One of the highlights of the 2016 Delta Ethics Social Responsibility Above the Influence Competition aimed at raising awareness on the effects of alcohol abuse through campaigns led by university students was a gaming app called "Booze Master", which was developed by the University of Zimbabwe's Delta Boost team.
As one of the judges, I was particularly interested in how teams from participating universities navigated the themes of alcohol and pregnancy, alcohol and violence, drinking and driving, under age drinking as well as illicit brews and binge drinking.
My attention was captured by the University of Zimbabwe's Delta Boost team, who showcased a mobile gaming app called "Booze Master", which they used as an intervention tool to spread awareness on the dangers of consuming illicit brews and binge drinking.
I found the idea novel because it sent a strong message about alcohol abuse packaged as an edutainment app and cleverly asserted responsible alcohol consumption.
It was also interesting to note how Delta Beverages, through the "Above the Influence" competition ingeniously pre-empts criticism about its products since there is really no easy way to push for alcohol consumption without appearing to simultaneously sanction the negative tangential social effects which include violence, binging, drunk driving and under age driving.
By pushing a narrative of "Above the Influence", the Boost Fellowship and Delta Beverages competition successfully isolated alcohol abuse as a behavioural issue from the products of Delta Beverages, thereby asserting the agency of those who choose to consume alcohol.
Without falling into the trap of glamourising alcohol consumption, the competitors managed to delicately detach the ills of alcohol abuse from the alcoholic products themselves -- a nuanced distinction that societal and even media anti-alcohol narratives often discount.
Behaviour is key and the Boost Teams' campaigns successfully zeroed in on the matter of a drinker's agency in terms of choosing to consume alcohol responsibly.
I was sufficiently impressed with the "Booze Master" app, which I wish had been given a less glamorous name (after all, who wants to be a master at/of boozing?), because it creatively encapsulated the message of responsible alcohol consumption.
"Booze Master" -- mastering the art of responsible drinking
A few remarks on what I loved about the "Booze Master"' app (which I downloaded and am quite dismal at playing on account of my terrible hand-eye coordination) was that it is innovatively packaged for a demography that is gadget-centric and immersed in gaming as an entertainment form.
Moreover, it educates the gamer on the dangers of alcohol abuse by demonstrative means, as the gamer has to maintain a degree of sobriety to navigate the course and excessive drinking leads to automatic failure.
There is a subliminal reinforcement of the "cause-and-effect" idea that reckless alcohol consumption has very direct and immediate consequences such as failure to attain a goal and (for dramatic effect) the gamer collapses from consuming illicit brews.
Because of its "mission-oriented" narrative, the app infuses a sense of purpose, a specific goal is meant to be achieved and success depends on the ability of the player to avoid making bad alcohol consumption choices i.e avoid illicit brews and avoid over-drinking.
The mission, if the gamer will accept it, is: "To help Simba save his life by avoiding obstacles, drinking the minimum amount of alcohol required and by avoiding drinking illicit brews as these have a devastating effect on his health".
And in case the message gets lost in the excitement of dodging obstacles, there is a scrolling tab on the screen spitting out facts and statistics on alcohol abuse intended, I suppose, to strengthen the gamer's resolve, to avoid similar pitfalls in their virtual and real life consumption of alcohol.
Some of the scrolling messages include trivia such as how many people die from alcohol poisoning in America per day, how 42 people died when Alexander the Great threw a beer drinking contest with his soldiers; how 55 percent of violence cases are attributed to alcohol abuse and how illicit brews have the highest concentration of alcohol, etc.
As the player progresses in the game, their alcohol intake is monitored and warnings are issued to advise that their health is deteriorating or that they are getting drunk and should pay attention to their alcohol intake.
As an idea that students conceived, there are a few concerns one can raise, which do not take away the brilliance of the concept as an edutainment tool and innovative awareness campaign initiative.
For starters, I have already indicated my dislike for the name of the game "Booze Master" as I don't think the mastering of boozing is something anyone ought to aspire for (but I'm probably over thinking it). I'm also concerned about the fact that the game makes drinking a pre-requisite, so one cannot actually play the game without drinking, which makes sense since it is aimed at ensuring that the player "drinks and runs", so you can't run without drinking first.
The drinking is also framed as something linked to the health of the player in the sense that your health deteriorates when you don't drink -- you actually collapse if you dodge the alcohol and then of course, your health also deteriorates when you over drink. I'm uneasy with the idea that NOT drinking is penalised by way of having your health deteriorate (I know it's a game but really, messaging is important). After running and drinking a few, you get some encouragement by way of a pop up informing you that "health almost perfect. Keep drinking".
Given that the purpose of the game is to underscore that alcohol consumption is not bad but that alcohol abuse is wrong -- I see why there was a bias towards ensuring that drinking actually occurs, but perhaps the messaging could have been done differently.
I am being horribly pedantic, I know. Nevertheless, well done to Delta Boost UZ, who were the ultimate winners of the 2016 Delta Ethics Social Responsibility Above the Influence Competition.
The Zimbabwe ICT Fund -- a beacon of hope for innovators
It is against the background of the impressive effort made by the Delta Boost UZ team, along with other Boost teams, who managed to come up with creative and innovative campaign interventions on a $200 budget that I welcome the ICT Fund initiative being spearheaded by the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology and Courier Services.
Linked to the unveiling of the ICT Fund is a most encouraging pledge by the ICT Ministry to ensure that it will, through the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) ensure protection of intellectual property rights of local innovators.
By guaranteeing that POTRAZ stands as the guardian of the innovators and putting in place the necessary legal frameworks when engaging ICT players, the Ministry will play a huge role in shielding young innovators, perhaps the likes of Delta Boost UZ, from unscrupulous entities.
In his address at an Innovators breakfast held in Harare yesterday, ICT Minister Supa Mandiwanzira stressed that we should protect our investments by empowering Zimbabweans to lead in the sector and also take some blame and accept we have not been fast enough on realising speed of adoption of ICTs worldwide.
I have on numerous occasions deplored the slow pace at which we are adopting technologies and adapting to digital transformations, so I heartily welcome this pronouncement by the ICT Ministry and hope that young Zimbabwean innovators can tap into this opportunity.
There is hope for us yet.
Delta is Head of Digital at Zimpapers.