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.
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?