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This sixth grader reinvented a classic video game to combat the stress of COVID-19

Fast Company logo Fast Company 6/17/2020 Lilly Smith

In March, most people across the country were feeling the impact of COVID-19.

Israel Smith, a sixth grader at Brookhaven Innovation Academy Charter School in Norcross, Georgia, definitely was. So he channeled those feelings of uncertainty and anxiety into designing a video game. Created for an assignment in his coding class, Smith built the game to combat COVID-19 and the stress kids might experience from all of the bad news—not to mention the fact that schools were closed and they had to socially distance from their friends.

Smith redesigned the old-school cellphone game Space Impact for a new battle: fighting COVID-19. A player controls an avatar on the left of the screen, which shoots at cartoonish, buggy-looking viruses that move across the screen from the right. Users determine which ones are the coronavirus and shoot them with a laser to earn points.

It seems obvious, but as the CDC states, pandemics can be nerve-wracking. The agency lists children and teens as groups that may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis, and offers a few ways to help them cope, including maintaining routines, limiting exposure to news coverage, and sharing COVID-19 facts in a way they can relate to—which is where Smith’s game comes in.

At the beginning of each game, a text bubble also emerges from the player’s avatar with messages like, “coronavirus spreads from person to person,” “over 3 million cases worldwide,” and “protect yourself by wearing a face covering.” (The global total is now over eight million.)

It took Smith about a month to design the game, and he says his favorite part is when the virus asks, “Where is your face mask?” because that interaction motivates users to follow and shoot the virus. While the players themselves might not be sporting a face mask while playing the game at home, he says it’s a helpful reminder to wear one and stop the spread of the virus.

Ultimately, Smith wants “kids to learn that they don’t have to be so afraid of the virus, that they still can have fun. They can put it out of their mind and focus on ways to kill it,” thereby turning anxiety into a very small force for good.


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