Science storytelling is an effective way to turn abstract scientific concepts into easy-to-understand narratives. Science storytelling in immersive virtual reality (VR) can further optimize learning by leveraging rich interactivity in a virtual environment and creating an engaging learning-by-doing experience. In the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic, we propose a solution to use interactive storytelling in immersive VR to promote science education for the general public on the topic of COVID-19 vaccination. The educational VR storytelling experience we have developed uses sci-fi storytelling, adventure, and VR gameplay to illustrate how COVID-19 vaccines work. After playing the experience, users will understand how the immune system in the human body reacts to a COVID-19 vaccine so that it is prepared for a future infection from the real virus.
We created a fictional story themed on currently approved COVID-19 vaccines, which have been developed using the new mRNA manufacturing method by extracting messenger RNA genetic information from the virus’s spike proteins and packing it into vaccine particles. Vaccines developed with such a method are unstable in the human body and break down quickly once injected. On the other hand, research in targeted immunotherapies shows that vaccine delivery directed to antigen-presenting cells (APCs) like dendritic cells has the potential to maximize the effectiveness of the vaccine because APCs play a critical role in activating other immune cells and triggering an immune response in the human body. Therefore, the user in our VR experience is assigned a fictional top-secret mission to drive a nanobot ship loaded with COVID-19 vaccine particles inside the human lymphatic system, search for dendritic cells, and deliver the vaccine to them once they are found and identified. The user has to complete the mission under a time constraint due to the short shelf-life of the vaccine. Once the mission is accomplished, the user has to find a way to exit the lymphatic system without being detected by activated immune cells and attacked by antibodies.