Games in Times of a Pandemic: Structured Overview of COVID-19 Serious Games

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: The COVID-19 pandemic introduced an urgent need for effective strategies to disseminate crucial knowledge and improve people’s subjective well-being. Complementing more conventional approaches to knowledge dissemination, game-based interventions were developed to create awareness and educate people about the pandemic, hoping to change their
attitudes and behavior.
Objective: This study provided an overview and analysis of digital and analog game-based interventions in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. As major pandemics and other large-scale disruptive events are expected to increase in frequency in the coming decades, this analysis aimed to inform the design, uptake, and effects of similar future interventions.
Methods: From November 2021 to April 2022, Scopus, Google, and YouTube were searched for articles and videos describing COVID-19–themed game-based interventions. Information regarding authorship, year of development or launch, country of origin, license, deployment, genre or type, target audience, player interaction, in-game goal, and intended transfer effects was extracted. Information regarding intervention effectiveness was retrieved where possible.
Results: A diverse assortment of 23 analog and 43 digital serious games was identified, approximately one-third of them (25/66, 38%) through scientific articles. Most of these games were developed by research institutions in 2020 (13/66, 20%) and originated in Europe and North America (38/66, 58%). A limited number (20/66, 30%) were tested on relatively small samples, using a
diversity of research methods to assess the potential changes in participants’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors as well as their
gameplay experience. Although most of the evaluated games (11/20, 55%) effectively engaged and motivated the players, increased awareness, and improved their understanding of COVID-19–related issues, the games’ success in influencing people’s behavior was often unclear or limited.
Conclusions: To increase the impact of similar future interventions aimed at disseminating knowledge and influencing people’s attitudes and behaviors during a large-scale crisis, some considerations are suggested. On the basis of the study results and informed by existing game theories, recommendations are made in relation to game development, deployment, and distribution;
game users, design, and use; game design terminology; and effectiveness testing for serious games.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere41766
Number of pages20
JournalJMIR Serious Games
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • COVID-19
  • serious game
  • game-based intervention


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