Exploring the Complexity of Pandemics Through Play
By Elizabeth Newbury, Wilson Center
Tackling How Disease Spreads
Title: You Make Me Sick!: Bacteria and Viruses Learning Game
Developer: Filament Games
Price: $5.99 per account (intended for classroom use)
Platform: Webbrowser, Chromebook
Through a Department of Education’s Institute of Education Service’s Small Business Innovation Research grant award, Filament Games has produced a host of STEM-based educational games. Among these is You Make Me Sick!, which illustrates the impact of a pathogen on the human system. You begin by selecting a disease (virus or bacteria), learning how diseases can spread as well as what differentiates pathogens at a molecular level. You then try to infect a host, building up your army of pathogens for different conditions. Mapped to Common Core and Benchmarks for Science Literacy, it won the National STEM Video Games Challenge in 2011. The intended age group for this is middle school and up, and while publicly available, this game was designed for classroom integration.
Help Scientists Fight Back With Puzzles
Developer: University of Washington Center for Game Science, University of Washington Institute for Protein Design, Northeastern University, Vanderbilt University, University of California, Davis, and University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.
Platform: Computer (Windows/Mac/Linux)
If you are teleworking during this crisis, put that time saved on the commute to good use by solving puzzles for science — and specifically, to help research SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. FoldIt takes citizen science to the next level by asking players to solve puzzles by folding proteins, distributing data to players around the world and putting them to the task of manipulating visualizations of proteins. FoldIt leverages a point-based gamification system for the good of science; most viruses, like the SARS-CoV-2, HIV, and more are protein-based. This project spans multiple universities and is supported by grants from organizations including DARPA, NSF, and NIH.
Battle Diseases With Research, Policy
Title: Outbreak Squad
Developer: Learning Games Lab at New Mexico State University in partnership with the University of Tennessee
In addition to tackling diseases at a molecular level, policy can have a major impact on response. Outbreak Squad is a new game, launched in December 2019, based upon work supported by the SPECA Challenge Grant, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Outbreak Squad is a part of the Hands On – Real World Classroom curriculum, designed to integrate food safety science into mathematics, science, social studies and language arts instruction. Taking historical examples of outbreaks that started from contaminated food, Outbreak Squad abstracts how different fields like research, education and outreach, regulatory or enforcement bodies, and healthcare can be used to tackle outbreaks. Each approach is represented by a superhero with a unique set of abilities, from promoting education and outreach, to treating the sick, to developing cures for the disease. These superheroes are aligned with careers fields that tackling disease outbreak as mapped here in “meet the squad.” However, it is through collaborating across fields that you are able to most effectively tackle outbreaks like E. coli or Hepatitis A.
Eliminate The Vector
Originally developed in 2011 a field game like Tag, Humans vs. Mosquitos is intended to educate children in developing countries new to mosquito populations and vector-borne disease as a result of climate change. It was eventually picked up by Red Cross Red Crescent as part of their programming. The game has three mediums: a tag-like game, an indoor live action game, and a board game. In all, players divide up into two teams (humans and mosquitoes) and attempt to eradicate each other. Mosquitoes try to bite humans and make eggs in breeding grounds. Humans, similarly, are trying to eradicate mosquito breeding grounds and live. The primary learning goal is to illustrate how vector-borne diseases work and the cost of those diseases, with an emphasis on stopping vector-borne diseases at the source through the eradication of breeding grounds.
Save The World…
Although not designed as an educational tool, Z-Man Games’ Pandemic is a board game that has defined a genre. Your board is a map of the world marked out with major cities, divided into regional pandemics. Your job is to work with other players to save the world. Each person picks the role of someone from the CDC who would be assisting in the case of a pandemic — a medic, a researcher, a quarantine specialist, a scientist, a dispatcher, and so on. You collaborate by treating diseases, zooming from Atlanta around the world, setting up research facilities and trying to cure the disease. Meanwhile, each turn the diseases continue to spread and outbreaks are inevitable. While you do not always win, you do always need to work together to try to win.
…Or Destroy the World
Title: Plague Inc
Developer: Ndemic Creations
Price: Varies; Mobile App, $0.99; Computer, $14.99; Board Game, $38.99; additional downloadable content adds to cost
Platform: Mobile App, Computer (Steam), and Board Game
In Plague Inc., you are not trying to save the world, you are trying to destroy it. You begin as a plague (with many types to choose from) with patient zero, with the goal of wiping out the world population. The simulation allows you to evolve over time, adapting the way the plague is spread, its resistances, and its symptoms. If a cure is developed before you have a chance to wipe out humanity, you lose.
Originally released in 2012, Plague Inc. is available across nearly all platforms (mobile, PC, console, and a board game), and has been gaining widespread popularity in streams and on charts due to the recent outbreaks. Plague Inc: Evolved (PC, Console) has a slew of features, including customizable scenarios (some of the most popular now being, as you might have guessed, a play on COVID-19) and a competitive multiplayer mode.