Let’s play: Blockdown Simulator
Learning how to combat a pandemic – one block at a time!
Being a Minecraft player has its benefits, and in dark times like these, when everyone is recommended to stay indoors, it’s almost like having a superpower. Social distancing? No sweat! I’ve dodged Creepers in hastily constructed dirt block houses my entire life! Did I mention I’m also an avid balcony singer? My neighbors love my burly, silvery voice, and always reward me with fruit and vegetables whenever I sing. Sure, they’re rotten and thrown at me at high velocity, but I don’t see how that is relevant?
While the practice of social distancing might be challenging at times – even for a Minecraft player – it is an absolute necessity in order to slow the spread of Covid-19. At the same time, it’s a difficult phenomenon to explain: How does staying at home defeat the coronavirus and what makes it an effective strategy?
Blockdown Simulator was made to teach people about the effective strategy of staying at home during a pandemic. It’s a map created by the design and innovation company AKQA, to support the United Nations Development Programme and Heart17 for #TomorrowTogether (an initiative that Mojang supports), in which a village is exposed to highly infectious Zombie Villagers. As its name suggests, it’s a simulator designed to educate players about the impact of a pandemic, its effects on healthcare services, and how various social measures can mitigate it. It is by no means an accurate model of the Covid-19 pandemic but is simply meant to visualise the concept in a digestible way with the help of Minecraft. And the best thing of all? It’s available for free on Java Edition. Joseph Davies and Hugo Barne of AKQA, and the co-creators of Blockdown Simulator, share the motivation behind the map:
“We felt compelled to use our skills to make social distancing models accessible to everyone,” explains Joseph, “especially younger audiences who might be confused about the new reality we are living in. As a partner to Mojang and Heart17, we felt this was a fertile ground to speak about this issue to new audiences.”
“Minecraft was the perfect platform to show social distancing in a more tangible and meaningful light,” adds Hugo. “By releasing Blockdown Simulator to the community, we hope to encourage positive discussions among its players, and beyond.”
In Blockdown Simulator, you act either as an observer or take a more active role as a nurse. While the map isn’t locked to a specific game mode, it is recommended that you experience it in creative hard mode in order for the simulation to generate the right circumstances. Once this is done, you can toggle between three different scenarios within the game: free-for-all, quarantine, and lockdown.
The map itself consists of two levels. First, we have the village, the main area in which our brave Villager inhabitants live. In the middle of the village stands a tower, and at the very top of it is a vantage point, full of levers and buttons – all clearly marked with its function so even a blockhead like myself (my head is literally a block, just look at my avatar) can use it. The control tower doesn’t just offer a nice top-down view of the entire village – it’s also used to simulate the outbreak by spawning Villagers and Zombie Villagers, raising or lowering houses, as well as locking or unlocking doors.
By toggling between different variables in the control tower, players can observe how quickly Villagers can turn into Zombie Villagers. Luckily, this doesn’t have to be permanent. Zombie Villagers need to recover and return back to Village society no matter the cost – which brings us to the second level: the hospital.
Positioned beneath the village and accessed through an elevator in the tower, the hospital is an underground facility from which players can monitor and cure infected Villagers. They do this with the help of some state of the art technology: Zombie Intensive Care Units (ZICUs), clever machines that bring infected patients down to the hospital through trap doors on the surface. When this happens, Zombie Villagers get automatically splashed with a potion of weakening, which is all part one of the curing process. To simulate a real-life healthcare system, only one Zombie Villager can occupy a ZICU at a time. The rest is up to the player, who has to administer golden apples to all patients in order for them to fully recover. Once healed, the villager can return to Villagerkind again, which in turn means that I can go back to singing for my lovely neighbors! Win-win!
Blockdown Simulator may aim to educate players about the nature of pandemics, but it is nowhere near complete. On the contrary, Joseph and Hugo even encourages players who enjoy the map to share it in order to both spread awareness and also help develop the map even further:
“Blockdown Simulator will always be in beta,” says Hugo. ”If you are a developer, modder, data scientist, or just a tinkerer, please build upon, hack, or even remake it. We would love to see it evolve into, or inspire, a more compelling tool.”