Virtual World Simulation of COVID Infection

Virtual World Simulation of COVID Infection Significantly Improves Student Awareness of Social Distancing

COVID game simulation SORBET OpenSim

Among the many problems the COVID pandemic has created is the challenge of opening up elementary schools while also teaching kids the importance of maintaining social distance.  But how do you teach social distancing to kids who are learning remotely? 

Enter the SORBET project (for Socially Responsible Behaviors through Embodied Thinking), created in OpenSim, the open source virtual world platform, launched while Singapore was under quarantine. Lead developed by Kenneth YT Lim, a researcher with Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the SORBET simulation gives kids treasure hunts and other mini-games to play — with the likelihood of infection, if students allow their avatars to stray too close to each other. (See above.)

COVID game education Singapore

“In real life, we all have to develop the new habit of keeping a certain distance apart,” as Lim explains some of the theory backing SORBET, “but there is no RL reinforcement to our behavior, and also no RL personal augment which makes us continually aware of that safe circle.” (And kids are likely to forget about social distancing during sudden bursts of rambunctious kid-ness.)

Before running the simulation, kids are surveyed on their attitudes about the pandemic and social distancing — then after playing in SORBET, given the same survey, to see if their perspectives have changed.  

In a test on 114 students, the results were promising:

“In terms of the quantitative data,” Lim tells me, “there was a statistically significant positive increase in the respondents to the statement, ‘I can make a difference to how Singapore responds to the COVID-19 pandemic’. In addition, from a sample of 32 academically less strong students… there were statistically significant positive differences in how students responded to questions such as ‘I think about how my actions affect other people’, ‘I believe that problems should be solved by people working together to find a solution’, and ‘as young children, we are able to contribute to the community.” So the quantitative data tells us the approach is having its intended outcomes, especially among less academically strong students.”

Testing a group of Korean graduate students, Lim noticed that after a half hour in SORBET, “[they] had subconsciously positioned their avatars a respectful distance apart from each other.” This is consistent with a phenomena first reported by Nick Yee during his PhD work at Stanford over a decade ago, that people using virtual worlds tend to move their avatars away from other players, to maintain our unwritten rules of personal space. Now, that virtual world phenomena could be leveraged to help fight a real world pandemic. 

Read more about SORBET here. What’s most interesting to me is that similar simulations can easily be created for popular virtual worlds for kids like ROBLOX and Minecraft, and might achieve similar positive results.

“SORBET is actually a pedagogical approach (embodied first half plus dialogic second half) supported by a technical back end (outbound data from (any) world) written to an external database,” as Ken puts it. “Both Roblox and Minecraft support out-bound calls of in-world data. as long as these calls can write data to an external database, the SORBET approach can be adopted [to them].”

Image and photo via Dr. Lim. 

Have a Great week from all of us at Zoha Islands Fruit Islands/Eden