In the global south, a new mobile game based on “Choose Your Own Adventure” is testing people's knowledge of Covid-19 to prevent infection
You meet a friend on the street. He extends his hand. Should you shake it or avoid contact?
Not too long ago, it would have been a breeze. With Covid-19 infecting nearly 5 million people and killing more than 300,000 people, this is a decision that could have fatal consequences today.
To smooth the curve in the global south, a new game poses such questions. The format is based on the popular "choose-your-own-adventure" stories of the 1980s and can be played on a simple mobile phone without internet access.
The game called "Wanji" is played in local dialects in Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Ghana, Madagascar and Nepal, where many people survive hand to mouth and health systems are already fragile, but mobile phones are ubiquitous. To begin with, players call a toll-free number that provides information about IVR (Interactive Voice Response) technology.
You are presented with a life-or-death scenario. "You shop and your eyes start to itch. Should you rub it or refuse to touch it? Press 1 to rub it with your finger. Press 3 to resist. "
The wrong choice – and pressing the wrong key on the phone – not only ends the game, it also has catastrophic (virtual) consequences for the player and his family.
The game was developed by the non-profit Peripheral Vision International (PVI) and the mobile operator Viamo. The two organizations had previously developed similar games that were played in rural and remote parts of Africa and Asia with topics such as human trafficking, agriculture, domestic violence and sex education. They were well received with 771,000 unique callers in the first nine months of 2019 and the platform was used by the British Council, UNFPA and BBC Media Action.
But when Covid-19 hit, the two organizations turned quickly.
"It was clear that Wanji could be used to reach really remote populations, people who might not be reached in any other way," said Paul Falzone, PVI Executive Director.
"And the fact that you can reach them while maintaining social distance has been a real game changer."
The Covid 19 game has already reached hundreds of thousands of people.
Falzone first came up with the idea of basing the games on the “Choose Your Own Adventure” story after discovering a book in a second-hand bookshop in New York years ago.
"The first Covid game focused on very basic behaviors – try to get people to do things like hand washing when they get home before they touch their family, avoid touching their faces, things like that "said Falzone. "We only need people who remember the basics first."
With more money, it is hoped that PVI will soon launch the games in Rwanda, Niger and Mali. Partners in Cambodia, Indonesia and other countries are now coming on board to launch similar projects tailored to the needs of the local population.
According to the WHO, there were a total of 68,347 cases of Covid-19 with 1,910 deaths in the Africa region on May 21.
Images courtesy of Peripheral Vision International