A Virtual Journey and the Experience: ZIKA in South Florida

Objective

The purpose of this game is to educate the public on the Zika virus in South Florida. It includes information about its transmission, carriers, prevention, and consequences. Therefore, it is a serious game that relates to public health.

gabriel3

Visit this website for the game experience:

http://www.sploder.com/games/members/armandorubi3/play/zika-game-beta/#kickdown

Background Research

The Zika Virus is a vector-borne disease that is carried by Aedes mosquitoes, specifically the Aedes aegypti and the Aedes albopictus. The Zika virus can also be spread via bodily fluids such as semen, urine and blood. Therefore, Zika is also a sexually transmitted disease. The disease could be prevented by using bug spray with Deet, wearing long-sleeved light clothing and by practicing safe sex. Zika airus symptoms include rash, fever, joint pain in the arms and legs and conjunctivitis. In order to even be tested for Zika the patient must display at least two symptoms.

Rationale

We believe this game is relevant to public health issues as frequently people are overwhelmed with information about Zika. In our game, we aimed to educate the player while distilling down all of the information to the most relevant and important information. Throughout the game there are informational portions that explain prevention methods, Zika carriers, transmission and effects of the Zika virus.

Alpha Version of the Game

The first version of the game was wireframed on paper and prototyped using Sploder. It was later sent to four users for testing and evaluation. They were asked to comment on the game and how it could be improved. Using their feedback, it was apparent that the testers were learning about Zika. One user stated, “Wait, am I actually being EDUCATED?” as they were playing. The main criticism was to have more space between events so that users felt that they were exploring the environment in depth.

The alpha version was to test Sploder and incorporate the Zika research we had found to be valuable and took advantage of another media form to get our health message across to users.

The alpha version was to test Sploder and incorporate the Zika research we had found to be valuable and took advantage of another media form to get our health message across to users.

Beta Version

Incorporating user feedback with game design methods covered in class and Macklin & Sharp (2016), we separated game mechanics from narrative elements. This would create a constant cycle of action and education which would cause players to read each text box as it may be related to their avatar actually surviving the game.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4

Figure 1. After user feedback of the Alpha version of the game, new mechanics were added and the layout was expanded.

Figure 2. For the Beta version wireframe, we incorporated user testing by spaced out messages and designated narrative elements and mechanics to keep the flow interesting thus create immersion.

Figure 3. A shield mechanic was used to simulate condom usage around Zika virus cells. This helped further focus on the health message of safer sex practices to help combat the spread of Zika and microcephaly pregnancies.

Figure 4. The active and educational portions were separated to ensure that players would not get accustomed to one mechanic over the other. This ensures they will read educational messages as they do not know if it will help with their survival in the game.

User Audience

The user persona we developed for this project, is called Gabriel Batman. Gabriel is a 33-year-old heterosexual male. Gabriel shares a condo with a homosexual roommate in South Beach. Gabriel is sexually active and often sexually irresponsible. This persona was created with our Zika research and has continued to be the target of our Zika awareness as videogaming and virtual reality experiences have been shown to be responsive to this demographic.

Goals

The main goals of the game are to describe South Florida as Zika “hot zone” and t o introduce different ways of preventing Zika:

  • Use of bug spray
  • Wearing long sleeves
  • Avoiding Aedes mosquito breeding areas
  • Practice safe sex

Also, to educate the player on the following issues in relation to Zika:

  • How bug sprays work
  • Avoid stagnant water
  • Zika via sexual transmission
  • Microcephaly as an effect of zika contraction
Gabriel meets a doctor in the virtual world. Why would a doctor stand around giving advice on an elevated platform? In gaming it is acceptable as players adapt to the type of environments they inhabit.
Gabriel meets a doctor in the virtual world. Why would a doctor stand around giving advice on an elevated platform? In gaming it is acceptable as players adapt to the type of environments they inhabit.

The Elements of the Play Design & Core Mechanics

Using the Website Sploder.com, we were able to use a pre-existing game engine to create a 2D sidescroller.

  • Actions  The character of Gabriel is moved by using the arrow keys as in most games. The Up key was set for jumping to keep a directional orientation and keep input minimal. The Enter key was used to exit text boxes although user testing showed that many would use the mouse to click next arrow. The Spacebar was used for a spray(shooting) mechanic which destroys Aedes nests and later on Zika virus mobs (enemy non-playable characters). A swim animation can be seen when Gabriel moves through water.
  • Goals  Gabriel must survive getting to his car without dying; this is achieved by avoiding Zika mosquitoes and the Zika virus mobs.
  • Rules  “arrow” keys for moving; “enter” key for exiting dialogue; contact with Aedes deducts points; bug spray destroys mosquito nests.
  • Objects  A natural ground level was used to keep with the nature theme that we have found to be useful for Zika. The more urban representations that were supplied by Sploder were too futuristic and would ruin the immersive element of the game. Signs were placed as objects to trigger events and to demonstrate to a non-gamer in which direction to press the arrow keys. Background scenery was used to create a more natural environment. The later part of the level attempts to use scenery to create a fountain area which gave a feel of Lincoln Road, the heart of South Beach, or where Gabriel would most likely park. Aedes, doctor, girl, bug spray
  • Playspace 2D side-scrolling environment; virtual South Beach
  • Players  Gabriel – user allowed to depict avatar for choice options and identification

The game can be viewed with descriptive annotations in the video below:

Competitive Analysis

Pittsville Town: Silent Enemies

pittsvilletown.herokuapp.com/
An informative game about vector-borne diseases that is similar to ours is called Pittsville Town Silent Enemies. The game covers other diseases and as the title suggests and is funded by the Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization. The game does have similar aspects in that the goal of the game is to defeat the mosquitoes. It demonstrates better budgeting and time investment was put into this game to inform the public of how a local town can have a silent enemy, in this case vector borne diseases.
 
pittsville1
pittsville2
Heuristic Review

Center for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Loaded with relevant information regarding the Zika Virus.
  • Infographics and small graphic elements throughout the site that do make the information easy to understand.
  • Side navigation split up into many categories, which helps the user access the exact information that they are looking for.
  • No interactivity (maps, games, etc.)
  • Low social media following

Further Development

This project has given us the opportunity to create a game for social change and it is closely related as we are living in South Florida. By continuing to be advocates for Zika education, we are currently working on the finalized version of the game for distribution to educate the public. Taking user feedback for the beta into consideration, the project will continue to expand the level and possibly create an additional stage as players continued to suggest more space to separate events.