Encouraging water conservation is a constant challenge. There is always a pressing need for innovative ideas to promote the water cause in a novel way that can penetrate the consciousness of Singaporeans. The latest arrow in PUB’s quiver comes in the form of a gamebook. Titled “A Day in the Life of Water Wally”. It is the brainchild of Ms Vivian Tan, who came up with the concept for the book, as well as the copywriting and the illustration. .A student from the Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Vivian is currently undergoing an internship programme at the PUB, the national water agency.,
The book is aimed at children, and copies of it were given out at the Opening Ceremony for the Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) project at Siglap Canal (ECP to the sea) on 18 March 2017.
For the unacquainted, gamebooks were popular forms of entertainment in the 20th century. They are like regular storybooks, albeit with one key difference – a reader can influence the direction of the storyline through the choices he/she makes at certain junctures of the plot. The various options correspond to specific page numbers in the book, and the reader is directed to turn to the appropriate page based on the “branch” he/she has chosen. The story then continues in a flow which is consistent with the decision made by the reader.
Originally limited to the realm of fantasy fiction, gamebooks eventually exploded in popularity and conquered diverse genres including sports management and business education. This shows that they are suitable as media for presenting “serious” topics in a more palatable manner. This is one of the many strengths of “A Day in the Life of Water Wally”, which also benefits from its novelty and nostalgic factors. Many children are bound to be attracted by the unique format that they are unlikely to have encountered before, while their parents delight in the memories of playing with such books when they were in their youth themselves. These reasons combine to make “A Day in the Life of Water Wally” a conceptual winner before the first page is even flipped.
Of course, as one is not so easily impressed by these theoretical advantages, and the book must be able to stand up to closer scrutiny. I was given a copy of the book for the purpose of this review. How did it fare in my rigorous hands-on examination? Read on to find out!
The front and back covers of the book boast a detailed line drawing of iconic Singapore landmarks like the Merlion and Marina Bay Sands by local artist Edmund Chen. If the name sounds familiar, you probably recognise him as the one who has been responsible for numerous illustrations related to water in recent years. For example, he drew a large cityscape for the 10th anniversary of the ABC Waters project in 2016, and his works have also been featured in PUB publications such as the PURE magazine.
The cover of “A Day in the Life of Water Wally” may appear plain and strangely colourless at first glance, but the reason for this becomes apparent later in the book, when members of the public are invited to colour the drawing themselves and stand to win Water Wally merchandise. Indeed, this is one of the hallmarks of the collaboration between Edmund Chen and PUB – everyone is encouraged to contribute to the artwork by adding in the colours. In fact, one of the highlights of the ABC Waters anniversary celebrations was when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong coloured in a small part of the cityscape mentioned above.
This colouring activity is just one of the many surprises hiding among the pages of “A Day in the Life of Water Wally”. Now, follow along as I venture into the 26 pages which make up the content of the book itself.
The book starts off by explaining how the “game” works. Water Wally is then introduced, and the story begins with him waking up in the morning and proceeding with his daily activities. Along the way, his friend Vivian – it may seem a bit egotistical of the creator to name the character after herself, but in my very honest opinion a little self-indulgence is well deserved after producing such a fine work in so short a time – drops by, and they go outside to play.
It calls itself a gamebook, but if you expected an epic 613-page adventure with orcs, dwarves, dragons, knights, a dynamic moral compass and 37 possible conclusions to the story based on the 2958 choices you were asked to make throughout the saga, go to an adult bookshop instead. This book is meant for kids, and its structure is correspondingly simple. The choices to be made in each chapter are between a water-saving habit and a water-wasting one. Select the water-saving habit and you will be directed to the next chapter; opting for the water-wasting one results in you seeing an “Error 404” message, along with a short explanation of the desired water-saving habit. After making amends for your mistake, you are redirected back to the original central spine of the story, which then continues as if you had never made the blunder in the first place.
Obviously, this is a good approach to adopt for an educational gamebook for children. An overly convoluted storyline will confuse the young ones and the lessons will be lost. But with such a straightforward method of execution, will the book struggle to hold the notoriously fickle attention span of the kids?
Not to worry! The book contains plenty of interesting diversions to keep fidgety youngsters engaged. A generous sprinkling of puzzles, mazes, and word searches gives the book some interactivity and longevity… and being the glutton that I am, I was thrilled to come across four delicious-looking milkshake recipes too! What a great addition to the book this is – parents and children can bond over a glass of milkshake that they made together, with help from Water Wally. Below, you can see what one of the recipes looks like – this is my favourite flavour and I am definitely going to try this for myself!
Also scattered throughout the book are some facts about water, such as information about the Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme (WELS) and the breakdown of the water usage in a typical household. These are extra nuggets that contribute to the educational aspect of the book.
The last page of my copy of the book came festooned with the autograph of the creator herself, making it unique and holding great sentimental value. She may just be a PUB intern now, but perhaps one day she might become the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ogilvy & Mather or something, and I would be in possession of something truly special. On the evidence of “A Day in the Life of Water Wally”, this eventuality is nowhere near impossible.
Pulling off “A Day in the Life of Water Wally” is an impressive feat, considering the fact that it was put together in a matter of weeks. It would be a tremendous waste to let the book go largely unnoticed. I hope it continues to be distributed at future PUB events, and copies should also be provided to the National Library Board (NLB) for loan to the public, similar to the full-court press that PUB conducted for their 2015 publication “A Water Wally Adventure: The Surprise Visitor”. If budget and time allow, it can even be adapted into an electronic game. This would really allow the interactive nature of the medium to shine through. Furthermore, the book already has lots of references to computers, with its tongue-in-cheek “Error 404” messages, the line “… page loading, please be patient …” resembling a loading screen, and numerous depictions of cursor arrow icons. Clearly, the format was designed to look like an online game, so why not turn that into reality?
The creativity that went into this work is plain to see, but innovation is only half the battle. Technical skill is required to bring a mere idea into the real world without mangling it beyond recognition, and in this respect, I am pleased to say that “A Day in the Life of Water Wally” has succeeded without question.
But nothing beats seeing it with your own eyes and judging it for yourself. Do look out for more announcements on when and where you can get your hands on a copy of “A Day in the Life of Water Wally”!
By Jonathan Tiong