Background: Adolescents in the United States account for one-fifth of new HIV cases, and have the highest rate of undiagnosed HIV, with more than half (51%) not knowing their status. It is a crucial public health concern to help equip youth with the information and autonomy to minimize their risk and know their status. Serious videogames are emerging as valuable tools for health and behavior change in adolescents, and have potential to engage this population and increase their use of HIV testing and counseling (HTC). The purpose of this study was to: (I) modify an original serious game targeting risk reduction and HIV prevention developed by the play2PREVENT Lab and create a new serious game that focuses on HTC; (II) evaluate its feasibility and acceptability; (III) pilot-test the assessment measures that are subsequently being used in a large randomized controlled trial.
Methods: Three focus groups with adolescents, aged 14–17 (n=13, mean age =15), informed artwork and storylines for PlayTest! After the game was completed, a pilot test was conducted using a one-group pretest-posttest design to collect data on: (I) participants’ gameplay satisfaction and experience; (II) the validity of the project’s assessments. Twenty-six participants, aged 15–16 were enrolled from a local after-school program. Participants played PlayTest! twice weekly for three weeks. Data were collected on behavior, intentions, knowledge, perceived susceptibility, and attitudes related to HTC at baseline, post-gameplay (three weeks), and follow-up (six weeks).
Results: For the focus groups used in the game development, four major themes emerged: (I) adolescents have strong misperceptions about HTC, including who should get tested and what the test entails; (II) adolescents have incorrect knowledge about how HIV is contracted, spread, and treated; (III) adolescents are supportive of their peers getting tested for HIV, but are not likely to get tested themselves; (IV) while the majority of adolescents know where to get tested for HIV, social stigma, misperceptions around HTC, and fear of having a positive diagnosis keep them from seeking it. For the pilot study, overall, participant experience with the game was highly favorable. The assessments were sensitive enough to capture changes in our target variables: intentions (P=0.037) and knowledge (P=0.025) related to HTC at follow-up.
Conclusions: The PlayTest! game provides promising results regarding using an engaging and evidence-informed videogame intervention to promote HTC in adolescents.