How does a video game help protect kids?

As a former middle school teacher and principal, Katie Gallagher is familiar with the challenges faced by teens and pre-teens. As education director at Candor Health Education in Hinsdale, she's helping students to prepare for those challenges.

The newest tool in Candor's efforts to protect kids from the dangers of drugs and alcohol comes in a form familiar to today's teenagers. "Pixelton Adventures" is a video game that presents students with common situations and potential responses, good and bad.

"We are hopeful that Pixelton will provide a fun way for students to think through how they will navigate situations and challenges that could lead to drug and alcohol use," Gallagher said in a press release announcing the game's release during National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week in March. Part of Candor's drug education portal at, the game is free and available to anyone, anywhere. In its first three weeks, more than 350 users have explored "Pixelton Adventures."

"Pixelton Adventures" has a look similar to the popular game Minecraft. Students begin by choosing an avatar to guide through a series of situations filled with challenges and decisions.

"They're trying to earn points in terms of wellness, preparedness and their reputation," Gallagher said. Students earn points during the game, but knowledge and decision-making skills are the real rewards.

The game currently available on the Candor website is "Finals Frenzy." It mimics the days leading up to finals week and the stress those preparations can cause. As students navigate "Finals Frenzy," they're faced with potentially real-life situations such as the availability of drugs that claim to help them focus or relax. Students also learn about the consequences that can come from decisions such as choosing to vape at school or accepting a fellow student's ADHD medication. They also learn the effects that substances can have on their developing brain and body.

"That's a huge piece of it," Gallagher said.

She said students today have access to a wide range of substances that can adversely affect their mental and physical health. Topping the list, she said, is alcohol.

"Legal does not mean safe," Gallagher said, referring to alcohol, marijuana and nicotine.

Vaping has become the most common form of nicotine consumption among teens, she said, and like alcohol, it can lead to lifelong problems.

"It can prime the brain for other substance use down the line," she said.

"Pixelton Adventures" is designed to get kids thinking about potentially dangerous situations before they happen, and to open a conversation between parents and their children. The game is also an introduction to the vast resources available through the Candor website. The drug education and sex education portals are full of free tools and information.

Like all resources in the portals, Gallagher said "Pixelton Adventures" will be updated frequently to offer new information and new experiences. In the future, it could potentially be used to address issues such as social media safety, online predators and sexting.

"That's definitely on the table," Gallagher said.

- by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean