The Yale Center for Health & Learning Games recently received a $1.4 million grant from the CVS Health Foundation to further develop smokeSCREEN, a smoking prevention video game.

“Our partnership with Yale is part of ‘Be The First,’ CVS Health’s five-year, $50 million initiative to help deliver the nation’s first tobacco-free generation,” wrote Eileen Howard Boone, president of CVS Health Foundation, in an email to the News.

Since 2016, CVS has actively supported smoking prevention programs through “Be The First.” The initiative has partnered with 146 colleges and universities to establish tobacco-free policies and has educated over four million youth about the dangers of smoking, according to Boone.

The three-year grant will help increase student access to smokeSCREEN, which was developed by the play2PREVENT Lab at the Center for Health & Learning Games. The Center, established in 2015 at the School of Medicine, aims to create educational and entertaining video games.

SmokeSCREEN leads users through a month of high school. Players maneuver through social situations involving cigarettes and marijuana while making positive choices to increase their academic and social success.

“We were very interested in leveraging gamification as a tool to reach young people and affect behavior change,” Boone wrote. “We have been very impressed with smokeSCREEN from the beginning and early results from the pilot have shown very promising results in effecting healthy behavior change in students, a key goal of ‘Be The First.’”

Lindsay Duncan GRD ’13, associate director of the play2PREVENT Lab, published a paper in February demonstrating that smokeSCREEN is a cost-effective intervention method for middle and elementary school students.

“Our team is really excited about the findings of this paper because they contribute to a growing body of literature that shows the value of game-based learning, in this case in a health behavior context,” Duncan told the News in February.

The study recruited 25 middle school–aged students who had not smoked cigarettes or marijuana in 30 days. Students reported greater knowledge of both substances after four hours of gameplay spread over two weeks.

The researchers noted that further testing with a larger sample size might confirm other benefits of the game, specifically its ability to modulate unhealthy perceptions and decrease motivation to use cigarettes and marijuana.

“Although this paper reports on the findings from only a prototype version of the game, we are really encouraged to see our participants responding with increased knowledge about risk behaviors and trends in the right direction for other variables that are known to protect adolescents about adopting risk behaviors,” Duncan said.

SmokeSCREEN will be available to the public later this year on the Apple and Google app stores.

Marisa Peryer |