Role-playing computer game helps players understand how vaccines work on a global scale | University of Oxford

Role-playing computer game helps players understand how vaccines work on a global scale

8 October 2020

A free game launched today allows players to role-play the deployment of a virtual vaccine to help to halt the global spread of a viral pandemic. The Vaccination Game, created by researchers at the University of Oxford’s MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, in collaboration with Goldsmiths, University of London, challenges players to figure out how they can deploy limited doses of the vaccine to best control a disease modelled on influenza.

The idea of developing a game was conceived by Professor Hal Drakesmith and colleagues who are part of a research network focussing on immunising babies and mothers to fight infections in low and middle-income countries. Following funding from, and in collaboration with, the IMPRINT research network, they were able to begin development of the game.

“We originally had the idea of the game and began developing it back in 2019, with influenza as our example disease,” said Professor Drakesmith, who is based at the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. “Then COVID-19 struck, and the ideas behind the game are obviously much more relevant.”

“Our game isn’t intended as a modelling or simulation tool, or meant to predict real-world scenarios”, Professor Drakesmith said. “Instead, we hope it’s educational, as it illustrates how vaccines can work on a global scale, and shows that precisely how a vaccine is deployed across populations can be crucial to its effectiveness”.

Professor Drakesmith and his group collaborated with the Analysis, Visualisation and Informatics group, also based in the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, to develop the game. They also worked with Goldsmiths, University of London, to produce the final version based on mathematical models of how a virus spreads, and what effect a vaccine might have.

The virtual vaccine in the game is available in limited doses per week and the player has to decide who to vaccinate in each of 99 cities worldwide that are part of the game. At the end of the campaign, the player receives a report as to how well they played the game and how many lives were saved by the vaccine.

Steve Taylor, Group Leader of the Analysis, Visualisation and Informatics group said, “You can replay the game multiple times to improve strategy and save more lives – it is possible to do very well!”

Professor Drakesmith concludes “We hope players find The Vaccination Game interesting, useful and fun to play.”
The game can be played online here: https://bit.ly/3d5dwh0

Notes for Editors

For more information about the game, and for interviews, please email: alexander.drakesmith@ndm.ox.ac.uk
Images from the game can be downloaded from: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/18Vs0YeMnIKYOf8L4nhv9E00GpyvqQPuQ?usp=sharing.
Please credit all images to Professor Hal Drakesmith. 

The game was developed with funding from and in collaboration with IMPRINT. This unique interdisciplinary network is funded by the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund and addresses key biological and implementation challenges for the best use of vaccines in pregnancy and in newborns in order to improve maternal and neonatal health. IMPRINT brings together stakeholders from basic science, immunology, vaccinology, social sciences, industry, public health and national and international policy makers.
The MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine is a strategic partnership between the Medical Research Council and the University of Oxford. The institute brings together over 500 researchers, staff and students now focusing on five research areas: rare genetic diseases, haematology, immunology and infection, stem cell and developmental biology, and cancer biology. https://www.imm.ox.ac.uk/ 

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