Surrounded, concerned and frustrated by our current pandemic, most people do not want COVID-19 to enter their game time. The virus and its effects have eaten up quite a lot of people’s lives.
I didn’t know 100% that I needed the COVID-19 games – let alone 51 of them – but I really needed them. Of course, it’s a good idea that these games generally don’t feature dark and complex simulations. Also, they were created in collaboration with the National Academy of Sciences arm, which means some of them contain actual research.
A mostly short set of sketches comes out of Jamming the Curve, a competition spearheaded by the team behind IndieCade, the annual celebration of the game that will take place this month in Santa Monica if world events don’t interfere. Participants are challenged to build a game from scratch, known in game development circles as a game jam, that somehow reflects our pandemic and the data and science that is trying to understand it.
To ensure that this brief experiment in game creation is based on facts, game makers not only have access to the epidemiological model developed by Georgia Tech, but can also consult a team of medical and health experts organized with input from the National Academy of LabX Department focused on science culture education.
The best of the 51 matches felt as if they opened up a dialogue, allowing me to communicate digitally about topics I didn’t always bring up in my daily life. Playing on this becomes a much needed breath, whether I enter the head space of a person who is stubbornly wearing a mask under his nose, trying to stop the spread of disease on an alien planet, watching the life of a nurse, or seeing how controlling an outbreak among a species equals herding cat.
The “Cat Colony Crisis”, for example, is a funny mess. Don’t assume anything, I told myself, as Ms. Paint, a calico, sneeze. Maybe Ms. Paint just experienced a pre-existing condition? But why Ms. Paint doesn’t wear a mask? And why is Ms. Cat started fighting and cuddling with other cats? After all, a pandemic is not the time to act like a cat. Being a cat is no excuse, Ms. Paint!
When it comes to educating people about COVID-19, said Rick Thomas of LabX, the biggest challenges are the invisibility of the virus and the struggle to recognize when we make a difference, when we panic too much and when we ‘just get selfish.
Games, particularly their ability to visualize abstract subjects as well as their need to ask players to lean back and take an active role, can close that gap, says Thomas.
“Games are great for helping to fight COVID because they do a great job of translating data into stories and helping show people how individual decisions can affect bigger problems,” said Thomas.
“That feedback is lost in daily interactions with COVID. You don’t really know if you made someone sick by not wearing a mask because there was a disconnect for a few days. You are not told if what you are doing is dangerous, but in play you can make the connection clear. That’s why we got involved. “
Delivered games – most of which are free to play via a browser, although some require download for PC or Mac – largely circumvent the tendency of more general games to emphasize the spread of the global pandemic and how to manage assets. Here, the game focuses mainly on people.
“The Covid Express” feels like my everyday life – that is, having to navigate between guises in public spaces or on mass transit. “PandeManager” is more complex, asking you to survive a year as mayor amid changing policy decisions. “Smash the Curve” is influenced by the classic game “Breakout”, where the COVID-19 graphics replace the standard bricks, and power-ups come in the form of masks and contact tracing.
For those who are new to the space jam game, get ready for an amateur, do it yourself. Games are made quickly, and the goal is to express ideas through play rather than creating a chic finished product. However, the most polished games, such as “Outbreak in Space”, allow players to delve into experimenting with variables.
Against the backdrop of science fiction, “Outbreak in Space” shows us what happens when a certain percentage of the population does not wear masks, is not isolated, or continues to engage in activities without social distancing, all covered by the Georgia Equation Tech inspired real life simulation. But even a simpler title like “Everyday Hero”, which offers an old-fashioned arcade feel where we have to keep our distance and masks from the descending characters, can have a fantastic effect on science.
“People just walk under the screen and you try to keep them away. Then add a mask variable. Then add the sick person variable. Then you have to prioritize, ”said Celia Pearce of IndieCade, a game designer and professor at Northeastern University. Pearce helped organize Jamming the Curve and this week’s online IndieCade talk list and demo.
“It’s a bit of a roundabout game, but using real data,” Pearce said of “Everyday Hero.” “In the end, you get the number: ‘This is the number of people who got infected because you didn’t move them far apart.’ It pushes home the same games we all play when we go to the market, where I’ll be walking around trying to keep everyone six feet away. This is a game that makes you think about your personal space. “
Scrolling through Discord’s Jamming the Curve channel reveals a conversation between game creators and medical experts that feels more like a public health FAQ than a game development event; The developer asks questions on a wide range of topics, including mask efficiency, viral load, and persistent immunological responses.
Some games cover those tough topics. “Hero Lab” is a colorful simulation of a medical professional’s challenges and focuses on distancing people, caring for patients and researching vaccines. Others take a more personal route. “Nonessential”, for example, is an intimate conversation game about how we fend off worries and avoid mental health topics.
For epidemiologist Sarah Matthews, who spent more than a decade working for the Florida Department of Health and currently completing her PhD at the University of Central Florida, she’s already had to work through several outbreaks, including the most recent. He’s not quite sure he had much room for play in his adult life, but after serving as a mentor on Jamming the Curve he has a strong belief in both how games can reach the public and how they can help health professionals better communicate complex communication. , difficult subjects.
“This is a very powerful thing,” he said. “Not being a gamer, and looking at it from an outside lens, it gives me new respect for that. This technology can revolutionize the way we do things. If you remember when you were a child, you learned through play. It resonates with me. I realized it again. You can learn through play. It’s more motivating and more interesting than I thought. “
He jokes that some games, especially those simulating a public not following health guidelines, can be therapeutic for medical professionals who see their advice going unnoticed.
The game “Together” addresses such topics.
“Together,” said designer Chelsea Brtis, an adjunct professor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s communications arts department, is a way for him to manage his own frustrations with people he sees not taking the pandemic seriously. However, it comes from a place of compassion, to help others see a different point of view.
“Games give you a kind of safe space,” said Brtis. “I tried to get close to him so you don’t know it’s a serious game. So you enter playfully. And play opens up opportunities for a conversation with yourself when this serious problem is brought up. The game starts a conversation. “
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