How Mobile Games Can Help Improve Sanitation

How Mobile Games Can Help Improve Sanitation

More than 2.5 billion people, many of them in Africa and South Asia, face grave sanitation challenges. In many of these countries, people are more likely to own a cell phone than a toilet.  Therefore  there is an obvious opportunity to use mobile technology to promote the use of sanitation and good hygiene in order to make a substantial impact. Mobile phones in Kenya transfer money; Bangladeshis listen to English language classes on their phones; and in Ghana, women entrepreneurs use mobiles to market their wares. 

The growing Games for Change industry applies principles of traditional social games to address specific challenges . For example, in the UK,  Channel 4 commissioned the game developer Playniac to build an online game to improve financial literacy among the 50% of young Britons who are heavily in debt. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, young developers have built iPhone, Android, and Javascript games based on local storylines. Pledge 51, a Nigerian developer group, recently released Danfo, a game where the user plays as a bus driver coping with dense Nigerian traffic.

Hattery Labs has begun to explore how games might improve sanitation practices. The typical game-players in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are young urban males who own smartphones, but many of the communities that face the greatest sanitation challenges have less advanced technology. However, Javascript games built for Nokia S40 phones (among the most popular handsets in the developing world) provide an opportunity to send a compelling message on good behavior practices in sanitation and hygiene.  A full report on how games can promote good sanitation and behavior practice is HERE.

Here are a few game ideas that might prove effective:

Soap Wars makes hand-washing an entertaining challenge where players use the soap dispenser as a weapon against dangerous germs.

Sanitation Heroes engages players in the process of sanitation maintenance from capturing, transporting, and disposing of feces to reusing it as fertilizer. It features different scenarios in a memory game that prompts the player to match the solution to each different stage of capturing and treating waste.

Toilet Hunt introduces obstacles along the course of finding a safe place to go to the bathroom. As the player searches for sanitary latrines on a basic map, they must use the clues to decide whether the latrine is safe.

There are outstanding questions that the current research hasn’t resolved:

How does the game appeal to illiterate players, who need rich visual descriptions and narratives to guide the gameplay? The need for rich imagery does not necessarily match the small, low-resolution screens of Nokia S40 phones.

How does the game appeal to women, who are critical participants in sanitation but don’t represent the largest percentage of mobile game players? One initial idea is to frame sanitation storylines as mobile ‘comic books’, allowing users to scroll through an interesting narrative with subtle sanitation and hygiene messages.

How can the lessons from the game translate to rural areas, where there are fewer who can access it and more who face the challenges that it seeks to mitigate? Urban users might take their phone with them to their home village and share it with their friends and family, who will begin playing the game and continue to play out the game’s storyline in real life.

Finally, how can the game measure its impact on sanitation behavior? User adoption and engagement in this context is a false metric to evaluate impact since users might play the game but have their behavior unchanged. Any solution to measure impact should combine a mobile game with other digital and non-digital applications that help users track their sanitation use alongside their game success. Local developers can work in partnership with games for change experts, community organizations, and telecommunications companies to test these approaches.

This report explores the potential of using mobile games to engage citizens in addressing persistent community challenges but we want to hear from you.  Is this an effective way to engage target populations?  Are there other ideas for how games can impact behavior change?  Would you play these games?

Source: Impatient Optimists, June 26, 2012

One response to “How Mobile Games Can Help Improve Sanitation

  1. Pingback: Can mobile phones and game mechanics help improve sanitation? | Connected Health

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