I’m Positive: The Game is a text-based adventure game that won the CDC sponsored US Games for Health jam in 2014. Developed by a team of four, with a further medical advisor team, you play as Tim, a young man who receives a life-changing phone call from his ex-girlfriend informing him of her newly diagnosed HIV positive status. The game is available for Windows, Mac OS and Linus. Mobile versions for Android and iPhone are due later in the year. It cannot be played online at present and must be downloaded.
The game aims to mimic the real-life dilemmas and choices faced by Americans who find themselves facing the possibility of an HIV positive diagnosis: can they afford to get tested? What if they do not have insurance? It also allows the opportunity to discuss the misconceptions about HIV address concerns about treatment.
The game’s outcome depends on the choices you make during the game: you can be obnoxious to the ex-girlfriend, and choose to ignore her advice to get tested, which results in you eventually collapsing, contracting pneumonia and dying a year later, or get a test which results in you being given the HIV positive diagnosis. It transpires during the clinic appointment and subsequent interactions with your family that today is your birthday and you have the choice of telling your family during the celebrations about your HIV diagnosis, or not.
Whilst the dialogue of the game can be somewhat awkward, particularly in the clinical part of the game, where it doesn’t reflect how most of us would structure a consultation where we break bad news, and crams a lot of information into a very short consultation, the interactions you have with your ex-girlfriend and family feel similar to that which could happen in reality. This likely reflects the games primary aim as a health education tool, rather than a form of artistic expression, which is unfortunate, as it’s not making full use of the medium.
In style, the game reflects early DOS games, likely playing to the nostalgia of the thirty-something generation, but whether this resonates with younger users remains to be seen as the CDC are not evaluating the success of the game until later this year. It’s possible that those not viewing the game with the tint of nostalgia will find the high contrast, occasionally lurid backgrounds and jarringly cheery electronic background music off-putting, which would be unfortunate. It’s possible to produce low-resolution graphic games which manage to express the artistic and educational aspects of the game successfully, such as Unmanned, a game produced to show the dehumanising monotony of drone warfare, without needing to co-opt retro clichés.
Ultimately, the game is an interesting way of communicating the emotional challenges faced by a positive diagnosis, and explores some of the difficult decisions which need to be made as a result. Whether it proves to be of value will ultimately depend on user feedback, but whilst this may not be perfect, it’s certainly opening up a new angle in health education.