Ten months after the world’s reaction to the unprecedented global COVID-19 pandemic, every corner of America is trying to find the best approach to getting us back to normal without exposing our vulnerable populations. I am in a unique position to lead and be directly connected to companies around the world including leading NC West in North America, Europe and South Korea. After seeing several approaches with varying degrees of effectiveness around the world, I have found that there is no single correct way to create a safe “bubble environment” in response to this pandemic.
However, there is a plausible philosophical approach to using the tools available to fight the virus effectively.
Identify the path to success
Fighting the pandemic is a resource management and optimization problem. At its core, it is a multilateral dependency puzzle that should be known to everyone who is involved in building games and virtual worlds. From a purely dispassionate point of view, we can express the elements of the solution through four key variables: freedom, privacy, effectiveness and resources. Adding or reducing one of the individual variables compromises the others.
When I compare the solutions implemented by institutions in some Asian countries that are successfully managing the pandemic, the choices of these tradeoffs are clear. The US strategy lacks solid contract tracking and requires much more frequent testing of a large percentage of its population, which requires more resources. This is challenging even when everything goes according to plan, and shows how difficult it is to manage, how willing a community is to move about, how many tests are available for these people, and how far and effective it is Contact is tracing the infrastructure with the population.
Image Credit: GamesBeat
The same types of tradeoffs are at the heart of the decisions that must be made when designing games. Game development teams are extremely adept at balancing resource availability, restrictive schedules, and the freedom to pursue creative ideas. Neither of these variables exist ad infinitum, and therefore compromises require compromises in order to achieve the ultimate goal. In the world of game development, this tradeoff relies on data analysis, collaborative work ethic, and managing decentralized infrastructure and human resources. It relies on teams of experts to develop solutions efficiently or to integrate existing ones.
We as a society can learn from this approach when it comes to how much we value these variables compared to the amount of resources we have. We should aim to make informed decisions based on what it is about and the impact of each of these variable tradeoffs. This type of analysis can help visualize and understand the decisions we are making during this pandemic and make conscious and informed decisions to achieve our goal: to end it.
Make data work for the better
Another aspect of game development (and really any technical development) is detailed documentation and data exchange. By supporting individual developers with robust tools and having access to each team’s progress, they can make the best possible decisions for their part of the job. A rising tide lifts all the proverbial boats. The same applies to fighting a pandemic. Data transparency and sharing ensures that everyone is moving in the same direction, that standards are followed across the enterprise, and that information is used to drive success.
On March 18, Taiwan closed its border and no one was allowed to enter Taiwan unless they had a Taiwanese passport. As a result, the government recently announced that it has been more than 200 days (a world record) without a new locally transmitted case of COVID-19. In South Korea, the border was kept open and the majority of the population did not have to be tested, except for international travel, symptoms or close contact with someone who tested positive. This third protocol really sets South Korea’s success apart from other hotspots in the world: The robust contact tracing infrastructure at the national level ensured security and knowledge so that the population can protect themselves and others at the potential point of infection.
Nations where freedom of travel and privacy are paramount quickly found the need to test the entire population frequently. Here in the US, there’s no telling if you had coffee at a table next to someone in the same cafe who was later confirmed positive for COVID. In South Korea, you will receive a text message if you have been in the same building with someone who tests positive.
Next steps for American leadership
These types of factual analysis, based on explicit variables, constraints, and scientific understanding of the spread and treatment of viruses, are exactly the approaches that the U.S. has galvanized in the past and prided itself on, and they are the foundation for their prosperity and global leadership to this day.
The US has been sought for leadership in science and technology throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, and the world seeks us to once again step up and become leaders by leading efforts through rigorous, proven methods in this terrible time:
- Repairing social discourse: The fragmented, decentralized nature of constitutional law versus federal law resulted in a great deal of disorganization, particularly with regard to what a state can prescribe. In some cases, governors, lawmakers and courts have been in conflict. This is exacerbated when those able to enforce a unified national strategy do not have the reins firmly under control, as the national emergency in which we find ourselves requires. If counties and states worked together nationally and had rational discussions at the beginning of the outbreak to codify a single approach to contain the virus, I think we would be looking at a much more “normal”, orderly America than what we find ourselves in today. In rationality, science, social science and politics intersect and the US should be in the best position to have the dialogue and develop our understanding and response to current and future pandemics.
- Understanding the virus: I’ve seen SARS, MERS, and the avian influenza pandemic in China and neighboring countries. I saw how they were included and how people returned to normal life. All of these outbreaks were ultimately not only resolved with a vaccine, but also involved implementing social policy measures and controlling travel behavior.
- Gathering Data: To have good analysis and quality after death, we need to understand exactly what we are dealing with. Early on there was confusion and a lack of guidelines about what data had to be collected and how a “COVID death” was defined. One of the important questions that needed to be answered was the actual death rate of an infected person. Understanding the actual deaths is critical to solving the above multi-variable optimization problems. If data is not collected with the same standard and care across the country, the scientific conclusions drawn from it will be compromised. There have been tons of headlines about different standards of data collection being adopted (or ignored) in different hospitals based on location, regardless of the context the data represents. We need national standards for data collection that align with the global community to better prepare for this and future pandemics.
Photo credit: Asmodee Digital
While there is no disagreement that it is important for us to follow the local ordinances and guidelines of those who work in our communities, we know some of the CDC guidelines on when to test and what actions are safe if positive Confirmation is inconsistent with guidelines from infectious disease experts in other countries or from the World Health Organization.
For example, the American CDC says you can safely be around someone for 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19, provided you don’t express any symptoms. In South Korea, two negative tests must be done at least 24 hours apart to make sure you don’t become an asymptomatic spread of the virus, regardless of how long it has been since the first positive tests were taken. This guide was created as a direct result of scientific research at various medical institutions in South Korea. This inequality reflects a deeply rooted social philosophy based on individualism, in this case at the expense of the common good.
America is a country that has created and achieved prosperity and respect for the rest of the world through science and evidence-based decision-making, and this pandemic is a turning point for the country to continue to exercise that leadership role. We should work together again to ensure that scientific working guides enable trustworthy public policy making, and using well-established techniques to develop shared games is a solid foundation to build on.
Dr. Songyee Yoon holds a PhD in Computational Neuroscience from MIT and is President and CSO of NCSOFT, a global leader in digital entertainment and video games.
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