Students at Shadow Mountain High School, Phoenix, AZ Recommend Immune Attack

Wonder whether your students will like Immune Attack? Wonder whether it is game enough to hold their attention? Well watch this video.

And oh, if you work for a AAA video game company you can reach me by email!

Thank you to Debbie Kovesdy, her students and the biology teachers who participated in our evaluation. If YOU would like your students to participate in our evaluation, please let me know! We need more students to strengthen our data… We have significant gains in LEARNING and CONFIDENCE. Be a part of a revolution in learning and in gaming!

Register here!!!!

Serious Game Design: Theme is not Meaning

If you want to design a game that teaches something, first define carefully what that thing is.  Second, design your game to require the player to learn that thing in order to win your game.  This concept is very important for Serious Game designers, but it is also very important for every game designer.

As Soren Johnson said in his GDC2010 Serious Games Summit Keynote address, “Theme is not meaning.” If you want to make a game about diplomacy, you must require the player to cooperate with other players, and allow them chances to communicate, and you call the game Diplomacy.  But if you want to teach players to take chances and to use advantages they have over other players to win as individuals, then you create the game Risk.  Both of these games have the same theme:  They are both about war and strategy.  But they teach very different aspects of war and strategy.  These two games, Soren Johnson explains, clearly demonstrate the difference between theme and meaning.

Currently we are hard at work defining what we want players of Immune Attack 2.0 to learn and how we will require them to learn and then use that knowledge to win our game.  We have drawn from several sources and many long discussions with our Scientific Advisory Group for our learning objectives.  However, as we get into the technical, artistic and general restrictions of actual game development, it is easy to slip away from our goal.  The mechanics should teach the learning objectives and we have the mechanism all drawn out on paper, but do we have the processing power to make that mechanism work in our game engine on school computers?  Soon we make a compromise, and then another…  The only way to avoid creating a mechanic that is irrelevant is to continuously reevaluate our mechanism compared to our learning objectives.

For example, if you want players to learn the lyrics to Beatles songs, you give them points only when they sing the words from memory.  But if you want the player to learn to sing in key, you let them see the words but only give points when they are on key.  When your programmer tells you that the lyrics don’t fit on the screen…… what do you do?  Your objective is to teach singing on key… how do you stay on target?   I’ll be able to give more specific details about IA2 development in the future…

Bonus paragraph:  At GDC 2010 several speakers mentioned Spore as an example of a game that was intended to be about something, but the core mechanic was actually about something else.  Evolution is, as you know, a random process that causes some creatures to be born more fit for their environment than others.  Spore was a game where you choose for yourself at each step what you want your creature to look like.  So the joke is that Spore was supposed to be about Evolution, but it ended up being about Intelligent Design!

Making science video games: Spore and the misrepresentation of science.

A friend said to me,
“I am trying to make a video game to create interest in engineering.  Someone told me Spore taught a lot about evolution.  What do you think?”

I did play Spore and I was very disappointed.  I was angry, actually, because the things that are so cool about evolution were not present.  Playing Spore was like expecting an excellent new baseball game and instead it was a soccer game.  The worst part is, that real evolution would make a great game!

The real problem with Spore was that Maxis and EA advertised it as being about evolution, and bragged about it being a real science video game.  However, anyone who knows about evolution knows that isn’t true. The problem is that so many people do not know how evolution actually works, and could easily be confused by the version of “evolution” presented in Spore.

Science journalist John Bohannon assembled a team of scientists to give Spore a report card on all the subjects its claimed to present.  You can see this report card here: http://scienceguild.org/wiki/index.php?title=Spore You can read John’s review of Spore in Science Magazine, here:  http://www.sciencemag.org/content/322/5901/531.3.full

Why am I writing about it?  Because science can be explained by playing games, but only when the core of the science must be used to win the game.  For example, a game about evolution should require the player to overcome that fact that random events may wipe out your offspring at any moment.  That would be exciting and teach real science.  I am writing about this because we (learning technology folks) are still struggling with this concept.  I believe we have learned the theory: we know we want a game that requires the player to use real science to win.  The struggling is coming from the question, how do we make that game?   Working closely with the scientist, or having the scientist be the game writer is the answer.  For examples, see Metablast, Cellcraft and Surge (and Immune Attack, of course).

USA Science and Engineering Festival!

At the USA Science and Engineering Expo, we had a great time introducing our “free Video Game” to 4000 people. While kids of all ages ran into our booth to see for themselves whether Immune Attack was any good or not, parents were happy to hear that our video game is about white blood cells fighting bacteria. The main character isn’t a military character, it’s a Microbot. It’s main weapon is a ray gun that activates proteins.

The crowd at the USA Science and Engineering expo was curious and eager to hear about real science! Some high school kids wanted to talk about careers in science. FAS is a science policy think tank, so we had plenty to talk about! Additionally, video game production requires many different types of scientific, mathematical and engineering related skills. Someone needs to design the game and designing means testing to find out whether the game is fun. Testing means experimental design! Which audience finds your game fun? And what is your control game? Then someone will program the game. Someone else is an expert at drawing three-dimensional objects using software like Maya, Studio Max, or Cinema4D. Then still another artist uses other software to create all of the backgrounds. Then another artist uses more technology to create the characters. And if you are making a realistic video game, then someone serves as a subject matter expert and makes sure the historical context is correct, or that the science in the Microbot is accurate… I could go on and on. See below for links to art and biological science in particular:

I enjoyed meeting all of you. Please support technology in our schools! Why? Because you can’t see viruses, you can’t see bacteria. You can’t see proteins. But you can see them in a video game! Imagine learning soccer, but never being shown the field. Previously, we did not have ways to see bacteria and proteins, but now we do! And the new data is being used by many people in the Medical Illustration Field to create videos and diagrams that explain the molecular science that affects our everyday lives.

Here are some examples of great medical illustration resources:

The Association of Medical Illustrators

The book: The Machinery of Life

The Biomedical Communications department at the University of Texas Southwestern.

Games we’re playing: Rocket Science

While searching on Kongregate.com the best place to find free games, I found Rocket Science. An interesting game that has the player shooting a number of rockets at a group of targets while factoring in angle, thrust, drag, and gravity. This game can teach you realistic physics with rockets.

I had fun playing the game and beating the levels, varying in difficulty from easy to extremely challenging. The first few levels can be beat quickly, but the later levels have you using several rockets to get to your targets. One level has you using rockets to power a car and this showed me that the developer put a lot of work into creating fun and interesting levels. You can learn more about the developers on their website at MoFunZone.com. Also, MoFunZone.com has a great educational games section don’t miss that!

Please try Rocket Science and leave me a comment with your thoughts on the game! If you have any games I should try don’t hesitate to recommend them.

My school will not let me download Immune Attack

Dear Melanie,
Our school has a filter which blocks the Immune Attack download site. Could you perhaps send the game an email attachment?
Sincerely,
Karl
aka, teacher at a K-12 school anywhere in the US

Dear Karl,

Yes, I am familiar with that arch enemy of educational software progrIt does fit on a CD. You may download it at home, burn it to a CD, then copy that CD as many times as you like, and then insert the CD into any computer you would like to install the game on. You have to install the program. This may lead to another common and equally huge problem: permission. There is currently a debate between whether holding your breath or kicking and screaming works better. Please let us know what works for you.

I hope humor gets you though this moment of frustration! I can make a CD for you if you would like, and mail it to you. No problem, just send me your best snail mail address.

Here is a big Happy Note! Immune Attack 2.0 is now funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. We will take advantage of brand new technology: IA2.0 will be programmed in the Unity Engine, and it will be Mac, PC and BROWSER playable! Yiiihaw! No downloading and no installation! However, installing onto PC or MAC will be supported, so that an internet connection will not be necessary to play IA2.0.

IA2.0 won’t be ready until next school year.  In the meantime, here is some more joy to tide you over:
Metablast
is a fantastic looking new 3D game that is also about a microbot! This bot is inside a plant cell in which photosynthesis is failing! This game is also funded by the National Institutes of Health, also uses real proteins structures and other actual data and also turns real science facts into a real cool adventure. Level one will be released and week now…..
mygameIQ
is a program that you can install on your PC that will let you easily find and download and install many learning games. Instead of searching for 100 different games on your computer, you just open to the mygameIQ, and click play on which ever of your games you wish to play. The best part is that we here at FAS Learning Tech get a report on how many people played IA through mygameIQ, how many times they played. So we can find out how popular the game is, which helps us design the sequel! It is also vital to get renewed funding.
PS: mygameIQ is PC only. Please let them know if you want a MAC version!
LearningTech Blog
I maintain a list of the excellent learning games that I know about. So keep up today on my blog. You can also sign up there for my monthly
Learning Technologies Newsletter.

Please let me know if I can help you out in anyway. I support the use of Immune Attack as a model for students who are designing their own games, for the study of the intersection of art and science, and to drive up interest and knowledge of molecular science in the general adult public.

Sincerely yours,

Melanie

Melanie Stegman, Ph.D.
Director, Learning Technologies Program
Federation of American Scientists
1725 DeSales Street, NW 6th Floor
Washington, DC 20036
mstegman at fas.org
www.fas.org/immuneattack

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FAS provides decision-makers and the public with analysis and research in international security, learning technologies, and earth systems.

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Gamestar Mechanic released!

Gamestar Mechanic is now available.  Gamestar Mechanic is a game that you play that teaches you how to design video games.   Designed for 4th – 9th grade students, and intended to teach systems thinking, iterative design and collaborative skills, Gamestar Mechanic is lots of fun.  You can check it out on their website, or download the teacher’s guide, and the press release right here from our website.  And then let us know what you think!

Download the Teacher’s Guide

Gamestar Press Release

NIAID and Innovative Education Programs

Immune Attack 2.0 is being developed with funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).  The NIAID funds research in everything from basic viral replication mechanisms to innovative AIDS treatments, from basic

To read more about the NIAID and their work, you can download their PDF, or see their website.   Today, the NIAID published a report on the educational programs the fund.  And that includes, of course, Immune Attack 2.0.  So, go read the report on all the great innovative work the NIAID is sponsoring for educating the next generation of Scientists!