Swiping COVID-19 Myths Away with Gamification

by Rozita Singh, Swetha Kolluri, Dr. Krishnan S Raghavan

October 22, 2020

A game from the UNDP Accelerator Labs India is helping in debunking COVID-19 myths







Imagine yourself as a video game superhero, in a purple suit and cape, ready to take on the now-familiar crown-shaped virus. Only, instead of weapons, it is simply your brains that will help you beat the enemy. For instance, do you know if you should stigmatise people affected with coronavirus after they return from quarantine? Or do you believe a short outing does not need a mask? Swipe right if true; swipe left for false.

While the dating world has known how a wrong swipe can affect their relationship status, in times of a global pandemic, a wrong swipe can have much greater impact than that. In an era of social media, viral news, fake news and half-truths, merely keeping the relevant information accessible has been one of the biggest challenges of the coronavirus pandemic for governments worldwide. Fighting this infodemic, has been a simultaneous battle.

This is why the UNDP Accelerator Labs in India, Morocco, Cabo Verde and Timor-Leste teamed up to create a game, CoronaChampion. Using gamification and digital technologies, the game — present in two iterations CoronaChampion1.0 & 2.0 — is an attempt to combat COVID-19 misinformation.

Challenges of the COVID-19 Infodemic

“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” says Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the WHO, “an infodemic is an overabundance of information, some accurate and some not that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it. It poses a serious problem for public health since people need this guidance to know what actions to take to protect themselves and others, and help mitigate the impact of a disease.”

In India, misinformation spreads like wildfire on platforms such as WhatsApp. For instance, dangerous messages circulated about miracle cures using herbs, alcohol, among others, with the false promise of protecting the population from COVID-19.

The United Nations and its agencies, including the WHO and UNDP, with the responsibility of spreading verified and accurate information about COVID-19, found  that myths were getting traction, and the impact this misinformation and stigma was having on people’s lives. There was also confusion among people who genuinely wanted to learn but were unclear about simple dos and don’ts. At the UNDP Accelerator program, experts across chapters grappled with the question of how to maximise the reach of information to the common people.

Emerging Trends and the Gamification Idea

As COVID-19 spread across the world, some trends were emerging. Increased digitisation of people’s lives was one of them. People began to spend more time online, for work, or entertainment, via social media, watching OTT, or playing games. At this time, the Delhi Office of UNDP Accelerator Program, after much brainstorming, decided to combat misinformation through gamification. 

Partnering with IPE Global Centre for Knowledge and Development (IPE CKD), the India Accelerator Lab began developing a digital game called CoronaChampion. The game was conceptualised to be simple, intuitive, educational, and yet, immersive, with the aim of debunking myths around COVID-19. CoronaChampion 1.0 came to life in the avatar of a boy in early May. The users would face statements which they would decide as true or false by swiping right or left. Every swipe would be followed by a brief explanation as to why the statement is right or wrong. The first version — conceptualised when information about the disease was still evolving — largely focused on the basics of sanitisation, hygiene, and social distancing.

CoronaChampion 1.0 was initially developed in English, and later translated into seven Indian languages – Hindi, Bangla, Tamil, Gujarati, Telugu, Marathi and Malayam. The first version gained popularity, with over 10,000 users playing the game in a short time. This game also resonated with other Accelerator Labs of Cabo Verde, Morocco and Timor Leste, and soon it was adapted into French, Arabic, Portuguese and Tetum.

Around four months later, the game returned in its second avatar, in the form of a girl, this time available in 12 languages. In terms of content, CoronaChampion 2.0 covers a wider range than its first iteration — such as stigmatisation, the disproportionate impact of lockdown on women, social responsibility during the unlock stages, and a few more such social aspects. The whole idea evolved to break down complex information and communicate to the common people in a more enjoyable yet informative way.

How CoronaChampions 2.0 has performed

Within a few weeks of its launch, CoronaChampion 2.0 received impressions of over 60 lakh people. While the game was played by over 18,000 players, it became immensely popular among the younger population. Over 11,000 people in 0-19 age group and over 6,000 people in 20-39 age group played the game.

While most English-speaking users (over 10,000) played CoronaChampion 2.0, the regional languages, including Hindi (over 5,000) and Tamil (around 1,000) did much better than expected. Also, most players scored average, which meant that the game was not too easy and met its purpose of imparting knowledge and awareness. Another positive takeaway was that around 48% of users who began the game completed it, while a significant number played it again.

The initial success of CoronaChampion 2.0 is exciting. It is evident that the game reached the masses with the right information and messaging. It also supports the idea that games can emerge as an engaging medium in the future to spread awareness.  

The writers are:

Rozita Singh, Head of Solutions Mapping, Accelerator Lab UNDP India

Swetha Kolluri, Head of Experimentation, Accelerator Lab UNDP India

Dr. Krishnan S Raghavan, Head of Exploration, Accelerator Lab UNDP India

The UNDP Accelerator Lab in India is part of the world’s largest and fastest learning network working with development challenges. Globally it was launched in 2019 with over 60 Lab teams covering 78 countries. The founding investors of the Accelerator lab are the Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany.  The network taps into local innovations to create actionable insights and reimagine sustainable development for the 21st century. The network is expanding and soon there will be 90 labs covering 114 countries.