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Fair Play: A Virtual Game for STEMM Faculty to Break the Bias Habit

PI: Molly Carnes

Study Description

Can a video game help faculty and graduate students to break the bias habit? This project, funded by an NIH Pathfinder grant, developed an interactive, experiential, case-based computer game, called Fair Play, that teaches players to recognize and self-correct implicit stereotype-based biases. This approach is based on the proven impact of game-based learning on attitudes, behaviors, and social interactions in several fields including medical education and counseling. This approach is also informed by research showing that organizational change depends on attitudinal and behavioral changes in members of the organization – in this case STEMM faculty and graduate students. The potential for groundbreaking impact is supported by reports stating that the aggregate impact of implicit biases may constitute the greatest impediment to the full participation and advancement in STEMM of ethnic and racial minorities, people with disabilities, and women.

Fair Play’s gameplay and mechanics are inspired by point-and-click adventure games in which players explore the setting and embark on quests to advance the story. Players take on the perspective of Jamal Davis, a young African American student who has recently been accepted into graduate school and has plans to build a successful academic STEMM career for himself. Over the course of the game’s five chapters, Jamal meets peers and mentors who can propel him to (or hinder him from) achieving his ultimate goal of presenting his first research paper at an academic conference. As Jamal, players must conquer each chapter’s objectives such as finding an advisor and doing literature research for a paper while they witness how implicit biases may affect the undertaking and outcome of these tasks.

The game provides ample opportunity for players to experience implicit

biases as they navigate the world of academia through the perspective of Jamal, particularly in conversations with other characters and through encounters with objects the game environment. It is through social interactions with other characters, as a form of role-play, that Fair Play simulates real-life bias encounters. By actively assuming the role of Jamal and experiencing bias through his interactions, we hope that our players will gain increased levels of perspective-taking, empathy, and awareness of biases against underrepresented individuals.

Try Fair Play

To learn more or to try the game, please visit the Fair Play website.


Workshop that provide participants with opportunities to play the game and supplemental information about how to address and counteract bias in academic settings are available through UW-Madison's LEAD Center. For information about upcoming workshops click here. To learn about options for scheduling a workshop, click here.

For a list of presentations and posters related to implicit racial/ethnic bias, visit this page.