The Minecraft video game, in which players can build and create their own worlds, is long known for being beneficial to develop problem-solving, teamwork and other learning skills in students. As the spread of misinformation around COVID-19 and the politicizing of vaccines has continued to expand among both youth and adults alike, Minecraft has once again been used as an innovative tool to reach young people.
On Sept. 25 and Oct. 2, ICHS held the “COVID-19 Virtual Youth Summit to Build a Healthy Tomorrow,” a multimedia event meant to educate and empower youth and dispel myths about the coronavirus and vaccines. The virtual summit incorporated a presentation and discussion over Zoom with Minecraft maps and games built to reinforce the learning of COVID-19 information. Traveling through the educational maps developed by the UW Minecraft club, over 150 participants, ages 11 to 19, learned to distinguish common COVID-19 rumors and were taught how mRNA vaccines work in the human body.
When Calvin Tjok, the youth summit’s coordinator, planned out the event, he “tried to put himself into the mindset of younger students” and wanted to create an entertaining and educational experience that brought in a sense of community and promoted new friendships. So he turned to the UW Minecraft club for help.
Minecraft is a 3D video game where users can play solo and collaborate with other players to fight against computer-controlled characters. Users can also use block-like units to build up new items, scenes, maps and gameplay mechanics as they wish.
The UW Minecraft club spent three months creating four educational maps with interactive games for the virtual summit, collectively known as the “Minecraft against COVID” world.
A big challenge to the games’ design was to make equal opportunities and competitions for players ranging from experienced Minecraft players to those who have never played before. Tjok and developers at UW Minecraft club made two difficulty levels to accommodate participants’ abilities in using Minecraft.
At the event, Public Health Seattle and King County delivered a presentation on COVID-19 vaccination. After that, participants jumped into the four maps: the “dropper quiz,” where people tested themselves on new information they learned in the presentation; a parkour map, where they were free to run around, explore and collect fun facts related to health; a “free-craft world,” where they created their own scenes to express creativity; and a “vaccine adventure map,” where they teamed up, pretended to be vaccines and fought the “immune system.”
According to Steven Hu, one of the club officers in charge of the project, the team was inspired by an educational Youtube channel when they designed the vaccine adventure map. They tried to make the game an accurate description of the vaccine.
In the map, participants collaborated in teams and passed through obstacles based on the human immune system. The game introduced an interactive and non-violent way for young people to learn about the journey of the COVID-19 vaccine in the human body. Players could visually understand how the immune system and the vaccine work.
“The number one thing I hope to accomplish in Minecraft is to give people experiences that they normally won’t be able to have in person,” Hu said. “And also inspire people to work together and be creative to make something really cool.”
Steven Hu and Brian Liu go through the vaccine adventure map and fight the “T cells” and “B cells.” Video by Brian Liu.
In the other map, participants explored Minecraft and constructed items by themselves. They were encouraged to answer the prompt with a scene built in Minecraft: “What do you miss the most about life before COVID-19?”
The free-building provided a space for young people to express their emotions as the pandemic has greatly limited in-person social interactions. According to Hu, what the participants built will permanently stay on the server and be part of the “Minecraft against COVID” world.
Most participants attended the summit from home. In addition, ICHS provided an in-person gaming site at UW Esports Arena. Young people from diverse demographic communities were encouraged to participate in and bring friends to the event. With the summit, ICHS hopes to reduce vaccination hesitancy and provide youth with an open platform to ask health-related questions so they can pass on reliable information and become “health ambassadors” to their families and communities.
According to Tjok, many participants sent positive feedback over the Discord channel for the virtual summit after the event. They found the experience exciting and wanted to know what other health-related events will be available with having Minecraft games in the future.
“We plan to increase more possible ‘lands’ [in Minecraft] and hopefully we can have hundreds and thousands of builds and [youth’s] aspirations and dreams about vaccines,” Tjok said.
ICHS hopes to continue collaborating with the UW Minecraft club. Next, Tjok said ICHS plans to continue partnering with Asian Pacific Islander Coalition Advocating Together for Health (APICAT) to use Minecraft as part of tobacco, vape and marijuana educational prevention strategies in the future.