Home News United Way, Futurus, NFL Virtual Reality Project Encourages Kids to ‘Call the Play’ On Ending Bullying

United Way, Futurus, NFL Virtual Reality Project Encourages Kids to ‘Call the Play’ On Ending Bullying

by Muriel Vega

Building upon a 45-year partnership with the NFL, non-profit United Way of Greater Atlanta (UWGA) wanted to find a way to engage and educate children during the Super Bowl LIII festivities. The community-driven charity tapped Atlanta-based Futurus and Georgia State University to create an immersive virtual reality experience, “Call the Play”, on display in the Super Bowl Experience at the Georgia World Congress Center.

“People recognize Atlanta as a major epicenter for film, music, and emerging technologies. What better way to showcase some Atlanta companies, Georgia State’s innovative programs, and United Way than during the Super Bowl,” UWGA CEO Milton Little tells Hypepotamus.

Based on United Way’s “Character Playbook” curriculum, the VR game immerses kids in situations where difficult choices arise, like helping a friend being bullied.

“United Way became a key partner with the NFL to create a ‘Character Playbook,’ launched after the NFL had issues with a few players involved in domestic violence and a host of other challenging issues,” says Little. “The NFL wanted to help young people understand how to navigate very difficult circumstances, like bullying and tensions that might turn into a fight.”

At this time, 1 in 3 children experience bullying at school.

After working with public schools to teach the curriculum, the NFL decided two years ago to incorporate it into the fan experience offered during the Super Bowl. This will be the first time the organizations have incorporated virtual reality immersion into the teaching of the Playbook.

They partnered with GSU’s Creative Media Industries Institute and Futurus to develop and build the idea out.

“We built on the idea of creating a virtual reality experience to help provide exposure to the Playbook, but also to make the experience a little bit more real for the kids,” says Little.

Once the child puts on the HTC Vive Pro headset, they’re transported to the middle of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, this year’s game venue. Former NFL player Jerry Rice welcomes them. The scene then changes into a bullying scenario in a familiar setting — a neighborhood.

At the end of the scene, the child must make a choice on how to deal with this scenario, and NFL linebackers Lorenzo Alexander and Demario Davis explain the consequences of the choice.

“To be able to have somebody like Jerry Rice and current NFL players help expose the kids to these challenges, and around the Super Bowl, adds to the excitement. But it also helps them see that grown men face some of the same challenges they do and here are the choices that they found available to them and the wisdom behind those choices,” says Little.

Annie Eaton, CEO of immersive technology agency Futurus, started working with UWGA last fall to create the 3D environment. “One of the main goals from the beginning was to use virtual reality as an empathy machine to create an experience that has ties to football, Atlanta, and the Character Playbook,” Eaton tells Hypepotamus.

“It’s nice [for the children] to have a safe space to be able to try out these different ways to react to the situations without having the fear of getting hurt. I think it’s going to help these children build confidence in their decision-making skills,” she says.

She shares that this is one of the great benefits of immersive mixed reality technology.

“Since it feels real when you experience it, you’re actually creating memories versus reading from a textbook,” she says.

The UWGA booth at the NFL’s Super Bowl Experience Driven by Hyundai has two full virtual reality setups. While fans wait to try out the experience, they can participate in other interactive elements around the booth.

“I’m really happy that every part of the project was done locally. I’ve been seeing a lot of companies in Atlanta choosing local and allowing those of us who may be small businesses to prove ourselves on a national stage,” says Eaton.

Little mentions that this partnership gives them runway not only to showcase the Playbook, but to use technologies that might help bring together the challenges of the community and those who want to make a difference. He hopes to continue using the VR project with local agencies and schools.

‘Call the Play’ will be on display at the NFL’s Super Bowl Experience Driven by Hyundai in the Georgia World Congress Center until February 3. 

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