DatingForward follows a first-generation New American college student named Diarra as she navigates life on campus, balancing academic responsibilities, sexual health, alcohol & drug use, and more. The project is aimed at youth ages 18-25 years old and consists of several videos that users can interact with depending on the decisions they make.

Medrine Nyambura, an Ohio University MFA graduate who studied documentary filmmaking, new media storytelling, and podcasting, wrote the script for DatingForward. She said one scene has 39 mini storylines with overlapping themes that cover all possible decisions a player could make in the circumstances.

“Instead of the usual, singular, cohesive storyline, we created mini storylines to give the player more options to make choices while also containing the length of the story and the number of decisions to make,” Nyambura said. “The ability to have tidbits of quick takeaways about a very hush-hush topic is the perfect dose of edutainment for our target group. There has been great feedback from the participants in the testing phase and the best part of the experience for them is the interactivity of the game. This project is tapping into the future of storytelling that calls for interactivity for increased audience participation.”

The project’s executive producer and New American Health Resource founder, Dr. Caroline Kingori, had the idea for DatingForward when a participant in one of her studies suggested hosting sexual health and HIV/AIDS information on various media platforms so that they and other youths would have easier access. 

Initially, she imagined developing a virtual reality video game aimed to increase HIV prevention and treatment knowledge among immigrant and refugee youth. Over time, the project became an interactive choose-your-own-adventure story (an “interactive intervention”) instead.

“Interactive technology attempts to engage the audience using active decision-making which can be utilized to change behavior through reflection and judgment assessment,” Kingori said. “Interactive stories are presented in the form of video games, virtual reality, and immersive film/video and have shown to be effective in changing behavior.”

This project was a collaborative effort with OHIO’s GRID Lab and Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services (ETSS), a well-renown organization in Columbus serving new Americans and providing support to immigrant and refugee youth. The project was funded by the Columbus Foundation, whose mission is to “assist donors and others in strengthening and improving our community for the benefit of all its residents.”