On 11th March 2020, WHO (World Health Organisation) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and our lives altered for the foreseeable future in ways we had never previously experienced. Extraordinary public health measures were taken to further reduce the risk of transmission and ensure safety; particularly among the vulnerable. We were introduced to a new normal in which we lived almost every aspect of our lives at home. Words and phrases such as self-isolating, WFH and quarantine became integral parts of our everyday vocabulary. Furthermore, we were bombarded with an abundance of unfamiliar medical terminology and information.
A big challenge was how to interpret all of this information being presented to us and act accordingly. This confusion gave way to misinformation that sometimes led to negative real-life outcomes and for governments and health organisations, it became important to produce effectives means of information processing for the general public. In other words, it was crucial to brush up on our health literacy.
For many, gaming is merely a pass-time or form of entertainment in which we socialise with others virtually. According to OfCom, 62% of UK adults played video games during the pandemic as well as seven in 10 children aged 5-15 playing games online. But we were not just playing games for fun as the serious gaming industry saw a drastic growth. The industry is currently worth roughly $4 billion and is projected to reach $11 billion by 2030. The purpose of serious games is to not only entertain but educate and influence behaviours of users. Serious games have already been established for rehabilitation and training within healthcare however COVID-19 displayed the potential to educate users on medicines, vaccines and pandemics. Many serious games targeted younger audiences (particularly teenagers and young adults) as they had been identified as age groups experiencing lower death rates from COVID-19 as well as being the least compliant to preventative measures. However, this demographic is widely familiar with gaming.
At Game Doctor, we designed and developed Remedy Quest remotely during the pandemic. Remedy Quest is a casual mobile game designed to engage players with COVID compliance and motivate the practice of positive behaviours in the real world. Players defend patients from virus invasion using different remedies (vaccines). Positive actions reward players with ‘research points’ which they can use to upgrade vaccines. Key findings within the data found that players from the US were more likely to upgrade vaccines compared to UK players. Player engagement was also found to be higher in countries with higher cases of COVID-19 during the pilot period. Furthermore, we created Contact, a text-based RPG game developed to train players to be more empathetic towards others during the pandemic. Scientific study is ongoing to measure player benefits.
Serious games were not purely developed to teach users about COVID-19, serious games were also introduced to supplement school education. The COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns resulted in the shut down of schools and traditional means of face-to-face education were replaced with e-learning. Over 1.2 billion children, globally, were out of the classroom and worrying statistics display that these students now risk losing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in present value as a result of school closures and economic blows. For parents and teachers alike, the biggest concern was how to keep children engaged in learning whilst at home. Many institutions looked to serious games as tools for education. As reported by BYJU’s, over a period of time, the Indian E-learning company discovered that the clever integration of games resulted in higher engagement and increased motivation towards education among students. People are better learners when engaged with content and games can provide users with an immersive experience that results in improved levels of retention. Additionally, gamification allows teachers and students to easily monitor progress in a non-invasive manner through the tracking of a student’s behaviour or rewards within a game. A study by G2A.COM found that almost half of teachers within the US and UK had implemented games to enhance teaching virtually and 91% claimed it to be effective.
It was not only schools affected by the pandemic, university students, particularly those studying highly practical courses, faced challenges as lectures ground to a halt. In March 2020, the International Association of Clinical Simulation and Learning as well as The Society for Simulation in Healthcare promoted the implementation of virtual simulation to replace clinical students who were currently enrolled in health professions such as nursing and medical students. As hospitals and other health institutions were mounted with added pressure and staff shortages, it was imperative for students within the health industry to be able to continue their studies. UK final year medical students were even granted early graduation to be able to support the NHS in the fight against COVID-19.
Furthermore, serious games aimed to improve working conditions within hospitals and other healthcare units during the pandemic. Escape COVID-19 was a game created during the first pandemic waves to promote safe behaviours among health care workers. The player is quizzed on behaviours around isolation, symptoms and hygiene earning points for every correct answer. A trial found that willingness to change behaviours was higher among those who played the game.
COVID-19 appears to have been a catalyst for the integration of serious games into mainstream society. Serious games provided education on the school curriculum and also teached society as a whole about the pandemic itself. It made medical terminology and information more accessible and understandable. To fully understand the capabilities of serious gaming, governments have been encouraged to embrace gamification within their own functions to boost mainstream visibility and create greater funding opportunities.The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired the exploration of possibilities within the industry and will continue to do so for years to come.
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