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A small gaming company based in St. Catharines, Ont., has created a video game to help in the fight against COVID-19.

Devil’s Cider Games was formed in 2018 by four ex-schoolmates. On Feb. 9, they released Cat Colony Crisis — designed to promote pro-science concepts in the fight against COVID-19.

“The game concept is that you are overseeing a spaceship full of cats travelling from one location to another. During their travels a pandemic happens,” lead programmer Paul Boyko told CBC Hamilton.

“You have to observe the cats as they are going about their daily activities. They eat, they use the litter box, they sleep, they talk to each other, they fall in love, they fight with each other.

“So you have to observe them and see which ones are exhibiting symptoms and whether or not those symptoms are related to the disease or if they have a fur allergy,” Boyko said.

Paul Boyko is lead programmer at St. Catharines, Ont., company Devil’s Cider Games. (Submitted by Paul Boyko)

Once you come to a conclusion which cats may be infected, Boyko said the person playing the game can use testing to verify whether or not they are sick.

If a cat is found to be sick, contact tracing is done to see which other cats they have been in contact with. Those cats are then also tested, he said.

“You want to isolate the sick cats to avoid them spreading the virus any further,” Boyko said.

“There’s also a mask mandate you can put into effect, which makes it harder for the virus to spread amongst the community.”

Cat Colony Crisis was developed with support from LabX, a division of the National Academy of Science and in consultation with members of the United States Centers for Disease Control.  

Cat Colony Crisis was the winner of the Jamming the Curve Game Jam event, which took place during the IndieCade event in September 2020, and also won a $20,000 U.S.development grant from LabX to improve upon and  then release the game.

“The whole concept is to reinforce the importance of concepts like social distancing, PPE, testing, contact tracing and to really sort of bring to the forefront how important it is personally to take part in doing those things,” Boyko said.

“As the overseer you get to see how personal responsibility is the most important part of controlling a pandemic, because all the rules and all the regulations don’t do anything unless people actually follow them. You get to see that from these cats because they are doing what they want and you have to sort of step in and try and stop the spread.”

Meant to be a fun game

Boyko said Cat Colony Crisis is a fun game, which can be played by anyone.

“It’s suitable for any age group,” he said. “Our target market is in the late teens to early 30s but anyone can play it.”

Cat Colony Crisis is available on PC, MAC, Linux, Google Play and the Apple App store for free. 

“We decided to make the game free because we really want to get it out into as many hands as possible,” Boyko said.

“We feel that it is a positive tool in the fight against COVID.”

Thomas Brown says, ‘After playing this game I’m definitely going to give it to my niece to play to hopefully understand a little more about why she needs to keep clean and socially distant.’ (Submitted by Thomas Brown)

Fun way to explain how disease may spread within community

Thomas Brown, a project coordinator at Brock University, said Cat Colony Crisis is a fun way to explain how the spread of a disease happens within a community, especially to a younger audience.

“When you play on hard [level], it can be difficult to keep your eye on every cat. Specifically, the cats who come aboard your ship may need to be tested quickly to make sure no new infections spread,” Brown told CBC News.

“It can easily go from one cat to four cats to the entire ship in a short period of time.

“After playing this game I’m definitely going to give it to my niece to play to hopefully understand a little more about why she needs to keep clean and socially distant,” Brown added.