According to the World Health Organization, about 9 million people became infected with tuberculosis in 2013, 1.4 million of whom died. Student researchers in Scotland have developed a video game that they think could help drastically lower that number in the future.
Project Sanitarium is the brainchild of a team of undergraduates studying at Abertay and St. Andrews Universities that's designed to simulate and analyze the way that people treat tuberculosis. TB is a highly contagious and airborne bacterial infection that targets the lungs and is typically spread through the coughs and sneezes of the infected.
Though TB has been widely eradicated in the West, it has been known to spread quickly and dangerously in population-dense countries with less robust medical infrastructures. Project Sanitarium challenges players to develop treatment strategies using limited resources to learn the best way of dealing with the disease in actual hospitals.
The game focuses primarily on capturing how doctors (or players, in this case) handle the number of patients that they have to treat. Gameplay modeled after arcade classics like Tetris and Asteroid mimic the time and attention necessary to properly triage multiple patients.
Beneath the project's game-like surface is a learning algorithm that monitors the way that players handle scenarios and generates analyses that can be studied by medical researchers responsible for developing public health plans.
"With the mathematical model we have analytics running in the background that basically takes all the information happening in the game," John Brengman, a video game developer working on Sanitarium out of Abertay told the BBC. "We could get players around the world playing it. And then we could take that new dataset, compare it to the old dataset, and there you have a simulated drug trial."