Video games can do more than improve hand-eye coordination, spatial learning skills, and short-term memory. The way video games affect those skills, in fact, makes them the ideal platform to convey more complex information. The Wellcome Trust, the UK-based non-profit devoted to improving the health of people and animals alike, sees the potential in video games to help better people’s understanding of medical science outside the realm of business and academia. The Gamify Your PhD project backed by the Wellcome Trust was all about pairing scientists with game developers to birth games that could entertain as much as Pac-man while also demonstrating the theory behind complex biology.
Six development teams were gathered to develop games about subjects including molecular biology and addiction recovery. Judges included both department heads from the Wellcome Trust and even game industry figures like Charlie Hasdell, the designer of SingStar.
The Wellcome Trust announced the winner of its game jam on Friday, naming Margherita Coccia and developers Clockwork Cuckoo and Force of Habit’s game Dysbosis the champion.
Outward appearances can be deceiving. At first, Dysbosis looks like a subtle mix the old school shooting of Jeff Minter’s games liked Tempest,with the quiet beats of Q Games PixelJunk Eden. Unlike those games though, it demonstrates the principals behind intestinal immunology. “We have evolved different mechanisms in our intestine to keep harmful invading microbes at bay, while fostering our beneficial bacteria,” reads Force of Habit’s game description. “In Dysbosis, the player controls a collection of cells that form part of the intestinal wall, shooting harmful oncoming bacteria and allowing through the healthy bacteria.”
What’s fascinating about Coccia’s game is that it demonstrates the utility of old, pre-established game rules out of pure entertainment. Force of Habit didn’t reinvent the shooter wheel for Dysbosis, it used a rock solid game design to effectively communicate basic information about healthy human biology. Tempest was made to separate you from your quarters, but here Minter’s game is reconsidered and remade into something that is beneficial to society.
All the games from Gamify Your PhD are playable online for free.