Denmark Is Turning To VR To Combat Teen Drinking Problem
The country uses VR to educate teenage drinkers on the dangerous effects of alcohol.
Alcohol abuse amongst teens is a common issue across the globe, but in Denmark, it is a huge dilemma. Danish teens between the ages of 15 to 17 years-old are the heaviest drinkers for their age in Europe according to a recent ESPAD (European School Survey on Alcohol and Other Drugs) report.
Based on the findings, 73% of Danish teens had consumed alcohol in the previous month compared to 48% of teens throughout the EU, with almost 1-in-3 teens admitting to being completely intoxicated during that period – three times the average of other European countries.
To counter this problem, the Danish governmente turning to VR to help educate teenagers on how to party responsibly and give them a better understanding of how alcohol affects you, all through immersive VR roleplaying.
The Danish VR experience, which will launch later in the year, is a collaboration between the Danish government, Southern Denmark University and the Danish Cancer Society in an effort to create a realistic teenage situation where peer pressure and drinking are the driving factors behind how you navigated your way through a typical Danish teen party.
As you enter the virtual world, you will find yourself standing in the shoes of a teen at home before a party. Right from the start, you’ll have the option of heading straight over to your friend’s house or do a little pre-gaming at home. From there, you head over to the party and meet up with a group of your friends who are already consuming alcohol.
The VR experience is very realistic and all aspects of a teen party have been accounted for. You’ll find yourself hanging out with friends surrounded by people dancing, laughing and drinking. You’ll have friends approach you and offer you beer which you can accept or decline simply by navigating through the options and choosing one. Declining that extra cold one isn’t that easy, however, since your VR friends will use peer pressure to convince you to drink one, two, three, or more as the VR experience continues.
It’s up to you to see if you’re able to resist caving in under pressure by skipping the alcoholic drinks and instead hitting the dance floor with friends, getting some food, using the bathroom, or choosing to have a conversation with friends – but again, peer pressure and alcohol are throughout the entire VR experience and can come at any time.
Throughout the experience a display in your VR headset shows your virtual blood-alcohol level rising after every beer you accept. The more you drink, the blurrier your view becomes, and as the party continues, teens begin to fall over chairs and become ill.
The VR experience can last up to 15 minutes if you make the right choices, but as you would guess, it’s shorter if you consume too many drinks way too fast. You can even black out in the VR experience, where the screen literally goes, well, black.
Gunver Majgaard, a learning specialist at Southern Denmark University, talked with The Guardian about how you can educate teenagers about alcohol consumption and what is considered enough through a conversation. This approach gives them facts, but having facts isn’t the same as having experience. “We hope that presenting them with a simulated situation, where they have to make decisions about alcohol, will help them cope better with real parties.”
In a video produced by Vice, Peter Dalum, one of Denmark’s leading researchers in alcohol abuse prevention and head of the teen drinking campaign for the Danish Cancer Society said, “it is extremely easy to get alcohol in Denmark, the laws are not very strict.” Dalum compares alcohol culture to Denmark’s bike culture where everyone in Denmark is expected to ride a bike as a way of transportation. “Everybody sees other people bike, and we have a very good infrastructure for biking.” According to Dalum, that biking culture frame-of-mind carries over to alcohol consumption – especially with teens.
Christiane Stock, lead researched for Denmark’s VR project, notes how powerful roleplaying can be as an education tool for young people, saying, “We will simulate a typical party situation. The user of this tool can say yes to a drink, or no, and explore what happens next.”
One thing to note is that alcoholic drinks such as beer and wine can be legally purchased by 16-year olds in Denmark at supermarkets, convenience stores and kiosks. What is even more surprising is that beer is legally served at school parties – on school premises – to 15 year old students, because there actually isn’t a legal drinking age in Denmark.
Denmark has an annual event called ‘Puttefest’, where high school students gather in a giant field in Copenhagen to celebrate the upcoming school year, and in 2016 the Danish government pushed to allow 15 year olds to serve alcohol in restaurants, which didn’t pass.
Teenage drinking has become a growing problem globally, especially in Europe where the drinking age is lower or — in Denmark’s case, non-existent. In the U.S. alone, where the drinking age is 21, alcohol is responsible for about 4,300 teen deaths a year according to MADD.
The £240,000 ($320,000 U.S. dollars) project, which uses 125 different immersive 360 scenarios, will be tested on Danish schools before being made available globally in app stores later in the year.