Long Covid: How Digital Gaming Helps Build Understanding

An estimated 100 million people worldwide have Long COVID, and the number increases daily. Long COVID, the ongoing symptoms experienced by people recovering from Covid-19, is not only a health concern but also carries a social stigma. Healthcare organizations are finding inventive methods to address this issue, and digital gaming is a promising option. Incorporating Long COVID-related content into games can raise awareness, increase understanding, and create a more supportive environment for people living with Long COVID.

Key takeaways:
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    Long COVID is a widespread and growing issue, affecting an estimated 100 million people worldwide, and it carries both health concerns and social stigma.
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    Gaming technology, including gamification and immersive virtual games, provides powerful tools for connecting people online, supporting medical treatments, improving physical therapy, and enhancing mental health.
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    Digital gaming offers a promising avenue for addressing Long COVID by incorporating related content into games, raising awareness, increasing understanding, and creating a more supportive environment for those living with the condition.
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    Game modifications enable customization of video games, making them more exciting and unique. Three popular games have been modified to build awareness and understanding of Long COVID into their gameplay.
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    By enabling Long COVID mode in these games, players experience the challenges and difficulties associated with the condition, leading to increased empathy and understanding. Gaming communities also promote sharing information and reduce the stigma surrounding Long COVID.

Understanding Long COVID and its impact

Long COVID can affect patients both physically and mentally. Some people only get mild symptoms, while others have them more severely or for a longer time. In some cases, patients experience constant fatigue, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and joint and muscle pain. Others have problems thinking clearly, difficulty sleeping, and feel depressed or worried. These symptoms can make it hard to live a normal life. Anyone dealing with Long COVID needs to get the right medical help and treatments that work for them.

The power of gaming technology

The digital gaming industry is massive, with an estimated 3.07 billion active gamers in the world in 2023, according to Finances Online. Gaming technology is already used in exciting ways to help make healthcare more fun and interactive for patients with various medical problems. “Gamification” includes options like virtual reality, motion tracking, and challenges that make exercising more fun. With these tools, patients can actively take part in their own recovery.

Immersive virtual games offer a powerful platform where people can connect with others, share experiences, and develop a better understanding of what it’s like to live with Long COVID. Some gamification methods identify how patients are doing and provide personalized care. Other methods improve physical therapy, help with thinking and memory exercises, and even support mental health.

By building enjoyable experiences in the treatment process, gamification helps patients stay motivated and stick to their treatment plans. It can also connect patients with others through online gaming communities, where they can talk to people who understand what they're going through. This makes gaming an ideal way to support a large number of patients while increasing empathy and helping to reduce the stigma surrounding the condition.

The potential of game modifications

Game modifications, also known as mods, are changes made to video games that make them more exciting and unique. Players or game developers make these changes to customize their gaming experience and alter different aspects of the game. With these modifications, players can add new features, characters, and levels, or even change the rules of the game. It's like giving the game a whole new makeover.

Long COVID Europe (LCE), a network of patient associations run by current and former patients, recently selected three well-known games to modify, incorporating awareness and understanding of Long COVID into their gameplay. Elden Ring, Minecraft, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt were all chosen by LCE because of their popularity in the gaming world. For example, Elden Ring was the best-selling game of 2022, selling more than 20 million copies. Each game commands a unique set of fans, with contrasting PG ratings that allow LCE to reach audiences at both ends of the age spectrum.

Integrating Long COVID symptoms into games

Long COVID (LC) Mode turns the lived, real-world symptoms of this condition into in-game effects. Players navigate their characters through virtual worlds, encountering symptoms, managing their health, and learning about the illness through interactive storytelling. For instance:

  • Elden Ring. Combines challenging role-playing mechanics with a vast open-world setting and a rich fantasy narrative. Players explore a mystical and interconnected world, engage in intense combat encounters, discover hidden secrets, and unravel a deep lore-driven story.
  • Minecraft. Allows players to build and explore virtual worlds made up of blocks. Players craft tools, build structures, mine resources, and encounter various creatures. It has a strong community-driven aspect, with players creating and sharing their own custom maps, mods, and multiplayer servers.
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Action role-playing game based on the fantasy book series about Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter known as a Witcher. The game combines exploration, monster hunting, and decision-making to provide a captivating and immersive experience.

These are robust games with punishing challenges, which LC Mode takes to the next level. When this mode is enabled, players randomly suffer from symptoms such as:

  • Exertion intolerance. Forces them to stop for 3 to 5 seconds.
  • Blackouts. Causes their vision to fade and leaves them confused.
  • Losing track of time. Time passes without the player noticing.
  • Weak memory. Forces players to lose a random number of runes.
  • Indigestion. Healing might hurt instead of resulting in regeneration.
  • Post-exertion malaise. Leaves players feeling immensely drained and stunned for a few seconds.
  • Compromised lung function. Makes underwater expeditions tougher.

At the same time, always-active symptoms include limited energy, fatigue characterized by movements being 25% slower, exhaustion caused by slower stamina regeneration in combat, and cognitive dysfunction that results in hitting targets with spells and arrows being much harder. Ongoing joint pain and unsatisfying rest make getting up from Sites of Grace take longer.

Educating the public

Raising awareness and empathy about Long COVID through gaming can be a powerful way to educate and engage a wide audience. Gaming allows players to experience simulated situations and scenarios. By incorporating Long COVID elements into games, developers can help explain the difficulties faced by people living with the condition. This helps develop empathy and understanding among players who might not have experience with the disease.

Digital gaming also often involves forming dedicated communities with a great number of followers or subscribers on networks like Twitch and YouTube. These communities can be valuable spaces for raising awareness and sharing information about medical conditions. Game developers, publishers, or healthcare organizations can work together to create in-game events, challenges, or special content that educates players about the symptoms, long-term effects, and struggles patients face. By building educational details into games, players learn while having a fun experience.

Reducing the stigma

Incorporating storytelling elements into games helps humanize the experiences of people living with Long COVID. By featuring characters who have this condition or weaving storylines that highlight the challenges and triumphs associated with it, games create a connection between players and an understanding of the lived experiences of people affected. This can build empathy and encourage players to learn more, support related causes, and promote discussions around Long COVID.

Additionally, gaming platforms and communities like Twitch can help raise funds for treatment and charitable campaigns. Game developers and publishers can work with relevant organizations and charities to arrange events within the game, where players can take part and contribute to fundraising activities to support Long COVID research, patient care, or advocacy.

Going beyond entertainment

For people living with Long COVID, the benefit of raising awareness through gaming goes beyond entertainment. It helps them get support and understanding from their communities and healthcare providers. By increasing education about the condition through games and technology, society can empathize with those affected, provide emotional support, and advocate for the resources and services they need to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

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