Game On: Video Game-Based Approaches to Bystander Intervention Training

Written by: Kenzie Gordon and Samantha Pearson

Halfway through your Friday night bartending shift, a customer approaches you at the bar. “I need help”, they say – “my date is being really creepy and I don’t know how to -”. Just then, a man comes up behind them and asks if everything’s ok. It’s clear that the customer wanted your help, but what do you do next?

This is the question at the heart of It’s Your Move–an innovative game-based approach to sexual violence prevention that aims to put bystander intervention skills into the hands of folks working in the hospitality industry. Part of the 5 Minute Friend workshop offered by the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton and the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre, It’s Your Move helps participants develop and practice their intervention skills in real time by immersing them in their typical nightlife surroundings, but from the safety of an encouraging facilitative environment– without the real-world consequences. This is important because 5 Minute Friend was designed to be a participatory learning experience that encourages folks working in the nightlife industry to consider how they can be an ally to someone for a brief moment in their life when they might really need it. The three-hour workshop capitalizes on the responsibility staff in these establishments have to uphold a duty of care to patrons, while also recognizing the unique position they’re in to interrupt the sexual violence narrative in some very inventive, and crucial, ways.

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Bystander intervention training might seem an unlikely place to find video games, but this is a rapidly growing area of the “serious games” movement. Serious games are video games with a purpose outside the game, and these days they can be found everywhere from physical therapy to classrooms. Now, researchers are examining the potential of games for changing social attitudes around sexual violence, and results are promising, with several studies finding that bystander intervention games can create value change that holds up over time. Games can offer some real benefits to training scenarios, including real-time feedback on player choices, a system that reacts more naturally than roleplay participants, and a learning tool that can be returned to over time. But most importantly, when applied to challenging topics like bystander intervention, games can serve as a starting point for larger conversations about how to create safe spaces for everyone.

In It’s Your Move, the player takes on the role of a server at a busy club. As their shift progresses, they’re presented with a number of challenges – a regular high-spending patron harassing a co-worker, a man pushing drinks on his clearly hesitant first date, and a customer looking for help with their partner. Players must balance bouncing in and out of the scenarios, since the events unfold over the course of the evening, and find ways to apply the 4 D’s of bystander intervention (direct, distract, delegate, and delay) that they have learned in the 5-Minute Friend programme. Through character responses and pop-up prompts, the game guides the player through the possible outcomes of their decisions and makes suggestions to help them intervene appropriately. This offers an opportunity to put what they’ve learned to use in a safe simulated setting, and encourages them to reflect on their understanding to further refine their skills.

Ultimately, It’s Your Move allows us to transcend many of the inherent limitations of a static learning environment to better engage a demographic that are required to make split-second decisions that could have tremendous impacts on an individual’s safety in a high-energy context where they are being faced with a lot of competing demands and expectations. We think this helps to create safer establishments and festivals by making invaluable anti-sexual violence education more engaging and accessible to hundreds of nightlife staff across our City.

*Presently, It’s Your Move is only available through the 5 Minute Friend workshop offered by the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton and the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre. For more information about the training and opportunities to bring it to your PSI, please contact

1 For example, Potter, S., Flanagan, M., Seidman, M., Hodges, H., & Stapleton, J. (2019) Developing and Piloting Videogames to Increase College and University Students’ Awareness and Efficacy of the Bystander Role in Incidents of Sexual Violence. Games for Health Journal, 8(1), 24-34.


Suggested Citation: Gordon, Kenzie., Pearson, Sam. (2021, April). Game On: Video Game-Based Approaches to Bystander Intervention Training. Courage to Act.

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Kenzie Gordon

Kenzie Gordon (she/her) is a social worker and PhD student in Media Studies at the University of Alberta. Her research examines applications of video games for gender-based violence prevention and representations of gender-based violence in games. She has helped develop several innovative digital tools for violence prevention, including It’s Your Move and the domestic violence support app Flourish.

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Sam Pearson

Sam Pearson (she/her) is an activist and creative settled in ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ (Amiskwacîwâskahikan), also known as Edmonton. She is currently the Director of the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre where she provides vision, guidance, and mentorship to a tremendously talented group of volunteers and staff, all of which passionately believe in the transformative power of peer-education, community-driven awareness initiatives, and person-centred support. In particular, Sam is working with her community to divest from policing and reinvest in each other as a way of making justice, accountability, and healing available to everyone.

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