which is inherently funny for almost every teen player….at first. This game intentionally downplays the entertainment value: Drunk characters do not stagger comically. Stoned people don’t walk slow or have red eyes. Instead, icons over character’s head show their drunk and drugged state.   Most teen players giggle at first, then shrug and focus on winning the game.

Getting Beyond Scare Tactics.

Even when negative consequences are shown, TV and movies often glamorize drug and alcohol use. Drugs and alcohol are often shown as an exciting, “forbidden fruit” choice: Drug users have a short, exciting life full of lots of thrill and drama – arguments, big money, cool weapons, car chases.

Teens are developmentally less able to correctly value long-term consequences agains short-term gains.  So, even jail or death is not as motivating as adults might assume. Scare tactics don’t work.

Social Norms, Peers, and “scenes”

In real life, and in this game, drug use is a common social norms. Expectations and status revolve around drug use. This game’s social life lets the player decide how involved with drugs and alcohol use, in their social life, they want to be, showing consequences for each decision.  It is possible to win the game while tolerate peer drug use, in a way that does not isolate the player from drug users.  However, to win the game, the player must decide, set, and enforce clear boundaries with drug users who threaten player safety (by using drugs in their apartment, which could get them evicted).

The game models two types of peer characters. One type are “unreliables” – easy to befriend, and very accepting of you. They are more likely to ask you for resources – your time, cash, and attention – have less to offer in return.  Reliable peers are the second type. They are harder to befriend, and pickier about who they hang out with.  They shun characters who smell, who need drugs and alcohol. They are also the ones with jobs, who landlords like, and who enjoy healthy activities like jogging, skating and biking.

As a player, you can belong to either, or both, social scenes (if you can manage the bickering).  To win the game, it making it more difficult for you to secure an acceptable roommate.

There are a few dramatic moments: Drunk friends may ignore or fight you when you ask them to leave your apartment. However, these moments are rare. Most of the decisions are short-term, familiar, practical choices. For example, the player will decide: do I hang with Nancy who likes to drink? Or do I go have a shower so Ned, who won’t sit with anyone who smells, will talk to me?  These decisions add up to loss of personal freedom, money, and social opportunities.

The Language is “video game”. In video games, the “icon over head” is a standard way game players get strategic info about their character. “This is an enemy” or “I have a quest to give you.” Players frame this data in their big goal: “win the game.”  This game uses this assumption to educate: players implicitly consider drug and alcohol use in a strategic approach, since the game gives them strategic, not tactical, information.

Long-term consequences matter NOW. Teen brains are biased to discount long-term consequences. This game addresses that bias in two ways: First, it compresses time: Game time runs four times faster than real world time. Second, the game focuses on near-term consequences of drug and alcohol use. They see how choices today affect their choices tomorrow, and in a week, not three months or years away.

A “Middle Ground” between a Progressive Approach and Strong Messaging

The game’s design resembles the approach used in National Institute on Drug Abuse’s “The Cool Spot”:

  • Resisting spoken pressure
  • Resisting unspoken pressure (peers stoned)
  • Myth vs Reality of drug use
  • Know your no’s – choosing the right way to decline invitations to peer drug and alcohol use
  • Drinking impacts more than the drinker.