Misinformation about vaccines can lead to vaccine hesitancy and lack of acceptance. In his public engagement project "Development of a freely accessible computer game modelling vaccines versus infections," Hal Drakesmith from the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Oxford and his team wanted to develop a free online role-playing game as an educational way to demonstrate the power of vaccines. They linked up with computational biologists and game developers, explained their concept, and going into winter 2019, a prototype of the game emerged.
Unfortunately, something else also emerged: SARS-CoV-2. As cases spread and vaccine research intensified, Drakesmith's team was keen to improve and complete their project. They co-opted a coder from Goldsmiths University, London. He brought in maths based on epidemiological models of viral spread, but also streamlined the gameplay to improve the player's experience. This balancing act of 'reality' with 'playability' took a long time to finesse and the emphasis was on the latter, to ensure uptake of the game.
As the game starts, a viral pandemic (a fictitious Influenza strain) has broken out. The player has limited doses of the vaccine per week and must decide where to deploy this vaccine to halt virus spreading across the 99 cities featured in the global network. Each week in the game lasts a minute in real time, and the vaccination campaign lasts a season: 13 weeks. There are also vaccine refusers, who aid the spread of the virus; a pop-up of Tips and Tricks to help players; and at the end of the game, the important report on how well the player did: how many people were protected from the virus by the useof the vaccine.
The game was released now and has been played by about 1000 people so far. In the coming weeks and months, Drakesmith's team will be targeting secondary schools in the UK and overseas and using the game to spread vaccine awareness, at a time when it is most needed.
The game can be played here.
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