by: Gwyneth Andrae Jacob
Mobile gaming app Battle in the Blood (#BitB) developers and advocates visited the University of the Philippines Los Baños last April 2-4, 2019 to present a different take on solving the epidemic that threatens the country: HIV-AIDS. The group also conducted a series of talks in partnership with different student organizations in the university to further discuss the topic.
#BitB popularizes HIV-AIDS by simulating the user as a customizable warrior, using genderfluid elements, battling HIV monsters. The player solves multiple levels of puzzles while receiving related information such as health care, treatment, and testing.
The game has a total of eight short stories that the player can read which reflect real life experiences of people living with HIV (PLHIVs) encountered by the researchers across the country. It focuses on a variety of characters such as heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, transgenders, as well as OFWs.
According to Dr. Emmanuel S. Baja, the application developer, the goal of the game is to disseminate relevant knowledge while removing the stigma surrounding it.
“It’s just like having diabetes na if you take your meds regularly, okay lang. You’ll have a normal life. Tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang istorya,” the DOST Balik Scientist Awardee said of the real-life experiences he encountered.
During the three-day visit in UPLB, Volunteers Youth Leader for Health Los Baños Chapter (VYLH-LB), composed of student organizations such as the UPLB Genetics Society, UPLB Microbiological Society, Philippine Association of Nutrition Alpha Omega Chapter, and UP Community Broadcasters’ Society partnered with #BitB and hosted discussion-forums to fellow students in testing the game and participating in the follow-up activities.
The topics were the molecular background, nutritional implications, and societal issues that surround HIV, and participants also got to play interactive games with the team. There was also a free HIV testing during their visit.
Dr. Baja acknowledged the role of the youth in raising awareness to the public and battling the stigma that persists in the society. He said that students organizing and conducting the lectures help laymanize the discussion for better understanding.
When asked about the project’s reach, Dr. Baja said that they have been to UP Diliman and Novaliches. He hopes to reach more schools in promoting #BitB, particularly science high schools.
Their team also plans to visit other regions in the country, especially those which show high HIV incidents and areas with low HIV awareness. Dr. Baja also said that for the second phase of the project, other narratives can be included in the game. This 2019 is the last year for their promotion and research dissemination.
#BitB is a three-year project under the HIV Gaming, Engaging, and Testing (HIV GET) Project by UP Manila in collaboration with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), UK Medicine Government in the Philippines under the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development’s (DOST-PCHRD) Newton-Agham Programme, and the UK Government’s Medical Research Council.
It trended number one in Google Play Store Philippines under the educational category, and is also recently nominated in the 2nd Ripple Awards for Project of the Year. The award giving body recognizes groups, individuals, and projects advocating for HIV-AIDS.
With the HIV-AIDS situation in the Philippines, United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) reported last 2017 that there is an estimated 68,000 PLHIVs in the country. The number continues to grow but the battle continues.