Can a mobile game help change the world?

Can a game on a mobile phone help solve some of our most pressing social problems? The team behind the development of MoRaba believes it can. Recently launched, MoRaba is a mobile game that aims to educate South Africa’s township youth on gender-based violence. Multiple choice questions like “A girl will claim she has been raped because…” are designed to help youths navigate the tricky situations they face every day, in a relevant and entertaining way.

MoRaba was commissioned by the Southern African Regional Office of UN Women as part of the UNiTE campaign to End Violence Against Women and Girls. The Afroes Foundation, which specializes in educational digital tools for African youth, was responsible for developing the mobile game aimed at boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 18.

MoRaba is based on the traditional African game of morabaraba, but adds in a quiz element. Players can’t proceed until they correctly answer questions about gender-based violence. The idea is that every time they play, they will see similar questions in order to reinforce the learning through repeated exposure. After playing the game, users will have a better understanding of what gender-based violence (or GBV) is and the importance of reporting it to the police, as well as the tools to combat prejudice and negative attitudes.

While attending the event, I tweeted that according to one of the speakers, some youths did not understand what constituted rape. Guys think that when they date a girl, they have a right to have sex with her, while girls don’t always understand when they’ve been raped. Some of my followers were horrified, but it’s easy to forget that while something might be obvious to us, it’s not to many youths who have grown up in a different social context. “If we don’t do something now, we will raise a generation of rapists,” said one of the speakers, Jimmy Mthombeni, who facilitates youth groups in his community.

How do you prevent that from becoming a reality? You take the message to kids through the one device they’ll pay attention to. According to Afroes, the youth spend 6-8 hours a day on their phones, while 42% of them play mobile games. That’s a big opportunity to grab their attention and get your message through. There is currently no version of morabaraba on mobile phones and MoRaba is available to download for free, so Afroes expects it to be popular.

Using the mobile phone as a driver of culture shift makes a lot of sense. Rather than drumming the messages into a bored and distracted audience, mobile games introduce them as an integral part of an entertaining and engaging experience. And because games have an addictive quality — “Play me! Play me!” as Mthombeni described their siren call — users are exposed repeatedly to the messages. They’re learning without necessarily being conscious that they’re learning.

Gamification for social good is a growing trend

Since 2004, non-profit organization Games for Change has supported the development of games to communicate a variety of messages, from how to cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, to upcycling, to financial planning. Some schools are already using games in the classroom. Because they present concepts in a dynamic environment that provides the user with context, they’re more effective than more static ways of presenting information, such as in books.

Compared to some of the games out there, MoRaba is basic. But it works on the type of handsets that predominate in Africa, and it gets the message across. As Afroes says, mobile games are the “most entertaining and popular way with which to engage the youth of Africa around various social issues. Mobile technology is by far the most accessible technology to African youth.”

“It’s possible to change the world,” said Afroes founder and CEO Anne Githuku Shongwe at the end of the evening. Games are only part of the solution — it’s still critically important to address the root causes of social problems like GBV rather than relying on educational messages alone. But if we’re going start to shift attitudes and change behaviour in Africa, it will almost certainly be via the mobile phone.



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