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Federal Game Aims to Curb Youth Conflicts

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A computer game created by a federal agency aims to teach children conflict-resolution skills and offer an alternative to violent computer and video games that have become popular with young people.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which primarily tries to resolve labor conflicts in the adult workplace, developed the interactive game, called “Cool Schools: Where Peace Rules.”

Childhood is where human capacities to get along are rooted, agency officials said.

“These are skills to be learned early,” said FMCS spokesman John E. Arnold.

Interactive-game expert F.J. Lennon created the game with help from federal mediators, outside educators, and developmental psychologists at the University of Maryland College Park.

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It is aimed at children ages 5 to 7, but some experts said older children also enjoy it.

Colorful animated characters are presented in a series of conflicts at school; players must choose methods of resolving each conflict from a set of choices that can be from the perspective of victim, perpetrator, or observer.

In one scenario involving a line of children—whom the teacher has told not to hit or tattle—one child punches another, who tells the teacher. The player is asked to choose the teacher’s best response. (The answer is to give both children a timeout, rather than punish one or the other only.)

“They’ll learn skills of empathy [and] conflict resolution,” said Mary Ellen LaCien, a former federal mediator who tested the game in Chicago-area schools.

The five-year project cost about $1 million, drawn from the agency’s appropriations to support conciliation and mediation in communities, said Frances L. Leonard, the chief financial officer of the FMCS.

The game may be downloaded free from the curriculum-sharing Web site Curriki.org.

It is not unprecedented for the federal government to develop a computer game to influence young people. In 2002, the U.S. Army released the first version of “America’s Army,” an online war-fighting game that is popular worldwide.

Vol. 27, Issue 35, Page 21

Published in Print: April 30, 2008, as Federal Game Aims to Curb Youth Conflicts
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