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The StepWell Saga: An Innovative Approach to Youth Mental Health in South Africa

Mental health among South African youngsters is a critical issue. Addressing this concern, the Foundation for Professional Development (FPD) has launched an innovative mobile game titled The StepWell Saga – Stronger Together, developed with the support of a pioneering grant from Grand Challenges Canada. This game is Africa’s first serious game dedicated to mental health, designed to reach youth through their smartphones.

Game Details

The StepWell Saga is a 2D side-scrolling adventure game that is low on data consumption and storage requirements. Players engage in solving puzzles, battling monsters, and collaborating with friends to bring light back to the kingdom of Stepwell, which has been shrouded in darkness by the evil Shadow King.

Mental Health Integration

The game subtly integrates mental health messages within its character dialogue and gameplay. By employing edutainment theory, the game promotes skills such as problem-solving, strategy, and teamwork, fostering mental resilience in an engaging and fun manner. It challenges players to think critically and emphasizes the importance of relationships in overcoming life’s challenges.

Jean Slabbert, the project manager, highlights the severe mental health challenges faced by South African youth, including poverty, inequality, and unemployment. Slabbert underscores the need for innovative approaches to equip young people with essential life skills and provide them with hope and encouragement.

Development and Expert Input

During development, the game’s concept and script were tested with mental health experts and a group of young people from Pretoria and surrounding areas. Professor Milton Wainberg from Columbia University, a consultant on the project, emphasized the use of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT) principles. These elements help players develop helpful thinking patterns and improve interpersonal relationships within the game, providing skills that can be applied in real life.

Reception and Availability

By June 19, 2024, The StepWell Saga had registered 385 users and received mostly positive reviews on the Google Play store. The game is also available on the Huawei AppGallery and the Apple App Store. User feedback highlights the engaging storyline and the educational value of the game, with reviews praising it for being beneficial for both adults and children.


The StepWell Saga – Stronger Together represents a significant step forward in addressing youth mental health in South Africa. By leveraging the popularity of mobile gaming, FPD is providing young people with the tools to manage life’s challenges while promoting mental health literacy in an accessible and enjoyable format. This initiative underscores the potential of innovative digital solutions in tackling pressing social issues and fostering a more resilient and mentally healthy generation.