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Could a mobile game help children feel less anxious about coronavirus?

Image credit: Zaikina | Dreamstime

A Glasgow-based technology company is developing a mobile game aimed at educating children about Covid-19, with hopes of easing any anxieties they might experience as the country gradually moves out of lockdown.

Scottish company Game Doctor has been given a £50,000 grant by Government agency Innovate UK for the app, which it is hoped will launch in September as a free download on iOS and Android.

Aimed at children aged eight to 16, the game will feature drug and vaccine development to teach them about the virus, with analytics measuring the health behaviours of young people.

Dr Carla Brown, the founder and director of Game Doctor, is now working with the company’s stakeholders to connect with Public Health Scotland to help promote the app.

She said: “We were really very keen to use our expertise to help tackle this horrible pandemic and help with our young people who are feeling quite anxious about it.”

Brown explained that the aim is to let young people feel involved by letting them develop drugs and vaccines in the game “alongside scientists, to give them hope and reassure them that you know this isn’t forever – we are working together to develop a cure”. 

She added: “What we’re trying to do is get a game that not only teaches young people about Covid-19, hopefully, it just makes them a bit more positive about adhering to this Government guidance for the next two years”. 

The company intend to create a drug development simulator, where the players will be developing and working with real drugs that are currently being tested in clinical trials and observing how they reduce the infection. 

“Through this game, we’re hoping to collect data on students and players’ knowledge on Covid-19 and how that changes during gameplay,” she explained. 

She said the game would also explore “their attitudes and behaviours towards vaccine development, vaccine use and how that changes during gameplay” and that there would also be “quizzes and stuff throughout the game to see their attitudes towards the whole thing, the whole pandemic as well”.

Started in 2016, Game Doctor is a studio that focuses on developing games and interactive technology for science and health education. The firm has been working with universities, the public sector and pharma and healthcare organisations to develop a variety of games.

For this particular project, Dr Brown will be working with researchers studying Covid-19 at the institute and Queen’s University Belfast to develop the game. A health psychologist from the University of Stirling will also support the game design and evaluation stages in the lead-up to the company’s 31 August deadline.

“Although we’ve just got £50,000 now, I’m working with Stirling Uni to apply for quite a big grant to update the game after it’s released so we can keep adding more drugs and more vaccines,” she said. 

We only started writing grants in March for the Covid game itself, so I think two months is pretty quick to get funding,” she added. I’ve been working hard to get people in the public to understand and appreciate the value of games for health education. It’s definitely been a journey in that sense.

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