Inspiration for aspiring world-changing game designers: Lessons from Toilet Trek

How has UNICEF used video games to help children? Today we want to share an example that shows how innovation can happen in the least expected places.

This past year, UNICEF approached a creative agency (Tribal Worldwide) to come up with a project idea for World Toilet Day, with the goal of spreading awareness about the many risks associated with lack of access to a clean toilet.  What was the agency’s innovative solution? A video game!

Toilet Trek was designed to commemorate the UN’s first World Toilet Day, and to highlight the fact that there are 2.5 billion people in the world without access to a safe, sanitary toilet. The goal of the project was to create a tool for advocacy and for education about the impact this issue has on vulnerable populations worldwide, and to advance the “quest for clean, safe #toilets4all”.

Tribal Worldwide saw a video game as the perfect opportunity to get users really engaged in exploring and understanding the issue; they designed a game which would lead the user through a series of obstacles that revealed the risks/ challenges of toilet access in much of the world.

Welcome page for Toilet Trek players, play the game yourself at http://www.unicef.org/toilets4all/“. Credit: http://www.unicef.org/toilets4all/

Welcome page for Toilet Trek players, play the game yourself at http://www.unicef.org/toilets4all/“. Credit: http://www.unicef.org/toilets4all/

The result?  A “crazy successful” product, according to the project manager at UNICEF. Some of the elements that contributed to Toilet Trek’s success include:

  • A new and different game theme (toilets) got people talking, joking, but still hooked and interested
  • The game is just as visually fun and engaging to play on a mobile device as on a computer
  • The game is just challenging enough to keep the player’s interested, while not preventing them from progressing
  • Players don’t necessarily realize they’re learning while playing; the game brings up serious issues while keeping the engagement with the user light and fun
  • The game relies on simple hand eye coordination and motor control and can improve these skills, along with visual-spatial skills
  • A project that was lo-fi made it accessible for people without requiring serious band-with, all across the world
  • Keeping the design simple allowed the project to stay on timeline
  • With a limited budget, developing something simple and engaging worked really well
  • Since “retro” is very in at the moment, having something not too flashy ended up being integral to the success

We hope that some of the lessons learned about what worked with Toilet Trek will be helpful for the university game design students working with UNICEF and EA to create educational video games in Brazil (read about that project more here).

You can read more about the game on Business Insider here.

Jennie Bernstein
Brazil Game Project Lead
Innovation Unit, UNICEF NYHQ

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Related stories:

What can video games teach us?

UNICEF and Electronic Arts introduce São Paulo students to game design contest

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