Khail Santia, a CDO-born app developer, led the creation of a simulation game to help the public understand what it takes to fight the present pandemic. The game puts users in the shoes of public health officials managing a town under the grip of COVID-19. Titled “In the Time of Pandemia” (or ITOP), the app has ranked #1 game of the day in American entertainment website Newgrounds.com, has been played by thousands of people worldwide, and has received positive reviews from gamers and experts alike.
ITOP was developed to address the lack of a fully interactive simulation in the public discourse on COVID-19 as first pointed out in a Facebook post by Raph Koster, a thought leader in game design,” said Santia. “With Koster, we believe this is crucial because deep interaction can engage and teach people in ways that complement other media.”
In the game, players are made to experience how testing, isolation, and treatment together with efficient use of public funds work to control the pandemic. The game likewise makes intuitive how mismanaging any of these can result in runaway contagion and mortalities.
For Dr. Mariane Faye Acma, resident physician at Medidas Medical Clinic in Valencia City, Bukidnon, “This simulation requires critical thinking, analysis, multitasking. You decide who are the high risks, who needs to be tested and isolated, where to focus, how much funds to allocate… The game will make players realize how challenging the work of the health sector is in this crisis.”
With a volunteer team consisting of a mathematical epidemiologist, three artists, and three composers, Santia developed the game prototype in two weeks during a game jam. Game jams are the game industry’s equivalent of hackathons. Santia then worked on the prototype for three more months before releasing it to the public.
The mathematical epidemiologist, UP Mindanao professor May Anne Estrera Mata, PhD who is an alumna of the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia describes ITOP as “a gamified simulation of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic that provides a simple framework to visualize the disease dynamics as different levels of control interventions are being implemented.”
“The game can be used as an educational tool to demonstrate the challenge a crisis manager faces in disease control with limited funds and lack of compliance with preventive measures in a population… The game interface in itself resembles that of classic Nintendo games, which brings back fond memories.
“Aside from these perks, the game offers an opportunity to help those who are in need during this pandemic. This way, users will become more aware of the real conditions of affected, yet neglected, communities.”
ITOP was originally designed with the youth as the target audience. According to Santia, “Although the young are generally not an at-risk demographic, they can become silent spreaders to vulnerable members of their communities. It’s important that the complex situation of the health crisis be explained to them in a medium for which they have a strong affinity.” The game however has shown to have appealed to a much wider age range as its host, Newgrounds.com, is a community that includes players in their teens, twenties, and thirties.
As for ITOP’s relevance, to Dean Gregg Gabison of the USJ-R College of Information, Computer, and Communications Technology, the first CHED Center of Excellence in Central Visayas to offer a degree in game development: “This is the kind of game that mindful individuals would want to check out. It has substance and a storyline that connects with reality, especially during this time of pandemic.”
As we open up restrictions towards the new normal, it’s as timely as ever for ITOP’s kind of game-based communication as it’s designed to help promote observance of health protocols, increase public understanding of pandemic management, and gather additional assistance for desperate communities.
“In the Time of Pandemia” can be played on personal computers and is available for free at Newgrounds.com.