KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The scene on the video screen--teen-agers at an impromptu party--is as realistic as the eventual offerings of alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, but the party-goers' decisions are not their own.
In the teen-age party depicted in a video called the Target Interactive Project, the viewer makes the decisions for the characters. The party is populated by several recognizable types, including a party animal/jock, a smart-mouthed little brother and a designer-conscious girl who just gave "daddy's charge cards a workout."
The TIP video will be offered to U.S. school districts this fall by the National Federation of State High School Assns., which is using TIP in its campaign against alcohol and drug abuse among youth. The Kansas City-based federation sets guidelines for U.S. high school sports, speech, drama and music.
In the video, the viewer follows seven selectable characters through a party made possible when Cathy's parents leave for the evening. The actions taken by each character depend on the choices made by the viewer. One character has 11 different ways to end or leave the party, again, depending on the viewer's choices. Four more characters have major roles, but their lines are not selectable.
There are five substances involved: alcohol, tobacco, smokeless tobacco, marijuana and cocaine.
Upon any offering of one of the five substances, the scene freezes and choices flash on the screen in separate boxes (i.e, one showing a picture of an opened can; the other showing a hand tossing the can back). The characters' thoughts sometimes are shown in balloon-fashion, most generally before a decision is about to be made.
"One of the things we wanted to do was to include as much high-level realism as possible so kids could vicariously experience the situations and learn something about decision skills," said Paul E. Palmer, director of TIP.
Palmer said TIP has three main objectives: to help youths identify and manage high-risk situations using coping and resisting skills, to identify consequences of alcohol and drug use and to be able to share concerns with family and friends.
"What's unique here is that we're not preaching to anyone," Palmer said. "It's not a 'Thou shalt not drink and use drugs' program. All of us would prefer that teen-agers not do that. But realistically, that's not going to happen. Here, the kids actually make their own decisions based on their reactions to the scenarios that develop."
Federation officials took the new video program to 10 pilot locations last spring to see what youths thought of it.
"Kids felt it was overall extremely realistic," Palmer said. "They liked being able to make decisions rather than being lectured to."
Quality of Video
The youths also noted the high-tech quality of the video--an advantage when attempting to reach a group accustomed to '80s technology. There are no fade-outs or black screens in TIP, which has a smooth quality that looks and sounds like a made-for-television drama.
The script for the TIP video was penned by writers from the "Family Ties" television series, with assistance from the Hazeldon-Cork Foundation, a drug rehabilitation and training center in Minneapolis.
"All of the research says that to just say no is great," Palmer says. "But there are many times if you have a clever or unique way of doing that, you are better able to deal with the peer pressure that's involved."
At one point in the TIP video, a female character offers her boyfriend a cigarette, noting that she thinks it is sexy to smoke. The character responds with a reference to his uncle, a smoker who died of lung cancer.
"It didn't look too sexy to me," he says of his uncle's illness.
The association, in a brochure, says "TIP does not moralize. Instead, TIP deals with the full complexity of realistic teen-age situations in a realistic manner . . . and puts the viewer in full control."
One scene involves whether the quarterback, Burt, should have a beer or not. Rejecting the offer, he tosses it back to his friends and says, "Thanks but no thanks. We have a big game tomorrow." His refusal prompts peer pressure, with his friends telling him "Oh come on Burt, it's only one beer. This is a party." But he sticks to his decision, saying, "Is this the last party we're ever going to have?"
If the viewer makes the "yes" choice, the friends toss a beer to Burt. The hostess's little brother then calls Burt's attention to the big game tomorrow. "So what. We're going to kill them," responds Burt, giving a signal to his friends for another beer. His peers, laughing and cheering him on, toss another to him.
The consequence of that decision is seen much later, when the video shows a dejected Burt in the locker room. His team lost, and he did not perform well. Burt feels that he let the team down.
School districts can purchase both the equipment and software for TIP for $11,950. So far, the association has received $50,000 for four TIP units for use in the Washington area.
The TIPS program was developed by IBM Advanced Educational Systems in Atlanta and Magnus Communications Design, a Vancouver, Canada, computer firm.