There’s an altercation underway in one corner, while over in the bathrooms an intoxicated youth hovers face-first over a toilet.
It’s a reality that faces Australian high school students each weekend, but for tonight’s young attendees, the risks are thankfully a whole lot less hazardous.
As the first of Queensland’s Catholic schools to experience the ‘Blurred Minds’ virtual reality trial, Year 10s have been whisked into hazardous ‘party’ situations for a very real lesson on the dangers of alcohol – the ‘socially accepted’ drug.
“What it’s really looking at doing is using new technologies and gamification … to teach children about alcohol strategies to get them abstaining from alcohol or reducing their alcohol drinking at that vulnerable age,” Matt Rattray, PE teacher and Year 12 coordinator, says.
Launched by Griffith University, the first of its kind research project allows children to make choices, take risks and then experience their consequences, all within a safe classroom environment.
“The students are led into situations (like) a house party,” Rattray explains.
“As they work their way through that virtual world, and see around the environment that they are in, they can sort of make decisions on questions that arise, so whether they would like to take a drink…
“It ends up being a ‘pick your own path’ sort of destiny and obviously they experience how quickly things can turn,” he adds.
Whether they be offered another beverage from a peer, prompted to enter into a fight, or asked if they’d like a lift home with an over-the-limit friend, students are taught to realise their own vulnerability in alcohol-infused situations.
It’s an understanding that cannot be taught by textbooks alone, Rattray says.
“Students get that real perspective of how impaired some of their senses and skills would be … especially knowing P-platers, and those at that sort of age, having a high level of confidence in many things and maybe overestimating what their ability is.”
The educator notes that so far the trial has really struck a chord with the virtual party go-oers, mostly because it cuts through any social “gloss” to show how situations can escalate and a seemingly innocent tipple can have long-lasting impact.
“Alcohol in Australian society is certainly something that is seen as the norm and is seen as the gateway to adulthood … but we probably gloss over (the fact) that alcohol is a gateway drug to those harder drugs,” Rattray reflects.
“It’s maybe flipping it a little bit and seeing it may not be the innocent social drug as we see it, and that there are probably further consequences…”