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Smash-a-rona, when the virus runs amok

Wow, I started writing the article months ago, but it feels like yesterday…and 10 years ago. Time in 2020 is unlike the before-time. Here in San Francisco, we were in shelter-in-place and quarantine for a long time. With the upcoming post-Thanksgiving covid spike, we may be returning soon.

How have I been coping? Among other things, I spent time developing Smash-a-rona; a simple physics game where the player defeats viruses.

Yep, that’s right. I’ve been channeling my stress about current events, into developing a game about them.

I was working on some background research and data visualizations related to Covid-19, and it was seriously stressing me. At this point, though, it was early in the year. What data that could be found, revealed alarming patterns and trends. But this wasn’t the main source of my stress.

It was the absence, suppression, and censorship, of data that had me loosing sleep.

I managed to finish a piece on how sampling can impact our understanding of epidemiological data. I also developed a scrolly-telling version with animated interactive charts.

My goal, with these visualizations and stories, was to evoke empathy with the numbers. To encourage the audience to see a cluster of individual people, instead of a solid number. I was working up to another piece on testing and contact-tracing and how they’d help us get ahead of the pandemic.

Then I started seeing reports of how the Feds were ‘intercepting’ and ‘confiscating’ shipments of medical supplies that states and hospitals had purchased.

The WH was not only refusing to acknowledge the growing pandemic and failing to launch national resources to face the threat to us all, but was also stealing the resources hospitals and states purchased so they could protect and care for us. It was just unreal. But it really was happening.

My days and nights were filling with stress and anxiety dreams. At least one dream had me wearing a beret and sneaking medical supplies to hospitals, before getting caught by Nazis. But one morning, I had a lucid dream where I was playing a game.

In this game, I was moving around medical supplies and smashing giant virus particles…and there was this giant orange blob that kept grabbing and stealing my medical supplies.

When I fully woke, I realized that I absolutely had to make this game. It wouldn’t be exactly like my dream, but I could get close. Or close enough.

The game is still still a work-in-progress, but it’s fun to smash all those virus particles. I’ve published it on itch.io, it’s free to play, and is mobile friendly.

The first virus drawings didn’t look quite right to me, so I tried a more abstract drawing.

If you play Smash-a-rona, I hope it gives you some stress relief. Developing it, gave me a distraction, and helped me a lot.

Written by

Data Visualization Consultant. Generative and Data Artist. Creative Coder. Founder of GalaxyGoo. http://kristinhenry.github.io/

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