A computer game for raising risk awareness in young children – an application developed at University of Skövde, Sweden


A research team at the University of Skövde has developed a innovative computer game that increases children’s safety online. The computer game, “Hidden in the zoo” (“Djurparksgömmet” in Swedish), is intended to raise online risk awareness in 8-10 year olds and to decrease the risk of becoming the object of sexual grooming.

“There are several aspects that make the game unique, such as the game construction and its purpose”, says project leader and cognitive science researcher Dr. Tarja Susi.

“The game ‘Hidden in the zoo’ combines a classic board game, a computer game, and augmented reality (AR) technology. The traditional game board is viewed through a tablet that transfers the basic picture in the board into an exciting 3D world”. The game’s theme is a zoo, where each player hides a treasure and gets in return a set of clues to the hiding place. The players need to mind the clues to the hiding place so that other players cannot find the treasure. But the game also contains messages, similar to online chats or text messages, where players can choose whether or not to reveal a clue, bearing in mind that revealing a clue may or may not be a good idea in the long run.

The researchers at the University of Skövde have unique access to real-world chat logs from online dialogues, in which children have been contacted for sexual purposes. The chat logs have been used as a foundation for creating events in the game but, importantly, the game itself has no frightening or inappropriate content. However, events in the game do create situations that can be discussed in a follow-up conversation, which can be led by a teacher, for instance.

The game “Hidden in the zoo” is now a fully playable game prototype that has been tested by children, with promising results. The game has also received positive evaluations from members of the police and other practitioners who have professional experience in dealing with the problem of grooming. The research team is now applying for further funding in order to develop the game into a finished product and to investigate how it can be used in school settings, with the aim of launching it next year.

The project has been carried out in collaboration with the Change Attitude Foundation which uses culture as a tool to prevent and counteract sexual abuse of children world-wide. The research has been funded by the Sten A Olsson Foundation.

The research environment at the University of Skövde provides excellent opportunities for this kind of an interdisciplinary research project. The project members include Dr. Tarja Susi, Dr. Niklas Torstensson, Associate Professor Per Backlund, Dr. Ulf Wilhelmsson, lecturer Marcus Toftedahl, and research engineer Mikael Lebram. 

Hidden in the Zoo