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After bullying, High School Story tackles body image and eating disorders

High School Story, a mobile role-playing game by Pixelberry Studios, will tackle body image issues and eating disorders in its latest update, the studio announced today.

Earlier this year, the developer partnered with non-profit charity Cybersmile to develop a storyline about cyber bullying. The aim of the update — aside from being an engaging experience — was to raise awareness of cyber bullying and to make players, most of whom are high school students, feel less alone.

Speaking to Polygon, Pixelberry Studios CEO Oliver Miao said after the update launched, the development team was inundated with messages from players about issues they wanted to see explored in High School Story. Body image was at the top of the list.

"We realized that body image actually affects a lot of people," Miao said. "One of the stats we saw was by age 17, four out of five females don't feel comfortable with their body, and for males it's one out of five. So we thought this would be a great subject to address."

Given the sensitive nature of the subject, the studio partnered with the National Eating Disorder Association to make sure the game's content was appropriate and did more good than harm.

"They told us to take out specifics regarding how much or how little food one of the characters was eating," Miao said. "They said often times when you talk about specific numbers, people who are already suffering from an eating disorder or are prone to developing that problem might look at it as a challenge.

"That's one of the reasons we wanted to work with a non-profit, to make sure we're doing storylines in a responsible way, to do them in a way that would help people the most without having a negative impact."

The update will center around a character named Mia, who has previously had an eating disorder. The game will focus on two main triggers: the first being an offhand comment from one of her friends who doesn't realize what he said could be misinterpreted, and the other is about Photoshopping and its use in distorting body image.

Miao told Polygon the development team focused on presenting the issues in a realistic way, and part of this lies in the subtleties of the interactions between the characters. Miao hopes that by having a believable storyline and a realistic take on a common and complex problems, players will feel comfortable to talk about such issues openly with others.

"The takeaway is to encourage players to be willing to talk about any issues or problems they have with body image or eating disorders, so if their friends have a problem of they themselves have a problem, they're willing to share them and talk about them," Miao said. "We're hoping to make players feel comfortable with themselves and to know that who they are is already great."