Hot or Not, a Web site where people submit photographs of
themselves so that strangers can rate how attractive they are on
a scale of 1 to 10, has spawned many imitators (plus a fair
number of critics who view it as a sign of the end of
civilization as we know it).
One new spinoff, Pos or Not, has a serious purpose (tasteful or
not). The site, www.posornot.com, introduced in late April, is an
H.I.V. education effort disguised as a game. It shows photographs
and brief biographies of men and women ages 21 to 30, and asks
visitors to decide whether each is H.I.V. positive or negative.
The message is that you can't judge someone's virus status by
looks, occupation or taste in music.
The site is sponsored by MTV's college network and the Kaiser
Family Foundation, a nonprofit group that focuses on health
policy. "We feel it's another kind of activist tool to get out
the word about H.I.V. protection," said Stephen K. Friedman, the
general manager of mtvU, the college and university offshoot of
Viacom's MTV network.
The first trial by mtvU of what Mr. Friedman calls "games for
change" was Darfur Is Dying, an online simulation of a refugee
camp that has logged more than 1.5 million plays since 2006.
Other companies have sponsored games about the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the immigration debate and the
world's water resources.
The network wants the word about its H.I.V. site and its message
to be spread like a popular YouTube video. It enlisted
celebrities like Wyclef Jean, a musician, and Rosario Dawson, an
actress, to make promotions for the game, which are playing
across MTV's networks.
The game - if it can really be called that - was played about 5.1
million times by 400,000 people in its first three weeks,
according to mtvU. Entertainment Weekly's Web site suggested it
might be the "most depressing use" of an Internet trend ever, but
suggested that any H.I.V. outreach effort could be beneficial.
Mr. Friedman said that in a media-saturated climate, maybe young
people have to be shocked into paying attention. "Looking at the
statistics that one in four people who are H.I.V. positive in the
U.S. don't know it, it's pretty staggering," he said. "We hope
that something like this will get under their skin."
"If it makes some people uncomfortable," he added, "that's not
necessarily a bad thing."