Water Currents: Games and Virtual Resources


Innovative approaches to teaching methods, such as games, have the potential to catalyze local solutions to water and sanitation issues. By enabling players to adapt different strategies in a safe environment, games can be an important learning tool for all ages, and can lead to a better understanding of complex realities and longer-term effects.

In contrast to conventional teaching methods, the action-based nature of games makes it easier for players to transfer acquired knowledge into reality. In addition, games can be more engaging and invite regular and continuous play compared to ordinary training methods.

This issue features games, mobile apps, virtual reality, as well as recent studies on the use of games to address handwashing, menstrual hygiene management, sanitation, and water resources. Examples of USAID activities that have developed games and innovative learning approaches on topics including market-based sanitation, menstrual hygiene management, and water utility staff training are included.

Thanks to staff from the University of Washington for reviewing and contributing to this issue.

In Focus

Designing Viable Sanitation Enterprises: A Market Based Sanitation GameUSAID WASHPaLS, 2019. WASHPaLS developed its Designing Viable Sanitation Enterprises game to serve as a tool for market-based sanitation practitioners to understand and appreciate the interactions among the elements of a sanitation enterprise, the entrepreneur, and the broader context and how strategic choices and trade-offs impact the profit of an enterprise. An article that describes the game was published in a November 2019 issue of Climatelinks.

LoosePoopsUniversity of Washington, 2019. Students and a professor from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington developed LoosePoops, a phone and tablet app, that combines poop jokes and engineering knowledge. It teaches toilet design and wastewater treatment via various challenges. Android version.

Collective Action Approach. USAID Sustainable WASH Systems (SWS), January 2020. SWS developed a role-playing game for practitioners to simulate how a range of actors in Ethiopia might reach a consensus on how to use a $100,000 grant for small town sanitation improvements. Players must present role profiles they draw from a deck, reach a common vision for sanitation services, and agree on one of six investment options before time expires. For more information and game materials, contact Patrick Nease.

Discover Our Brand New GamesWaterAid, n.d. WaterAid has developed three games to educate children and adults about water and sanitation issues. The games are Water Quest, Angry Turds, and Germ Zapper. Additional games can be found at WaterAid’s Hygiene Activities for Kids.

Handwashing with AnanseGhana Education ServiceUNICEF Ghana. This is a three-chapter story and game experience centered on the popular Ghanaian folklore character Ananse. In this game, Ananse has stolen all the knowledge about handwashing and hid it in his pockets.

Germs & Ladders GameLive & Learn Environmental Education. This game is a variation on Snakes (or Chutes) & Ladders and teaches children about the dangers of germs and how handwashing with soap, cleaning up trash, and keeping water supplies clean can prevent diseases from spreading.

The Effects of Team Games Tournament Smart Cards Method to the Handwashing Knowledge with Soap Among 5–6 Years Old PreschoolersAdvances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, April 2020. Indonesian preschoolers 5–6 years of age participated in a research project employing a cooperative learning style known as Team Games Tournament Method. Smart (or flash) cards provided the children with step-by-step instructions on how to properly wash hands with soap. 

Impact of a Teacher-Led School Handwashing Program on Children’s Handwashing with Soap at School and Home in Bihar, IndiaPLoS One, February 2020. The “School of Five” program promotes handwashing with soap using interactive stories, games, and songs, behavioral diaries to encourage habit formation, and public commitment.

Sixteen Ways to Promote Handwashing with Behavioral ScienceForbes, March 2020. The solutions in this compilation fall into seven categories: reminders, pleasure, disgust, commitment, bundling, visual cues, and virtue. Several fun examples are geared to children.

Endood: Never Forget to Wash Your Hands! Desert Rose Consultancy, n.d. Endood is a board game named after the plant that has the ability to destroy bacteria naturally. It teaches children and adults about the importance of handwashing to prevent diseases.

Handwashing Heroes: Teaching Preventative Health through Songs and GamesUniversity of California, Berkeley. Games and materials have been developed on topics ranging from handwashing, safe water, and sanitation to COVID-19. The curriculum teaches preventative health in underprivileged regions, and the school refines its materials through partnerships with teachers worldwide.

Menstrual Hygiene Management
Introducing a Game of Choice, Not ChanceGame of Choice, Not Chance, June 2020. The USAID’s Global Health Bureau manages the Game of Choice, Not Chance Project, which is developing a mobile device video game that seeks to build empowerment and agency for girls in India related to menstrual hygiene and other areas.The game is still in development and the launch is planned for May 2021; a separate game for boys will follow.

FACT Project’s Pragati SolutionFertility Awareness for Community Transformation (FACT). The Pragati intervention uses a series of games to diffuse information about fertility awareness and family planning to individuals, catalyzing conversation with others. One component is the Menstrual Cycle Game, which provides concrete information around fertility and the menstrual cycle. It challenges existing social norms limiting open communication about menstruation, fertility, and reproductive health. This site also includes videos, a fact sheet, and a microdocumentary which highlights Pragati’s approach and community members’ experiences with the games.

Menstrual Hygiene Day: This App Offers a One-Stop Solution for Women and Girls to Access Menstrual HealthYour Story, May 2020. Essar Foundation’s app, Sahej, is a one-stop platform that provides menstrual hygiene education to women and girls. It also houses an e-store for menstrual products manufactured by women-led micro-enterprises.

Water/Water Resources
The Application of Role-Playing Games and Agent-Based Modelling to the Collaborative Water Management in Peri-Urban CommunitiesScielo, June 2020. The role-playing game, WaDiGa, proved to be a useful platform for discussion about collective water resource management among the local actors. This study examined the topic of serious gaming and its application to the social learning of global water resources issues.

A Serious Gaming Tool: Bow River Sim for Communicating Integrated Water Resources ManagementJournal of Hydroinformatics, May 2020. Bow River Sim is a single-player game that helps the user to understand the Water Resources Management Model and to visualize the implications and impacts around system interactions in the basin.

Online Gaming for Groundwater CooperationYouth Water Network, July 2020. Moderated by the serious game expert, Joanne Craven, 25 young professionals interacted virtually to create their own games. As both an organizer and a participant to the webinar, Emilie Broek shares a short recount of her online experience.

Experimental Games Help Communities Explore Solutions for Better Water ManagementGlobal Water Forum, November 2019. This article summarizes lessons learned in three studies where collaborating partners developed structured approaches that allow implementing agents to facilitate social learning and institutional capacity development to support adapted water management.

Understanding Game-Based Approaches for Improving Sustainable Water Governance: The Potential of Serious Games to Solve Water ProblemsMDPI, April 2020. (pdf file) In all parts of the world, droughts, floods, and drinking-water quantity and quality are high on societal and political agendas. To prepare the way for change, games and other media can be of use to reach a younger generation or to bring key stakeholders into a dialog. 

Towards a Framework for Designing and Assessing Game-Based Approaches for Sustainable Water GovernanceWater, February 2019. Authors developed a framework to guide and reflect on the design and assessment of game-based approaches and suggest opportunities for future research. In particular, they highlight the lack of game-based approaches that can support society-driven sustainable water governance.

How Morocco Is Training the Country’s Next Generation of Water ManagersGlobal Waters, September 2018. H2O Maghreb Partnership program designers are implementing a curriculum that is cutting-edge and reliant on the next frontier of immersive technology—virtual reality (VR). Using VR equipment provides hands-on experience with a virtual water treatment facility, while also simulating how to manage and respond effectively to real-life emergencies that may occur at water and wastewater plants.

Capacity Building for Water Management in Peri-Urban Communities, Bangladesh: A Simulation-Gaming ApproachWater, November 2018. A role-playing game designed from game theory models was used to examine local drinking water problems through an institutional lens. The workshop evaluation showed that through role-play, participants learned about strategies in drinking water supply and about the potential to address water quality issues through cooperative groundwater monitoring.

Playing Games to Save WaterInternational Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), 2017. IFPRI staff shares an experimental game approach for forge cooperation between communities to conserve water.


Water Currents
Publication Date
Produced By
USAID Water Team