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USA Science and Engineering Festival!

Posted: November 12th, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

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 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.

My school won’t let me download Immune Attack

Posted: November 12th, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

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 programs:  the institutional download block.  If I could email it to you, I would.  But Immune Attack is >500 MB, in other words, it’s huge.  But, it does fit on a CD.  So you can 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 your though this moment of frustration!  I can make a CD for you if you would like, and mail it to you.  No problem, 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.  :-(  However, I have heard your pain, and I have tried to alleviate it as much as possible.

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
immuneattack.org

http://www.fas.org
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FAS provides decision-makers and the public with analysis and research in international security, learning technologies, and earth systems.

More than 70 Nobel Laureates serve on our board of sponsors. Become a FAS member today and join colleagues committed to using science to make a more secure world.
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September Newsletter

Posted: October 3rd, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

You can read the September 2010 Newsletter here.

Volume 1.4, September 2010.

Technology Enables Tiny Dreams

Video games increasing your sight.

Posted: September 30th, 2010, by Seth Wilson

You CAN teach an old neuron new tricks.  How do you manage this great feat?  How do you get your brain to function better than it currently does?  You can play video games!

Daphne Bavelier and her lab at the University of Rochester have demonstrated that playing video games can improve your eyesight, in particular, your ability to perceive contrast.

Li, R., Polat, U., Makous, W. & Bavelier, D. (2009).  Enhancing the contrast sensitivity function through action video game playing.  Nature Neuroscience.   (You can find the PDF of this article on Dr. Bavalier’s website.)

Perhaps this research can help us gamers as a whole to fight the bad reputation video games get as just a distraction and waste of time.  But the most exciting thing is that a completely novel method of improving contrast vision has been found.   Remember those days when we thought our brains could not be altered?  Well, this paper and others are demonstrating that our brains change with training.  But this paper in particular demonstrates how playing action video games can help you out.

Gabor Patch

This is an example of a Gabor Patch. The rate of its flickering, and length of its appearance can be varied.

To prove these ideas Renjle Li first took 10 men who played action video games at least five times a week and 10 men who hadn’t played a video game in over a year.  The gamers responded more quickly and just as accurately as their peers to test of contrast detection, called a Gabor Patch, in which the subject is asked to state when the Gabor Patch is visible on the computer screen.

After reading this part of the research I gathered that gamers on the whole are faster than non-gamers at the dot array test.  Thus, a correlation exists.  But does that mean the games made them that way or that people who choose to play games are just faster?  In order to demonstrate game play is the cause of the better performance, Renjle Li coordinated the following experiment.

The team randomly assigned six non video game players to play two action video games for a total of 50 hours over nine weeks, with no more than two hours of play per day.  Another seven non video game players followed the same rules but played a video game that involves directing the lives of simulated characters to achieve certain goals (interesting, but no action).  These subjects who averaged 26 years of age, and reported having played no video games of any type within one year’s time took the same tests as described above.  The action gamers responded to the Gabor Patch test at a lower contrast than the group playing the simulation game, and with similar accuracy.  This experiment proves that action games increased the action gamers’ contrast vision.

This link will take you to some of Dr. Bavelier’s lab’s more current research on the subject. Additionally, Ed Yong, a fantastic science blogger, who has been presenting real science research like this to the public for a while, and who now blogs for Discover, has an interesting post on the subject.

Please comment on this post if you would like to have an ongoing discussion on the subject.  I want to hear your thoughts.  And we’ll keep the Games Related Research Posts coming!

Li, R., Polat, U., Makous, W. & Bavelier, D. (2009).  Enhancing the contrast sensitivity function through action video game playing.  Nature Neuroscience.   (You can find the PDF of this article on Dr. Bavalier’s website.)

My Game IQ

Posted: September 30th, 2010, by Seth Wilson

“Play Smart. Play on mygameIQ.”  mygameIQ is out and I recommend it to all gamers on PC’s.

mygameIQ was developed by Pragmatic Solutions, and is a download manager for video games.  A download manager is something that makes it simpler for you to play a bunch of files…  just like iTunes manages all your MP3 files, now mygameIQ can manage all your game files on your PC.  Download and install the mygameIQ application and get access to a diverse catalog of games through a fun, easy to navigate interface, including Immune Attack!  Then whenever you want to play Immune Attack, open mygameIQ on your PC, go to Immune Attack and click PLAY.

What we here at FAS love about mygameIQ is that we can see how many people play Immune Attack and for how long each time.  And we are thrilled to report that people play Immune Attack many times, and on average 3 hours at a time.  Yes, that is correct.  Somebody is “studying” molecular biology for 3 hours straight, voluntarily.

Gamestar Mechanic released!

Posted: September 30th, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

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

Posted: September 3rd, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

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!

The benefits of playing videogames may surprise you.

Posted: September 1st, 2010, by Seth Wilson

Here is a current article that talks about the different benefits of playing video games.

The Office of Naval Research posted an article about its program officer Dr. Ray Perez and his research discussing the benefits of playing video games.

If you’re interested in the subject I found a great paper from 2005 about Learning Games.

The Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Lab members David Williamson Shaffer, Richard Halverson, Kurt R. Squire, and James P. Gee wrote an amazing paper about how video games may be the future of learning.  They discuss how video games can teach us so much more than how to use a gun.  They discuss how video games can teach a 14 year old politics, a normal person complex modeling, and help kids with cancer take better care of themselves. To find the paper use this link and scroll down to Joint Papers and find the working paper titled “Before every child is left behind: How epistemic games can solve the coming crisis in education.”

Don’t forget the FAS National Summit on Educational Games Report. The summit brought together more than one hundred experts to examine how to harness the power of video games for learning.  This report is widely cited and contains a collection of the reasons in favor of using games and simulations in education as well the issues that need to be addressed if industry and education are to be able to collaborate on learning games.

August Newsletter

Posted: August 31st, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

View our August Newsletter here.

To register for our Newsletter, go to our registration page.

And please give us feed back about anything at all at our feedback survey (extremely short).

And please!  If you are a teacher, we really really want your feedback!!!  Please answer a few (very few) questions about Immune Attack!  HERE.

Games we’re playing: Epsilon

Posted: August 31st, 2010, by Seth Wilson

We all know by now that Kongregate is the place to go when you have the need to play some awesome free games.  But I had no idea that I would find a game that would challenge me in so many fun and interesting ways.

In Epsilon your goal is to get a ball to collect all of the orbs in the level and then get to the portal using two wormholes as well as some cool time manipulation techniques.  I think the guys at Dissolue Productions deserve our and hopefully some big time game developers attention.

Immune Attack in the press.

Posted: August 24th, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

Cell Article on Video games 2010

Amy Maxmen wrote an article about Immune Attack for Cell!  Maxmen keeps you up to date about the push from the President and First Lady to make sure we are using video games and all learning technology to their fullest potential.   And then Maxmen summaries what scientists think of video game about science and then what DATA there is suggesting that they work!

The data that is quoted in this article will be published this fall semester.  We are in the final round of evaluations this semester.

Exercise while gaming!

Posted: August 18th, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

Paul Ballas, OD, of our own Science Advisory Group, wrote an excellent opinion piece for Wired.

Paul thinks that video games that require us to be more active might help us actually become more active.  People exercise more when they can do something fun for exercise, he writes.  Paul suggests that if we rated video games for how active they made us, that the game companies would have a motivation to make their games meet higher standards.

http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2010/08/exercise-ratings-for-games/

Video games really do capture our attention.  But can they really provide effective exercise?  Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) did…  maybe a starship that you control with the DDR pad could be another fun game… if it isn’t already out there.

The Wii, and now Sony and Microsoft have motion sensing controllers that are making exercise games more popular and potentially more powerful than ever before.

Read the article and let us know what you think!

Interpersonal skills learned in a video game?

Posted: August 10th, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

I believe that video games have the power to teach us many things.
Math (See Lure of the Labyrinth, and DimensionM)
Biology (MedMyst, CSI: The Experience, Cellcraft and Immune Attack)
Ancient History (Discover Babylon)
And the many games that teach social awareness and facts about current events at Games for Change.

But can a game teach interpersonal skills? Can a game teach problem solving skills? What do you think? Leave a comment and give me an example of a time when something you learned from a video game came into play in real life? Perhaps in World of Warcraft or some other multiplayer game you convinced another player to join you, and you have tried the same tactic in real life? Perhaps in Whyville you have learned something about getting people to agree with you? Must a game be multiplayer in order to foster interpersonal skills? What about Mass Effect? Have anyone learned any negotiation skills that have worked on humans in the real world?

I’m keeping my eye out for my own experiences. I know I have started to be more experimental and to take more chances in the video games I play. But I’m wondering what effect that will have on my real life. Maybe I’ll post more often on my blog. That would be a nice effect.

Cellcraft puts you in the driver seat of a cell

Posted: July 29th, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

So, how do cells avoid viruses? If you wonder, try playing the game CellCraft.  It is a terrific game for middle school students or anyone.   Check it out, give the Cellcraft team some props on their forum, and then tell me what you like about the game.

cellcraftgame.com

www.kongregate.com Play Cellcraft here!

Immune Attack address more molecular detail, but we are trying to do essentially the same thing: teach people how cells actually operate at the molecular level.  The world of the Cell is frankly a fascinating huge place and it should be explored in as many ways as possible, games, stories, videos, it is a rich place for storytelling with many many points of conflict… between cells and viruses, human cells and bacteria, DNA vs damaging radicals…There are endless stories to tell!

Congratulations to the Cell Craft Team!  And thank you!

Mice Needed

Posted: July 9th, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

Dear Faithful Blog Readers. I need your help! Immune Attack the video game is best played with a mouse, but many schools have laptops with trackpads. Do you have an old two-button mouse laying around? If you send it to me, I’ll put it to good use! I’ll give it to teachers who are evaluating Immune Attack and don’t have mice for their laptops. Roller ball mice are fine!
The mice will get used for many applications! Send your mice (please pay for the shipping) to me at
1725 DeSales Street NW
6th Floor
Washington, DC 20036

Thank you very much! Your help bring technology to schools is appreciated!

Want to Design Science Video Games?

Posted: July 7th, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

We need you!

FAS Educational Technology Program is collaborating with Muzzy Lane Software to create a series of video games that help middle school students and teachers prepare for middle school science proficiency exams.  The collaboration is intended to draw in teachers, students, game designers and anyone interested to contributing to the design of the games.  Since middle school science covers a wide range of topics (Physical, Chemical, Earth and Life sciences) there is something to interest everyone.  The collaboration is called The Clear Lab Project, and is funded by a SBIR grant from DARPA to Muzzy Lane.

To get involved, go to the project website, http://clearlabproject.com/

Soon, you will be able to access our very first draft of a game design.  You can also find a “Game Design Template,” which is a list of the necessary components of an excellent video game design draft.

I look forward to many rewarding interactions with many of you as we design games for science together!

Can we grade Video Games?

Posted: June 26th, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

I attended Games for Change 2010 in NYC in May.  I was really excited to meet Bill O’Brien, Senior Advisor for Program Innovation, National Endowment for the Arts.  How about that?  The NEA is interested in Video Games, so they must be art, right?

I think of video games as art.  I always have.  Video games make me think and feel and someone made it.  Art.  The art is in the fact that video games affect our thinking, affect our way of looking at the world, the affect us in a way a conversation with another human being may affect us.  This is because art is a way for one human to contrive a way for another human being to have an experience, even when the two humans will never meet.

I wrote to Bill O’Bien at the NEA and told him how I thought of art.  And I wanted to share it here, because I believe that considering video games as means of affecting the mind of the player may make it more clear that video games can open worlds the same way books, paintings and conversations can.

I am sure someone else defined art this way before me, I don’t know who.   Tom Bissell just published a terrific new book called Extra Lives. I haven’t finished it yet, so I thought I would tell you how *I* would judge video games and we’ll see how Tom Bissell does it.   OK, here goes.

Video games are essays.  Video games are written by an author who, like the essay’s author, is not present when the game is played.  Therefore, the game and the essay must be self contained.  An essay is designed to make the reader think or feel something, and this is why we call it art.  An essay may make me weep and may make me laugh, it’s that change in my thinking that we recognize as art.

Video games are museum installations.  A video game is made to interact with the player just like an art installation interacts with the audience.  Perhaps the pieces are arranged in a certain order, so that people walking by in the museum are sure to see the pictures in the right order.  Or, the author may allow the audience to walk around as they see fit.  Video games engage in this kind of manipulation of what the audience sees and in which order.   Some games are more free form, and others are more linear, just like installations in a museum.

Video games are stories.  And just like many stories, they often effect our thinking.  After reading a story, we sometimes see the real world around us from the point of view of characters in the story.  As Wayne Booth wrote in The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction the characters, occurrences and narration of novels affect our thinking even after we finish the book.  Additionally, Booth writes that racism can be presented in a book, like Huckleberry Finn, but the book is not condoning racism, because the characters which we respect in the book do not condone racism.  Many games, even some ridiculously violent ones, contain stories that make the audience think about the consequences of their actions.  Often the story frames the violence in a way that makes it clear that horrible circumstances are driving the player to make terrible choices.  Bioshock and God of War both contain stories that explain why the player commits the violence, and leaves space for the player to feel remorse and consider the horrible consequences.  So just like any other piece of fiction, the player identifies with a character in the game, and the way the story is told speaks to the ethics of the fiction.

I think it is clear that video games are art, because they are attempts to convey emotion and thoughts from one human to another using device created by the author and which the audience interacts with independently.  The quality and worth of video games can be judged by the same standards we already use for essays, fiction, and museum installations.

This email is not an elegant or comprehensive description of all the ways video games are art, nor all the criteria that we can use to appraise them.  I just wanted to get across the point that video games create an experience for their players and this entire experience is the work of art.  While video game graphics can be art on their own, even simplistic or otherwise unpleasant or meaningless graphics can be art in the context of their video game because of how they contribute to the experience for the player.

Get your Newsletter here!

Posted: June 18th, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

Hello everyone!

Our newsletter will explain our hopes and dreams for Immune Attack, will link you to surveys that are important to us because they let us know what you like and don’t like about Immune Attack.  Our Newsletter will also give you information about educational video games, science games and molecular science happenings in particular.  So read it HERE.  And if you are not receiving it already, send us your email now! (Newsletter will be once a month.)

Thank you!

Melanie

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Where to find Science Games.

Posted: January 4th, 2010, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

Here is the list of science games that we are continuously updating for you.

Flash Games played over the web:

MedMyst (about hunting down infectious diseases)

CSI:The Experience (just like the show, only you need to use your own brain!)

N-Squad You take on the role of a forensic scientist, solving crimes and investigating mysterious deaths.

Cellcraft is a real time strategy game in which you play the role of a cell trying to defeat a virus before they defeat you.  An excellent intro to cell biology for middle school.

____________________

Downloads for PC and Mac:

The Curse of Brownbeard is Middle School game about pirates who need someone to figure out why they are getting sick… The Curse of Brownbeard.  Teaches experimental design.

____________________

Available through My Game IQ (free download manager program that is PC only).

Immune Attack  (We are the top game on My Game IQ right now!  (9/28/2010)

Surge harnessing the power of video games to help students build a strong intuitive/tacit understanding of the physics involved.

Science Pirates: The Curse of Brownbeard helps students understand science processes to better change food safety behavior.

Re-Mission a third person shooter game about killing cancer cells.

____________________

Games being built

Our collaborators at Clear Lab, where we are creating a battery of fun SCIENCE! games for middle school students!  Sign up to be a part of the development team!

____________________

Other great sites:

Games for change has several game about the environment.

http://www.gamesforchange.org/play

NISE has some games about nanotechnology.  Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network.

http://www.nisenet.org/

Science Netlinks has many things for teaching… some are games, some are not…

http://www.sciencenetlinks.com/resource_index.php

A History of Immune Attack

Posted: December 7th, 2009, by Dr. Melanie Stegman

Nanobot searches for Selectin so that the Monocytes can transmigrate... and save Roz.

2001 The Beginning:  Gathering Evidence.

The Federation of American Scientists started gathering research about how technology could be used to transform education in 2001.  Under the guidance of their new president Henry Kelly, the FAS launched the Learning Science and Technology Research and Development Roadmap project, which brought together approximately 100 researchers from the academic, government and corporate sectors. This extensive collaborative effort was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation to FAS-LTP (Grant number 0226421), the Department of Education, as well as the Hewlett Foundation, Microsoft Corporation, and Carnegie Corporation.  The Roadmaps were published in 2003 on the FAS-LTP website.

The collaborative work of the roadmap participants identified key research and development areas for next-generation learning systems; pedagogy and instructional design; building physically correct interactive simulations; dialogue and question management, learner modeling, and tools for assembling and constructing learning systems from these components.  These roadmaps were presented to Congress, and provided the background data for the development of legislation that was passed in 2008 as part of the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  This legislation authorizes the establishment of a National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies.   http://www.fas.org/press/faq/nationalcenter.html

Games can teach, we’ll prove it!

FAS began its bold experiment to PROVE that video game could teach and train in 2004. The newly formed FAS-Learning Technologies Program applied for and received three peer-reviewed, federally-funded grants to design and develop learning games.  In addition to Immune Attack, FAS-LTP has also produced a simulation trainer called Multi Casualty Incident Responder and a game called Discover Babylon.  Multi Casualty Incident Responder combines realistic simulations with advanced training technologies to teach firefighters.  Discover Babylon is an immersive 3D game for 8-12 year olds that teaches about the significance of Mesopotamia in world culture using library and museum objects.

Gathering More Evidence.

In October 2005, FAS-LTP convened the Educational Games Summit (www.fas.org/gamesummit) which was the first meeting of government, academia, private foundations and the entertainment software industry to address the challenges of developing, marketing and funding educational games.  The resulting report, www.fas.org/gamesummit/Resources/Summit on Educational Games.pdf summarizes the research about why video games are expected to teach well, and in particular, why complex video games (like Immune Attack) should teach the skills that high wage jobs demand, such as data collection and decision making.  Henry Kelly, President, Federation of American Scientists, as quoted in the Educational Games Summit report, says:

“Game developers have instinctively implemented a lot of the recommendations of learning scientists and used them to help players acquire a skill set that closely matches the kind of thinking, planning, learning, and technical skills that seem to be increasingly demanded in business. In the game world, the measure of a player’s success is complex and practical. Can you use your knowledge? Can you feed your people? Can you cure the patient? Can you beat Dan Snyder at his own football franchise?”

Immune Attack!  2004-2008.

With a competitive grant from the National Science Foundation (Award number 0427827), FAS lead a collaboration with Immunologists at Brown University, with graphic art experts at University of Southern California.  We chose to create a biology game, because of the need to engage more students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related fields.  We choose immunology because high school teachers indicated that this subject is one of the most difficult to present.

Game development is an iterative process, and scientists, teachers and students all had input.  Garry Gaber, CEO and President of Escape Hatch Entertainment, rose to the challenge.  Escape Hatch provided graphics and game mechanisms in Immune Attack that are not only fun and exciting for students to play, but that have been patiently modeled and re-modeled in response to scientists’ critiques.  This unique interaction requires Mr. Gaber’s personal dedication to the creation of an excellent educational video game, a sense of humor and collaboration on the part of our scientists, and the experience with maintaining unique collaborations that FAS-LTP provides.

Key parts of the game mechanism are that every object in the game functions as it should in nature, except for the fictional, cell sized submarine (called a nanobot) that the player pilots remotely through the body.  In this manner, game actions that are not true to nature are clear, because they involve the nanobot.  Additionally, great care was taken to generate the communication that comes from the game’s “on board advisors” so that it helps the player play the game while always presenting information that is true to science.

Once a working engine, working graphics generation system and storyline had been established, the work of testing Immune Attack with students could begin.  The most important factor in educational game development is, after all, that students should be engaged.  To this end, FAS-LTP spent an entire school year’s time testing the Immune Attack prototypes with students in 5 high school across the country.  After each evaluation with students, their comments and reactions were used to design the next prototype.  Finally a game mechanism and modified story line were finalized that was engaging for students and accurate to the science.

Success!

In May, 2008, the final version of Immune Attack was made available for free download on the FAS website [immuneattack.org].  This version of Immune Attack is a proof of concept, a huge step toward demonstrating that a video game can be made about science.  A video game storyline can be written about cells and proteins that is compelling enough to make students want to play the game.  And importantly, video game action can be created that is true to science.   Now, for the very first time, students can learn about innate immunity painlessly.  Well, not without repeatedly dying virtual deaths in virtual exploding fireballs.  But now immunity, and the cell biology and the protein biochemistry involved in immune reactions are presented to students in an familiar format: the video game.  Information is presented intuitively, players need to accomplish a goal so they seek out the information rather than listen passively, and the constant challenge of beating the game keeps them on task longer than anyone could ever listen to a lecture on innate immunity.  The richness of the video game arena is proven to be an excellent home for the Cellular and Molecular science of the human immune system.

Immune Attack has been downloaded by over 9000 people.  Five hundred teachers have registered with us as interested in evaluating Immune Attack in their classrooms.  Immune Attack is featured on the AAAS website ScienceNetlinks.  Seed magazine wrote an article “Gaming on the Shoulders of Giants” about us.  Nature Medicine featured Immune Attack in an article.  Edutopia has made two videos about McKinley Technology High School students using Immune Attack: these students served as beta testers for Immune Attack from the very beginning.

Immune Attack 2009-2014.

Melanie Stegman, Ph.D. was hired by FAS-LTP in Summer 2008 to be project manager for Immune Attack.  Melanie is leading the evaluation of Immune Attack and the development of Immune Attack 2.0.   To support the evaluation and distribution Immune Attack, much appreciated funding comes from the Entertainment Software Association Foundation, who have been dedicated to Immune Attack for over three years.  In order to develop Immune Attack from a proof of concept into an even more engaging game with ever more science included, Melanie has received a very competitive grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Grant Number: 1R25AI084848-0110.  Collaborating with FAS_LTP in this work is the Maine International Center for Digital Learning, who helping us greatly with evaluation design.  And EscapeHatch Entertainment, of course, because they are best game designer/programmer ever.

Additionally, other important funding has come to Immune Attack from Amgen Corporation, PHrMA, Verizon Foundation.

Many goals remain to be accomplished.  Most importantly we must evaluate the effect of playing Immune Attack on students knowledge and on their attitudes toward cellular and molecular science.  Evaluations are underway, and any teacher, teaching any subject to 7th though 12th grade students is invited to participate in our evaluation. Preliminary data points out that students are learning.  Students who play Immune Attack learn about the functions of Monocytes, about proteins mediating the functions of Monocytes, and about molecular interactions among human complement factors, bacterial surface proteins and how cytokines are produced and what effect those cytokines have on white blood cells and vein endothelial cells.  Most promising is our preliminary data that students are gaining confidence with molecular and cellular biology.

Our preliminary data is so promising that the American Society of Cell Biology decided to put our abstract in their Press Book.  Our evaluations have been small scale so far, but we hope that in the next 4 months that we will be able to get about 20-30 teachers to evaluate Immune Attack in their classrooms.  The evaluation requires three 40-minute sessions in an online computer lab.  Computers need 2GHz processors and 1 GB of ram, a video card 64 MB or better and and must be running Windows XP, Vista or 7.

Scientists, we need you!

In order to develop new game levels that are full of exciting game play we need intricate molecular details about chemistry, physics, chemical engineering, nanotechnology, biochemistry, immunology and cell biology.  We have 20 dedicated scientists already serving on our Scientific Advisory Group.  Acting as a board of reviewers, these scientists keep Immune Attack accurate by “peer reviewing” the game.  There enthusiasm and expert assistance will keep Immune Attack an exciting true to life adventure!

If you would like to serve on the Scientific Advisory Group, or as an advisor as a teacher, please contact us at immuneattack at fas.org.  We are having a great time presenting real cellular and molecular science to the public and we welcome you!

Contact Us:
immuneattack@fas.org