Ever since this virus started, I've been thinking about it using the militant, antiseptic language of words like "frontliners" and phrases like "public health crisis"—as though COVID-19 at large was an occupational hazard that needed to be efficiently obliterated. There's nothing wrong with these terms, but when I stumbled upon this crystalline video game, I wondered if the COVID-19 parlance painted an incomplete picture.
Jestingly titled, quaint, and straightforward, Wash Your Hands is a simple pixel game about COVID-19. Given its title and the fact that a pandemic is "fought off" and "combatted," I expected the game to be about shooting at germs with soap guns. As it turns out, the mechanics are simple: You walk around an expansive graveyard alone. You find roses on the ground every now and then, pick them up, and walk up to graves to lay them down, leaving footsteps in the snow as you go along.
It isn't necessarily marketed as a game. On its website, the description reads as follows: "On the 11th of March 2020, a global pandemic was declared. This is a live visualization of the death toll from COVID-19. Each grave stone represents an actual life lost."
The video game as a medium relies on agency, placing you in an immersive situation in which you can exercise choice. Here, you are given the chance to lay flowers on gravestones of your choosing, subliminally allowing you to grapple with COVID-19 on a personal level. It's definitely not the same as viewing a line graph representing the numbers of those who have succumbed to the virus. Even the minimalist aesthetic of the game ensures that you focus on the basic message: that this virus, among many other things, is a felt tragedy.
Wash Your Hands might be misinterpreted as morbid, even though it's in no way self-indulgent nor gratuitious. Come to think about it, there's something casually morbid about the distilling and reducing of lost human lives into a statistic. There's not a singularly perfect way to navigate this time, but the empathic and meditative direction represented by this game is a good one.
As of writing, there have been 42,322 COVID-19 deaths globally, with 178,101 recoveries. The Philippines ranks as the 33rd most-hit country according to COVID-19 watch charts with 2,084 total cases, of which there are 88 deaths and 49 recoveries.
Wash Your Hands was developed by Dean Moynihan, with music production by Leafcuts. You can get it here.
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