Malamaal is a board game designed for children and adolescents between 12 and 18 years of age by SANJOG in 2006. It is a team game, which can be played by 4 or 5 people at a time, and draws on elements of social and financial education though fun and play. It can be used an effective life skills education tool based on the principles of non-hierarchical and entertaining methods in learning by children and adolescents.

Malamaal is currently being enjoyed by over 50,000 children across different South Asian and Francophone countries, including India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. The game currently exists in the following languages – English, Hindi, Bengali (India and Bangladesh), Telegu, Nepali and French.

The game, when designed in 2006, had been field tested with 100 children in the process of development: children who were living in shelter homes and study in formal schools, children who live and work on the streets and are illiterate or semi literate, children of women in prostitution living in red light areas who go to school, or are drop outs or have never attended school. All these children accepted the game.

What does the game aim to achieve?

The game aims to involve adolescents in skills based, knowledge based game: to make information seeking behaviour more attractive to them. It is commonly seen that most children in marginalized situations and with low self-esteem tend to play only chance based games, and this inclination is strongly linked to gambling. Their inability to understand and resolve many of their situations of neglect, abuse and violence, they tend to externalise factors of control to outside of themselves and therefore onto fate; and gambling or winning and losing in chance based games is a corollary of that. If children are engaged into playing skills based games, then winning the game will result in the building of their self-esteem. Also, information and knowledge – the token of the game, will be valued as sources of power.

Like any other board game that is played by many children at a time, this game will result in team building amongst the players. There are elements of the game – such as transactions and donations – that foster collaboration.

Through various social agents – such as teachers, doctors, police and social workers, the game helps children receive information on various subjects. Questions asked by the teacher range from mental maths to geography (to help a child locate himself in relation to the world – and also get an idea of the region of South Asia), the doctor’s questions are about health and hygiene, the policemen asks questions on laws, justice and crimes, social workers’ questions are about children’s rights. For correct answers, the child gets monetary rewards from the bank.  One of the sources of information on this board is a square on HIV AIDS, where a player is asked questions on HIV. Correct answers will give him bonus money, and wrong answers will result in fines. This is to explain the importance of the issue – and facilitators get an opportunity to explain that one fatal mistake can lead to serious consequences.

The game also helps children manage their money through investments, purchase and sale of property, through post offices, banks and shops. Investment is encouraged by sensitising children about risks of losing money ingrained in the game. Invested amounts are safe against sudden risks.

The game has elements of positive behaviour reinforcements (reward for achievements and constructive behaviour – such as successful completion of trainings and education), and reprimand for self destructive behaviour (engagements in crime, substance abuse et cetera).

The child gets acquainted with juvenile homes through this game. This always invokes strong reactions and children frequently talk about their experiences of shelter homes (NGO and government). The range of feedback is very useful for social workers if they are facilitating the game. 

Health seeking behaviour and forming and belonging to clubs and associations is rewarded through this game.

Most importantly, the game aims to provide children with a tool whereby they can receive, share and disseminate information on a range of topical subjects on their own, without the supervision of adults or social workers. As proven through field tests and consequently the trainings and events, it is easily used by peer educators, and is a great tool for outreach as well.

How is this game different from other life skills education tools?

Firstly, most life skills education tools are focussed on one issue – HIV AIDS.

Secondly, life skills education modules require strong facilitators, which are not always available. In South Asia, most social workers are not trained in facilitation that is free from judgemental responses, that is based on fact and reasoning. This results in a restrictive learning space.

Thirdly, the shelf life of this tool is for 35 years at the very least, given that we shall replenish the information base of question cards every 9 months. It has been estimated that with the given number of question cards (40 for each box), a child can play the game at least once a week, for 2 or 3 rounds each time, and will be able to exhaust all cards only in 9 months, provided the chances of repeat of questions is 10 per cent. With more repeats, as is probable, the game will last even longer.

Politically, this game challenges the negligence of the toy industry towards children with lesser purchasing power. Almost all games and toys available in the market are meant for school going, family based socio-economically under-privileged children. This game is inclusive – and is relevant for all children.