You Make Me Sick! Online Game Teaches Science to Middle Schoolers 1400L“This is your target” the game says, pointing at an ordinary looking cartoon woman in a T-shirtand track pants. “If you pay close attention to the host’s weaknesses, you can make a diseasethat will get the host super duper sick!”The premise of the “You Make Me Sick!” online game, which won a $50k prize last week fromthe National STEM Video Game Challenge, is that middle school kids invent an pathogen andfight the immune system — learning science along the way. The game steps players throughseveral stages: briefing them on the habits and weaknesses of a target human, devising an evilpathogen (e.g., a virus or bacterium with different transmission means, shapes andcharacteristics), and playing a short arcade game in the lungs or guts of the human — battlingthe pathogen against immune cells.About the gameThe charming game hopes to engage kids in the process of infection, and familiarize them withattributes of pathogens and how infections occur.The game is designed so that kids who don’t like to read or have trouble deciphering text canlearn some microbiology. Dr. Matthew Marino, an assistant professor of special educationat Washington State University worked on the education aspects of the game. Since learningabilities are a continuum, Marino says, “Our hypothesis is that if you build a game thataddresses the unique challenges students with disabilities face, all students will benefit becausethe design will account for the wide range of diversity that is present in every class.”The game fits typical curriculum standards of middle school (ages 11-14) science classrooms,and is intended to “motivate, engage, and teach a diverse range of students about science.” It’sonline, running in web browsers with Adobe Flash version 10, and works on virtually all webbrowsers in the U.S. The game play itself is a little confusing and the arcade functions arecumbersome, but the overall design successfully draws gamers through, to experience theinterplay between the pathogen and the host’s immune system.Games for learningThe success of the approach for this game is still unknown. The series of games are designedaround the Universal Design For Learning (UDL) framework, which the team hopes will helpmeet the needs of all students. But Marino says, “the teaching methods within the game needadditional empirical research.” “There is very little research about how to transfer empiricallyvalidated strategies from the classroom into a game.” They will test the games by comparinglearning outcomes among kids that play the game vs. kids that are taught via conventionalmeans.Meanwhile, Marino and Filament are continuing with the game pipeline. Their next game,“Prisoner of Echo” is about sound, and comes out next month.Check out the “You Make Me Sick!” online game yourself!Update 7-Apr-11: Clarified details about Filament’s contest submission; corrected SBIR contractdetails.