Minecraft Creates Pandemic Simulator to Show Effectiveness of Social Distancing

The map, designed by AKQA, allows players to test various quarantine strategies

a minecraft room
A zombie hospital from Minecraft's new pandemic simulator. Mojang

A new Minecraft map is attempting to teach kids about the effectiveness of social distancing by way of zombies and potions.

Mojang, the Microsoft-owned Swedish developer behind the popular open-world game, and agency AKQA have partnered on a new pandemic simulator map that allows players to test how various social distancing measures are able to prevent infections that turn people into zombies. The scenario comes complete with a hospital where villagers can be treated with potions and apples.

The idea was initially conceived by AKQA creatives Hugo Barnes and Joseph Davies, who then presented it to Mojang and partners at the United Nations Development Program and sustainability group Heart17. Mojang previously announced this week that it would be partnering with the two organizations on a broader campaign using Minecraft to educate people about coronavirus safety.

Barnes and Davies, based in Sweden and the U.K. respectively, had been thinking about ways to simulate the drastically different approaches their governments are taking to containing the coronavirus pandemic. They realized that Minecraft gameplay already contained a useful mechanic in this regard: Villagers in the game can infect one another with, or be cured of, a zombie-like illness.

“That mechanic we felt like it was fertile ground to build something upon,” Barnes said. “And we thought, ‘Is there a possibility to take this quite abstract thing of different measures for lockdown and turn it into something graspable, something interactive, in Minecraft?'”

The pair spent a couple of weeks gaming out possible scenarios for the map and formulated three possible lockdown settings: free-for-all, in which zombies and villagers freely mingle; quarantine, in which some villagers lock themselves inside their homes; and total lockdown, in which villagers spawn at home and zombies have no way to reach them. They also built Zombie Intensive Care Units, with a similar capacity to real-life hospitals, that serve as the base level of the map.

“We really wanted to make this to make a stark contrast between the society level and the hospital level,” Barnes said. “And also the nice parallel between how every society is held up by its healthcare system. So we kind of wanted to bake that observation into the map itself.”

Construction of the Zombie ICU's

The agency is hoping that the map might serve as a resource for parents looking to explain the importance of social distancing measures to their kids—and that the kids and other players themselves might improve on their design, in keeping with Minecraft’s open-source spirit.

The agency and the brand aren’t putting any media money behind the effort to avoid being seen as exploiting the crisis for brand purposes.

“We don’t want it to be like a corporate move,” said AKQA general manager David Wedebrant. “It’s a passion project from two people and AKQA that just kind of grew.”

@patrickkulp patrick.kulp@adweek.com Patrick Kulp is an emerging tech reporter at Adweek.