The Emergent Media Center (EMC) at Champlain College in Vermont, the United States (US), in collaboration with Population Media Center has developed "BREAKAWAY", a free, narrative-driven online football (soccer) game endorsed by world-famous football star, Samuel Eto’o. Designed for boys age 8-15, the "BREAKAWAY" Game and toolkit tackles violence against women with three tools: a fun and interactive football game, a Facilitator’s Guide to enhance what was learned in the electronic game, and a facilitator’s edition of the game. The interactive Guide can be used by educators, coaches, and others who work with youth to reflect on their experiences while playing BREAKAWAY. The BREAKAWAY Facilitator’s Guide uses creative activities to support participants with diverse learning styles. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) provided guidance and support for the project.

Communication Strategies: 

"BREAKAWAY" draws on electronic games as vehicles for reaching boys and young men. By profoundly shifting beliefs, stereotypes, and attitudes on gender issues, games move from a curative to a preventive approach. Games encourage change from within by presenting opportunities for the player to think critically about actions and reasons. Video games often depict violent behaviour. However, this game project aims to END violence. It is geared towards changing behaviours of potential oppressors, not the oppressed. Delivering a message of respect and cooperation to boys, on their terms, using their media, at a critical life-stage, through a powerful interactive format can - in organisers' estimation - effectively change attitudes and behaviours towards women.

"BREAKAWAY" is inspired by a belief in the power of intercultural exchange to spark learning; to that end, team members travelled from Vermont to South Africa in August 2008 and 2009 to carry out focus groups, interviews, and site visits to impoverished Cape Town townships and to pretest the game in development.

Employing the global popularity of football (soccer), the game design links the winning benefits of respect on the playing field to respectful behaviour towards girls and women in the player's social sphere. The game features 3 major modes of play: narrative events, tactical football, and skill-building training mini-games. Game-play is based on football performance and on navigating community-based relationships. The player becomes a teen intent on becoming a champion football player. The game uses these methods: the UNFPA toolkit of culturally sensitive approaches to create change; the Sabido methodology of entertainment-education; and the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) "Fair Play" rules.

Instances of violence against women enter the narrative at key points in the electronic game. Scenarios escalate from verbally taunting the game’s female characters, to damaging their personal property, to mild physical violence (e.g., shoving, tripping), to a final climactic act. In each situation the player must choose his response to the event. His decision affects both the player's ability levels—as programmed into the game mechanics—and how the player is regarded by other game characters—as specified in the narrative design.

The BREAKAWAY Facilitator’s Guide enhances what players learn about violence against women and gender equity while playing the game. Youth reflect on their experiences during the game through various activities: suggested discussion questions for multiple maturity levels; group activities which range from creative skits to football activities; story summaries with images from the game; and activity sheets which range from word searches to creating poems, rap lyrics, and comic strips.

The BREAKAWAY Game & Toolkits are geared to an international audience and offered in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The first three episodes of this 13-episode game were launched in June 2010 during the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Cameroonian football star Samuel Eto'o recorded interviews for game trailers, developed public service announcements (PSAs) for the game, and appears as in-game character. Click here to access the web version of the game and to download the Facilitator's Guide and Facilitator's Edition of the game.

BREAKAWAY Summer Camps
A small international team of undergraduate students organised and conducted BREAKAWAY sessions at three youth summer camps in the city of Hebron in the West Bank in June 2012. According to the organisers, the BREAKAWAY game, matched with the Facilitator's Guide and culturally-appropriate activities developed by local facilitators, positively impacted over 300 children resulting in an environment and attitude of respect despite differences and societal norms.

In the summer of 2013, the team aims to:

  • Host additional summer camps to reach hundreds more youth, specifically in El Salvador.
  • Conduct a comprehensive assessment of the game and the facilitated camps.
  • Further refine and develop the BREAKAWAY camp model that can be tailored and applied in communities around the world.
  • Promote more of the change expressed in the words of this camp attendee: "I told my friends about how great this game is and I shared with them that violence against women is negative and how to make right decisions." - Haroun, age 12, summer camp participant, Hebron.

For more information about the summer camps, contact Ann DeMarle at

Development Issues: 

Health, Rights.

Key Points: 

A survey released in September 2008 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 97% of US youth aged 12-17 years play electronic games.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women cites a 2005 multi-country study: "In no country in the world are women safe from this type of violence. Out of ten counties surveyed in a 2005 study by the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 50% of women in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru and Tanzania reported having been subjected to physical or sexual violence by intimate partners, with figures reaching staggering 71% in rural Ethiopia". To address this problem, the UNFPA has stated that "Women cannot achieve gender equality and sexual and reproductive health without the cooperation and participation of men".

The Emergent Media Center at Champlain College supports the talent and creativity of over 150 students each academic year to create interactive media, games, and mobile apps for positive change on a wide range of topics including social causes, health and medicine, business, communication, education and training. The EMC offers incubator support for student endeavours and faculty-led emergent media projects, and coordinates industry partnerships and internships. The Center works with non-profit organisations, private companies, foundations, and entrepreneurs to apply innovative solutions to problems. For example, the EMC, in collaboration with the University of Vermont (UVM) College of Medicine, developed a game for children with cystic fibrosis under a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant. The electronic game makes use of a breath biofeedback device developed by UVM engineers with help from a senior scientist at IBM. The goal is to motivate young cystic fibrosis patients to do a potentially boring activity - breathing exercises (including forceful exhalations) that help clear airways - by engaging them in what is meant to be an entertaining activity.

PMC works worldwide using entertainment-education for social change. PMC's programmes encourage positive behaviour change among the audience.

Breakaway: A Global Electronic Game
Partner Text: 



Email from William N. Ryerson to The Communication Initiative on September 29 2008; emails from Julie Bond to The Communication Initiative on March 16 2010, March 24 2010, and April 15 2010; "Champlain College Launches Emergent Media Center Dedicated to Electronic Game Development", Computer Graphics World, January 3 2007; "The Serious Side of Video Games", by Tim Johnson, Burlington Free Press, October 21 2008; EMC website, April 15 2010; and "Online Football Game Launches June 22 to Global Audience" - press release sent from Katie Elmore to The Communication Initiative on June 21 2010; email from Wendi Stein (PMC) and Sarah Jerger (EMC) to The Communication Initiative on January 4 2013; and email from Wendi Stein to The Communication Initiative on May 14 2013.