Half the Sky mobile games update October 2011

Here’s part two of our Half the Sky project update. (You can read part one here)

Back in May, we covered our discovery trip to India with Charles Hunter of Mudlark, Alan Gershenfeld of E-Line Media and the local team of ZMQ. This was the first step in creating a series of mobile games for low-end devices in India and East Africa. These four games cover topics such as maternal health, deworming, family values, and forced prostitution. With the design of Mudlark, the distribution power of ZMQ, and the cooperation of on the ground organizations like CEDPA, Deworm the World, Breakthrough, and Apne Aap, these mobiles games are now coming to life. These games are made possible through funding from USAID.

One of the most important things our team found out in India is that even though most family members do not own their own personal mobile phone, many of them designate time in their day to use the “family cellphone”. Once on the phone, young adults often devote 30 minutes to an hour playing mobile games! We also learned that JAVA based mobile phones are the most common platform for these audiences, covering over 70% of the local market.  For those not familiar, JAVA phones are simpler handsets compared to their “smart phone” counterparts. While many in the West would consider their smaller screens and limited color range restrictive, these phones are often the only access people have to the Internet and mobile communications in many parts of the world.

With this foundation in mind, we’re finally able to give you a sneak peek at these upcoming games, including some initial art and design.


Giving birth to a healthy and happy baby is often difficult without proper education on pregnancy practices and other limitations such as distance for adequate medical services. 9 Minutes intends to make a dent in this harsh reality (136,000 maternal deaths every year) by delivering a gaming experience aimed at women and girls with low literacy rates. This game will offer a simple and engaging way to learn about how to have a safe birth.

Broken down into nine separate, one minute levels (each representing a month of pregnancy), 9 Minutes rewards players for making proper choices while giving them feedback on the quality of all their in-game decisions. The core gameplay is focused on fast, twitch-based, icon recognition with the goal that over time, players will figure out the do’s and don’ts of pregnancy. An icon representing “periodic clinic visits” would provide positive feedback from the in-game mother-to-be, while an icon representing “a glass of beer” might please the mother for a short period, but the fetus inside her will give a disapproving thumbs down. Once their game is over and the player receives feedback and recommendations, they can try for a better run in additional play throughs.

The game designers worked closely with CEDPA to “translate” their Pregnancy Chart into a fast-paced, interactive and fun experience.



The Half the Sky co-authors, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn identify intestinal worms as both a key health and educational problem that particularly affects menstruating girls. Since worms affect both focus and energy levels, a study in Kenya showed that deworming could decrease school absenteeism by a 25% (!). Even more shocking is how easy the deworming process is – all you need to do is take a pill, once or twice a year, which is usually provided at school.

Worm Attack! is an action packed “tower defense” style game that serves as a grassroots effort to raise awareness about the dangers of intestinal worms while highlighting this simple de-worming solution. Designed for children and their siblings aged 7 and up, Worm Attack! puts players in charge of multiple, infected children. Throughout the game, players will defend the health of in-game characters with a stock of pills while learning how and why worms enter the body in the first place. These pills literally form the defenses of the intestinal track and attack the invading worms.

The game and its levels are being designed based on real-world information from “Deworm the World“, and its distribution is aligned with their “Deworm Days” across India and Kenya.

The cast of the popular Hindi show, “Sajan Re Jhoot Mat Bolo”

(currently in development)

Family Values is what we dubbed an “interactive mobile soap opera”. Based on a simple interactive story mechanics, this game will focus on the various decisions and relationships that form a typical family unit. Created primarily for teen girls in the family, but also playable by male siblings and parents, Family Values and its story-like gameplay will highlight girls’ value in the family, while tackling such issues like early marriage, gender-based violence, and family planning. The goal is not to provide players with a “right and wrong” solution but to rather allow them to explore the often difficult choices young girls and families have to make.

The game is developed with content expertise from multiple sources, including Breakthrough in India.

Members of Apne App

(currently in development)

The final game in production is a documentary-style game following the real life journey of Meena Hasina and other women like her, who were forced into prostitution in their youth and now serve as activists and social leaders. Fusing symbolic puzzles and comic-book like narrative sequences, Meena’s Quest is being designed for young women with a secondary audience of policy makers and influencers.

The journey through Meena’s past and her struggle for freedom is being designed with Apne Aap, one chapter at a time.



All four of these games for change are currently in development across multiple countries, teams, time zones, and schedules. We aim to release all four games during 2012, first in India and then in East Africa. Stay connected with Games for Change to learn more and don’t miss first part of this post: our update on the full Half the Sky transmedia project.


Nicole Melancon

I saw Kristof's presentation on the new apps at the Social Good Summit and I am so impressed! What an amazing initiative! As a blogger on social good, I can hardly wait to share this news with my followers and help spread the word!


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