Upon speaking to a group of faculty interested in the intersection of public health and communications, I met Dr. Lanetta Jordan, a specialist in sickle cell disease. As this was the first game I produced since starting at the University of Miami, I decided to build the game with students in order to strengthen their portfolios and give them hands-on experience.
We brainstormed on the goals and outcomes for a game and decided that ultimately the message that we wanted to communicate was part advocacy and part health behavior. On the advocacy side, there is a lot of confusion around the disease that leads to stigmatization. Emergency room doctors often mistake people suffering from sickle cell disease as drug addicts due to heavy use of painkillers and their respective tolerance levels. Due to a misunderstanding of the disease, some people believe that people with sickle cell should not be physically active. In regards to long-term health, adherence to a health management regimen is crucial and tends to drop off as teenagers leave the house to live on their own. Patients routinely deal with a tremendous amount of pain all throughout their body. When left unmanaged, a person can end up in an emergency room with a misdiagnosis due to an onslaught of symptoms and a susceptibility to infections.
We decided that the game should not focus on the disease itself, but rather a physically active person working in their dream job. By doing this, we hoped to fight against the belief that people living with sickle cell shouldn’t be physically active as well as providing a narrative that didn’t pigeon hole a group of people. The central mechanic in the game is to capture escaped animals from the zoo while maintaining your health. You must avoid infections, manage your pain and hydrate often as a byproduct of your job. So far, the game has received very positive feedback from the sickle cell community.
Zoo Rush received a Silver Award in the 2014 International Serious Play Awards competition. First place in the AEJMC Best of Web Competition in 2015, a Silver W3 Award, and has been awarded a top rated EdApp by Balefire Labs. It’s also been written about by the Miami Herald.