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Gaming for taboo-breaking: building a sex education app

Gracia Respati
OnTrackMedia Indonesia

Nesta’s Innovation Skills team have been working with the MAMPU (Empowering Women for Poverty Reduction) programme in Indonesia to build its innovation knowledge and skills. Here Gracia Respati of OnTrackMedia Indonesia, one of MAMPU’s partners experimenting with creative solutions, shares her experience of working with users to create and prototype a sex education mobile app.




A group of young girls, aged between 13 and 15 years old, huddle around a single mobile phone. They peer intently at the screen, trying to decipher the meaning of the image displayed. Amongst hushed discussions one of the girls suddenly pipes up.


“That’s a dream,” she says, referring to the illustration of a sleeping boy and a thought bubble above his head.


Another girl is quick to respond while pointing towards the image of a blanket, stained dark in certain areas and dripping with water. “That thing is wet.”


Then they begin to laugh, shouting “It’s ‘wet dream’, ‘wet dream’!”, whilst the girl holding the mobile phone quickly punches in the answer before moving on to the next question.

Challenge: getting adolescents to talk about sex and puberty

Such a scene is not normally found in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara –  located nearly 2,000 kilometres away from Indonesia’s capital Jakarta. As a predominantly Catholic area, religious beliefs play an important role in society and therefore discussions on sex and all things related to it are still taboo. Parents will often dismiss questions from their children concerning sex because they are deemed ‘too young’ to be talking about it – even when they have already reached puberty.


So what prompted the girls to speak those words out loud?


They are taking part in the testing of a ‘Guess the Picture’ feature of an educational mobile phone application. The app is designed to not only provide information concerning reproductive health and sexuality, but to also provide a channel for users to directly ask questions to local organisations in Kupang – either anonymously or using their identity.


The application itself is one of three prototypes designed by OnTrackMedia Indonesia (OTMI) to tackle issues of sex, reproductive health, and sexuality in Kupang. They are being developed as part of a year-long innovation fund established by MAMPU, which is itself jointly supported by the Indonesian and Australian governments.




Idea: gaming for information and conversation

The idea of creating a mobile phone application stemmed from the results of a baseline survey conducted by OTMI in October 2014. We discovered that youth in Kupang usually obtained information about sex and reproductive health from the internet, which they mostly accessed from mobile phones and occasionally internet cafes, or from their peers, whom also looked for information on these topics by surfing the web.


While information on the internet is bountiful, it can also often be misleading – and when combined peer pressure and precarious local practices, it may contribute to high-risk sexual behaviour. As well as using mobile phones to access the internet, youths in Kupang also used these devices to communicate with their friends either through phone calls, SMS, chats, or social media. Many respondents admitted to changing their Facebook status more than five times a day, signalling how the mobile phone has become an important part of their everyday lives.


We wanted to utilise this connection between youths and their mobile phones, and transform it into a positive relationship by turning the mobile phone into a source of accountable information concerning sex, reproductive health and sexuality. But since mobile signal reception in East Nusa Tenggara lacks stability, we needed an engaging product that could be used even without constant internet connection. As a result, we decided to develop a mobile phone application that could be downloaded once and then used offline while keeping the product as interactive as possible.

Process: prototype, test, and tweak

To get a better idea of the application’s concept, we engaged User Experience Indonesia (UXID), a community consisting of user experience practitioners. Along with UXID, we held a workshop and invited participants from various creative backgrounds to help create a mobile app concept that could answer the needs of youth in East Nusa Tenggara.


Within the workshop, participants were divided into purchase tramadol overnight cod four groups that came up with four different ideas, which were then tested on several school age students right there and then. We selected the concept that best fit the intended purpose of the application and tweaked it further based on input given by students who participated in the workshop. This resulted in the final concept, ‘12+’.


Once a working prototype of the ‘Guess the Picture’ feature of ‘12+’ had been developed, our team brought the product to Kupang for testing. We needed to know exactly how adolescents in Kupang would react to it. Participants of the application test were first requested to play the game without any instructions – a simple experiment on the intuitiveness of the app’s mechanism, which we observed without interfering.


Then we continued with a discussion concerning each aspect of the application. Did they find the design attractive? Was the mechanism of the app easy to grasp? Were they able to understand the messages conveyed in the application? Finally, participants were asked to list everything the liked and disliked about the application. All insights gleaned from this process were highly valuable for the application’s improvement.


One of the most important – and somewhat surprising – insights received from this test was a glimpse at how respondents completely ignored a core feature of the app. Once users correctly guessed the answer for a ‘Guess the Picture’ puzzle, the app would display a pop-up message containing information related to the puzzle. For instance, the pop-up message for wet dream presented information on how it is a normal part of puberty for boys and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. However, since the pop-up’s display was not attractive enough, users did not read the message and simply skipped it because they thought it only contained a message congratulating them on completing the stage.


Beyond simply receiving feedback, we also gained further understanding about the potential impact of this application. The ‘Guess the Picture’ puzzle feature was originally designed as a game that users would play individually. The project’s time constraints would make it difficult to develop a multiplayer game, and it would be impractical for users to play a game that required a stable internet connection. To our surprise, the results of the testing activities revealed that the students preferred to play and solve these puzzles in groups. Why? Because, they said, it was more fun to play with friends!


This is what drove the girls participating in our testing to work together in a group. Within that group, surrounded by familiar faces, excited by the challenge of the game, their inhibitions were lowered, leading them to shout “wet dream!” when they discovered the solution to the puzzle, despite the fact that under normal circumstances they would never mention such a taboo word out loud.

Next steps

Knowing that through ‘12+’ we have the potential to unlock discussions about sex, sexuality, and reproductive health, important issues that are often considered taboo in our society, we are faced with an important question:


How can ‘12+’ be elevated to provoke open communication regarding reproductive health issues that are still considered taboo? One idea is to add a multiplayer feature to the app which will allow users to compete against each other. To avoid needing an internet connection to play, links will be established through bluetooth. The downside to this method however is that users can only play together when they are in close proximity of each other.


We would love to hear your thoughts on the potential of using this application as a collective game. If you have any ideas, do get in touch with us on Twitter via @OnTrack_Media!


Gracia Respati is a Project Officer for OnTrackMedia Indonesia, a local organisation in Indonesia specialising in public awareness raising campaigns for social and health-related issues. For more information on OTMI’s work, please contact [email protected].


OnTrackMedia Indonesia is one of the partners of MAMPU’s Innovation Fund, which aims to support civil society organisations in Indonesia to experiment with creative solutions to improve poor women’s access to local governance, essential services, and livelihoods.

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