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Friday, May 14, 2010

What is a Champion?

The Breakaway game is counting down to release the game with the FIFA World Cup this June. In a circular world, everything seems to return round again. When we began researching the problem of violence against women, and attitudes and behaviors of youth, we began in Cape Town, South Africa. It was a world that had both 1st and 3rd world economies and an overwhelmingly negative statistics in regards to violence against women and girls. We had no idea then that the game would be a soccer/football game in time for the World Cup in South Africa or that it would be for 8-15 year old boys.
Likewise when we began the project we were a small group with a lot of doubters. How could a game prevent violence against women and why?

Many have a difficult time even speaking about the issue of violence against women. The issue gets caught up in thinking that sees it as a private family matter or a cultural issue that others should not interfere with. Even where we are today, in modern Italy, it is legal for a husband to lose his temper and murder his wife in a "crime of passion". And what of honor killings in which a man or his family burn the wife for reasons as anti-passionate as the size of a dowry, or lack of a male heir? Dare one speak out against that? What would the victim ask? Is death at the hands of another not a crime?
Others associate violence against women and girls as a "women's issue" bound up in anti-feminism rhetoric. What about the effects on the children of an abused partner or girls who are sold into sexual slavery at ages as young as 8 or 9, or the female babies and toddlers denied health care because of their sex at birth? Is that not a family issue—a human rights issue—a moral issue?
And how might a game address the problem? At first I even had to think long and hard before writing the first proposal to the United Nations. How would one utilize a medium accused of being violent and apply it towards anti-violence? By uniting game-play mechanics, reward systems, narrative, and fun in the right mix. Games can be powerful learning tools. They encourage reflective thinking and critical problem solving. If experienced at a crucial age, they can inspire new ways of seeing choices and consequences of decisions. I also firmly believe that if anyone can create a concept to engage boys, it is youth—our Champlain students who have academic experience in the medium, but who also enjoy, play and analyze it.
With progress towards our goals, believers...champions have come to our side from the most unlikely places. First Senator Patrick Leahy lent his support of the project and the team's ability to complete it. He stated that when he first started his career as State's Attorney he started prosecuting for domestic violence. When told "that isn't how we do things around here." He replied "well there's a new sheriff in town and now we do!".
Other supporters came to our aid when funding was in limbo last summer. Among them Laura Dagan and her employer Dwight Asset Management, our partner Population Media Center through their president Bill Ryerson, and many other individuals gifting as little as $1.00 or as much as $10,000. Without their generosity and pledges totaling $52,000 the project would have ended without reaching its goals.

Well this week we have new champions! And I must admit my mind is still reeling. Part of our team is in Milan, Italy videotaping for the game trailers, other PSA's, and a new character in our game. We are here because we brainstormed with game pros in Montreal, Canada and JDK in Burlington, Vermont. Then we took the concept and presented to the UN. Through them Aminata Toure, gender expert at the UNFPA, and Enzo di Taranto, director of the UNiTE to End Violence Against Women, campaign connected to the Spokesperson to the President of the General Assembly of the UN, Jean-Victor Nkolo.
He connected to his countryman, international soccer/football star Samuel Eto'o. This week Samuel Eto'o pledged to give his all to support the project and the cause. We just spent two days working with him. What an incredible role-model for boys, youth, men around the world.
Senator Patrick Leahy, Bill Ryerson, Laura Dagan, Aminata Toure, Enzo di Taranto, Jean-Victor Nkolo, and Samuel Eto'o are all successful people whom others look to as leaders in their fields. They are all champions working to end violence against women. If more spoke out like these there would be no need for our project. From a project that few believed possible to one with such support!
In less than a month we release the first chapter of Breakaway to coincide with the World Cup 2010. We will have 5 more chapters to release through until December 2010—for these we are seeking corporate sponsorship and appreciate individual and foundational gifts. You can be a champion as well—we are looking for volunteers to translate scripts for us into other languages, to test the game, find bugs, give feedback, and for help getting the word out. Our game site is at , Facebook Fan page at, and the project page for info and donations at ttp:// .

As one of our champions, you can be a part of enabling youth worldwide to be able to explore and discover for themselves how to truly be a champion.

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