A free new mobile-friendly interactive game that will teach young adults in Sub-Saharan Africa about HIV and AIDS prevention will be launched early next year.
In the SwaziYolo, game players will be able to take on a role or avatar of their choice and become characters in an interactive novel, making either risky or safe lifestyle choices while dating and socialising – virtually, that is.
The “YOLO” in SwaziYolo takes its meaning from the popular Internet acronym for “You only live once”; in the game it is used to encourage young adults to live responsibly.
SwaziYolo is the brainchild of Bhekumusa Lukhele from Swaziland, a PhD candidate in medical science at the Kyoto University, Japan. The game has been designed and developed by Formula D interactive, a Cape Town-based interactive design agency on behalf Lukhele, the Kyoto University student.
The game will initially be rolled out in Swaziland – the country with the highest reported HIV prevalence in the world at 26% – targeting university students and other young adults between 18 and 28 years old.
Once its effectiveness has been tested, it will be customised and taken to other African countries including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and Uganda. In South Africa the game will be named MzansiYolo.
According to Lukhele’s research, Swazi health professionals have been doing their best to educate and encourage Swazis to practice safe sex, but despite these efforts their behaviour patterns have not changed significantly.
Swazis complain they suffer from information fatigue and their minds simply turn off when it comes to HIV-related information.
“I therefore began to explore creative ways in which we could raise HIV awareness in fun and entertaining ways, without triggering this kind of monotony. Our target audience often chooses entertainment and fun over health. So, we pursued ways of providing fun and immersion to achieve the goals of health education,” says Lukhele.
Creating the concept of the mainly text-based game, Formula D interactive founder and creative director Michael Wolf says his team, working with Lukhele, explored how a game could best change behaviour.
“Interactive role-playing games are a great opportunity for people to not only learn about their own behaviour, but also to experiment with alternative behaviours, and experience causes and consequences in a safe environment. Serious games can simulate life-like situations. Gamers learn ‘just in time’ as they apply new knowledge immediately to the emerging game challenges. This is a powerful way of learning.
“SwaziYolo is a story about relationships,” says Wolf. “It simulates a dating platform, on which characters have their own profiles. They are then introduced by a family member to contacts with particular behaviour patterns, and have the option of getting to know these contacts better, socialise with them and finally have a sexual relationship with them – or not. HIV and AIDS education and prevention are woven into the story, but instead of the usual list of do’s and don’ts, it engages players in discussions about HIV and AIDS.
“Trust, judgement, prejudice are all points that the game touches on. The more ‘YOLO’ your choices, the less points you score,” he says.
SwaziYolo will be offered free of charge on Android devices and carries an age restriction of 18. Version 1.0 of the game is currently being tested, after which Lukhele in consultation with Formula D interactive will make the necessary technical and other changes.
Lukhele explains: “We’re currently working on the research side of SwaziYolo because we want to have empirical evidence that such an intervention is indeed effective. Its ethical implications are also being evaluated to ensure that SwaziYolo meets the highest standards.
“After these processes have been completed, we’ll take the game to the public.” He says he is pleased with how the idea has evolved through his consultations with Formula D interactive – throughout the design and development. “Their professionalism has been amazing. As far as we know SwaziYolo is the first smart phone-based game designed specifically for HIV prevention in sub-Saharan Africa.”