Minecraft’s lockdown simulator helps explain social distancing to kids

The zombie-themed game, created by Minecraft and AKQA, aims to show people why staying at home is important during a health crisis

With governments around the world implementing social distancing measures to halt the spread of coronavirus, we’ve all been warned of the importance of staying at home and keeping a safe distance from others. While this might seem like common sense to adults, it can be a confusing concept for kids, which is why Minecraft and AKQA have teamed up to explain how it works with the help of a pandemic-themed zombie game.

The Blockdown Simulator (pun intended) allows players to test out the effects of different strategies for controlling the spread of disease. The experience is set in a village which is home to a mysterious outbreak of infectious zombies and consists of two levels. In the first, players can monitor the spread of zombie infection, lowering and raising houses and locking and unlocking doors as zombies spawn from a central tower. The second level is set in an underground hospital, where infected visitors can be cured with golden apples and a weakening potion.

The aim of the game is to help visitors recover from infection and return to society as quickly as possible. Players can take on the role of a hospital nurse or an observer and choose between three scenarios – lockdown, free-for-all and quarantine – to see how different prevention measures impact infection and recovery rates. By toggling between the different modes, and administering treatments to villagers in the zombie intensive care unit, they can learn about the effects of social distancing, and compare the impact of lockdowns versus a more relaxed approach.

The experience was created by AKQA and Minecraft to support #TomorrowTogether, an initiative launched by Heart17 and the United Nations Development Programme to engage young people in helping prevent the spread of Covid-19. Heart17 and the UNDP have called on creatives to help raise awareness of the importance of hand washing and social distancing, and have been working with brands including Mojang and the H&M Group to launch projects aimed at a youth audience.

While the simulator isn’t a scientifically accurate representation of the coronavirus pandemic, its creators Joseph Davies and Hugo Barne (both creatives at AKQA) hope it will help teach young players about the crisis in a fun and engaging way. “We felt compelled to use our skills to make social distancing models accessible to everyone – especially those who might be confused about the new reality we are living in,” says Davies.

“Minecraft was the perfect platform to show social distancing in a more tangible and meaningful light,” adds Barne. “By releasing Blockdown Simulator to the community, we hope to encourage positive discussions among its players, and beyond.”

The game is available for free on Minecraft’s Java Edition, and AKQA is now inviting developers and Minecraft fans to build on and add to the experience. “Blockdown Simulator will always be in beta,” says Barne. ”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.”