Dystopic literature often turns to the threat of pandemics for inspiration. From Albert Camus’ La Peste to Stephen King’s The Stand, authors create global pandemics in their stories to confront issues raised by a threat to human survival that strikes at the very fabric of our society. In order to open a dialogue about Hawaii’s pandemic preparedness and allocation priorities, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funding an alternate reality game starting in mid-May at CoralCross.org.
As part of a larger public engagement initiative that includes community meetings and a live TV panel, the Hawaii State Department of Heath has contracted with the Hawaii Research Center for Future Studies to produce Coral Cross, a “playable scenario” on the island of Oahu. According to Judy Kern at the Communications Office of the Hawaii State Department of Health, the goal of the ARG is to “help encourage public dialogue and elicit input for decision-makers on Hawaii’s pandemic priorities.”
The game is scheduled to launch during the second half of May, with each day representing one month of game time. While anyone can play, the game’s core audience will be located in Hawaii, particularly the island of Oahu. As Stuart Candy, researcher at the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies, explains,
First, we can make use of the limited geography — a captive audience, if you like — by using more real-life elements to augment the storytelling. Second, as a member of our design team observed, the fact that we’re tackling a global topic, pandemic flu, with a local tilt, not only gives it an interesting flavour, but it also helps the scenario. Instead of trying to evoke every last thing about how the world could transform as a result of a deadly disease sweeping across it, the island acts as a sort of microcosm in which, no matter where they’re from, people will be able to see what’s at stake more clearly and concretely, in particular how lives and communities are affected.
By restricting the geographic field of gameplay to a limited area, Coral Cross will hopefully be able to address the impact pandemics will have on local communities and social structures while providing a truly immersive experience for the participants.
For a number of years, the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies has been facilitating public discussions of future scenarios through “experiential futures.” And as a former Game Master for the Institute For the Future’s forecasting game Superstruct, Stuart Candy received first-hand exposure to the potential of the genre for community forecasting. With serious games like World Without Oil, Superstruct, After Shock, Ruby’s Bequest, and Coral Cross engaging the community in meaningful dialogue, Jane McGonigal’s dream of seeing a game designer win the Nobel Peace Prize is becoming increasingly likely.
Anyone interested in Coral Cross can submit their email address to CoralCross.org in order to receive notification when the game begins in May.