Spencer Striker and Anto Mohsin, professors at QF partner university Northwestern University in Qatar, are developing a mobile game on contact tracing
When we learned about Hamad Bin Khalifa University Innovation Center’s Rapid Response Call, we quickly saw the potential of designing a mobile game about contact tracing. We liked the idea of learning through gameplay, which enforces the idea that science can be an adventure – thrilling and fun.
During this pandemic, introducing a mobile game about contact tracing, and its underlying scientific principles, is vital as we hope more users will learn about the science of epidemiology, contact-tracing, the complex world of contagions.
I bring to the project my expertise in digital media design while my colleague, Anto Mohsin, brings his expertise in science and technology studies, including how the world of health emergencies and epidemiology is understood by society.
As we developed the game design, we invited Dr. Ali Sultan – renowned epidemiologist – to join the project. And we were thrilled when he agreed to consult on the science.
Our initial inspiration for making an action-adventure, visual novel mobile game was watching and re-watching the movie, Contagion (2011), which shot to relevance when the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly, and seemingly overnight, became a global reality. The initial inspiration was to create an action-packed game that focused on the Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard character archetypes, who are globe-trotting, Epidemic Intelligence Service officers – “disease detectives” – in the movie.
We got inspired by the Lara Croft meets Sherlock Holmes concept of a brave, brilliant individual taking on a grave, global pandemic, searching the world for the index patient, connecting seemingly disparate dots – confronting fear, both personal and societal – all the while racing against time to find clues to a cure. There’s so much there: high stakes time pressure, compelling character and narrative, perplexing puzzles, and of course the natural gameplay dynamics that emerge from network science and contact tracing.
Through the title character, Dr. Sara, the game will see players use questioning, detective work, and diplomacy to heroically stop the spread of contagions
Inspired by the protagonists in Contagion, we decided to go with a female doctor as the main character of the game. And we thought that using an Arabic name would help build excitement among women, as well as spark an interest in science, medicine, technology, and public health. That’s how we ended with the title of our project: Dr. Sara: Disease Detective.
We’re seeking to introduce a novel mobile game design concept. There are no products currently on the marketplace that simulate the investigative work of Epidemic Intelligence Service officers. Also, our product is different from the contact tracing apps that several governments have designed and rolled out, such as Ehteraz in Qatar. Dr. Sara: Disease Detective will teach users in a narrative-driven, immersive way about the important role Epidemic Intelligence Service officers play in understanding and containing the outbreak of infectious diseases.
Through the title character, Dr. Sara, the game will see players use questioning, detective work, and diplomacy to heroically stop the spread of contagions, while learning about core concepts such as fomites, vectors, R0, and contact tracing. Ultimately, our game will demonstrate how contact tracing requires a human element to work in conjunction with modern digital and communication technologies. We also would like to show that public health issues are multidimensional and draw from wide fields of expertise.
We plan to recruit Northwestern University in Qatar students to the project. We’ve worked with a number of talented young people on other projects in the past, and we see opportunities for them to take on roles such as project management, game design, and game illustration.
Ultimately, we hope that our new mobile game about contact tracing, Dr. Sara: Disease Detective, will get young people excited about the amazing adventure that is science
One of our hopes is that the product will encourage curiosity and a drive for lifelong learning. Ultimately, we hope that our new mobile game about contact tracing, Dr. Sara: Disease Detective, will get young people excited about the amazing adventure that is science.
Spencer Striker is an associate professor-in-residence for communication, specializing in digital media design, at Northwestern University in Qatar.
Anto Mohsin is an assistant professor-in-residence for the liberal arts program at Northwestern University in Qatar, and specializes in science and technology studies.