How a board game is helping professionals support domestic violence victims

Academics at the University of Sheffield have created a new board game to break down the complexities of the issue and explore ways to improve care

A domestic abuse-themed board game might set alarm bells ringing in your mind – but a University of Sheffield academic has created just that to engage students with the sensitive subject.

The Domestic Abuse Training Game will be showed off at the the RCN International Nursing Research Conference this week after launching the product last month.

Dr Parveen Ali is an experienced nurse and senior lecturer at the university who has worked in the field of gender-based violence and domestic violence for more than 15 years and teamed up with educational game maker Focus Games to create the training aid.

It allows between two and 12 players to chat and explore the symptoms of the subject and how to tackle different scenarios with the end goal of reaching the “Safety Zone” in the centre of the board.

Dr Ali was insistent that the board game does not trivialise domestic abuse – one of the key drivers behind homelessness in the UK – but gives professionals the tools to understand what victims may be going through.

“Because I have been working in this area for so long, I’m aware that it is quite a sensitive topic, it can take quite some time to explain it to students to help them understand what it all means. It is also difficult to keep them engaged for a long time,” she told The Big Issue.

“So I wanted to come up with something unique, which is different. It’s obviously quite a sensitive subject so people shy away from using something like a game. Thinking about how you can use games to deal with a subject like this can lead to fears that you are trivialising the subject but obviously we are not. Games can be a fantastic tool for learning.”

Dr Ali’s research into domestic abuse at the University of Sheffield Interpersonal Violence Research Group and her work with frontline healthcare professionals and victims of DVA were the driving force behind the development of the game.

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But using a game as a training tool at the university and beyond with clinical staff helps to engage students over a longer period and provokes discussion for a generation whose first thought is ‘turn to Google’.

Dr Ali said: “We know that healthcare professionals can feel unprepared and lack confidence to ask questions when it comes to approaching topics like DVA with patients. I also think the generation that we are working with now find it difficult to talk now.

“If you ask them for a definition they will go straight to Google rather than talking to each other. So anything that engages them into something hands on I think is really useful.”

If the launch of the Domestic Abuse Training Game proves a success, Dr Ali plans to develop the game further to release new versions aimed at educating healthcare professionals about child and elder abuse.

DVA board game University of Sheffield
DVA-board-game-U-of-Sheff
The game will enable professionals to experience scenarios that inform how they will deal with victims going forward

And Umme Rubab, a domestic violence survivor from Rotherham who has been supported by local domestic violence charity Apna Haq, said: “Professionals need to understand that domestic violence is wider than just apparent physical abuse that they may see.

“Mental and verbal abuse cannot be seen but needs to be identified, and if professionals do not have a holistic understanding of the issue, they may miss the signs and never identify that DVA is even taking place.

“The game will lead to professionals feeling more confident in identification and thus early help can be offered, reducing the impact on the survivor.”

Image: Focus Games/University of Sheffield