Find out the real winner in a game of Bacteria Combat!
By Carla Brown, University of Glasgow
In a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on digital devices, apps and ‘quick fix solutions’, how do we continue to engage the public with science? After attempting several methods of public engagement during my PhD at University of Glasgow, I believe that the solution for this lies within gamification.
Gamification describes the application of game mechanics to non-game environments to engage and motivate users. The gamification of science is being used increasingly in research, education, public engagement and industry. My research focuses on the development of species-specific antibiotics (bacteriocins), which led me to consider the gamification of microbiology and in particular, antibiotic resistance.
Developing novel classes of antibiotics is a highly relevant area of research, due to the emerging problem of antibiotic resistance, which has been an inevitable consequence of our misuse of antibiotic therapies. The solution to this problem is multifactorial, and will require not only the development of novel drugs but enhanced public awareness on the role and value of antibiotics in human health.
Current strategies to educate the public on antibiotic resistance include charity mediated campaigns, Antibiotic Action and Antibiotic Research UK. Primarily, these campaigns target adults through online educational content and engaging websites.
Yet, a recent study performed by the Wellcome Trust showed that antibiotic resistance was ‘still widely misunderstood’; some participants stated resistance was caused by the patient’s immune system, and others described antibiotics as ‘magic pills’. This attitude to antibiotics indeed seems concordant with our fast paced and ‘quick fix’ society.
Additionally, it is likely this warped perception of antibiotics also stems from the overly hygienic behaviours of the nation. If one should google the word ‘germ’ and then google the word ‘alien’, the same image is presented. What message does this send about our friendly bugs?
I believe that school pupils represent the ideal target audience for antibiotic education due to their role as ‘future antibiotic users’. With this in mind, last year I decided to take action and create an educational resource that would attract school pupils and motivate them to learn about antibiotic resistance.
In 2014, I developed a series of events entitled the ‘Bacterial Commonwealth Games’. I surveyed school pupils’ knowledge of bacteria and antibiotics, and when I asked primary school pupils across Glasgow (aged 9-10) to summarise bacteria in one word, responses included ‘virus’, ‘germs’ ‘invisible monsters’ and ‘disease’. Surveys on antibiotics also showed a lack of knowledge on these therapies, with most pupils reacting to the word only when I mentioned the word ‘Doctor’.
To combat these misconceptions, I collaborated with Edinburgh based designer Siam Colvine to create a bacteria Top Trumps / Pokémon card game titled ‘Bacteria Combat’ which was targeted at ages 8-13.
Extensive audience testing allowed us to develop an engaging and educational game from several paper prototypes. The feedback from this paper card game was positive, but that pupils would prefer the game as an app.
This data was used to apply for several grants, including the Biochemical Society Scientific Outreach Grant and Society for Applied Microbiology Public Engagement Grant, to fund the development of a digital version of the card game.
Using this data, I applied for a Biochemical Society Scientific Outreach Grant and a Society for Applied Microbiology Public Engagement Grant to fund the development of the Bacteria Combat app. The game was developed by Future Fossil Studios. The first version of the game, Bacteria Combat Lite, is now free to download on Google Play and the App store!
In the current build of the game, there are three sets of cards; ‘Good’ bacteria, pathogenic bacteria and joker cards. Joker cards include immune cell cards and antibiotic cards.
In the game, you must challenge ‘Bacteria Bot’ using your bacteria card tag team. You can battle with Strength, Speed, Resistance, Regeneration Time and Special Power scores. If you are lucky you may be dealt a gold antibiotic card – however, these cards are not effective against bacteria champions with high resistance scores.
Bacteria Combat Lite also includes learning questing to test player knowledge on the science behind the game play!
We are currently building a multiplayer version which we will be using in schools to evaluate learning and player motivation. Our vision is to create a sustainable and innovative tool to be used in school classrooms which will raise an ‘antibiotic aware’ generation. In order to achieve this, we need your feedback! If you would like to comment on the game, please contact: C.firstname.lastname@example.org @bacteriacombat