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Public Engagement

Developing Educational Games with Young Adults

Game Development at Centre of the Cell

Written by Elise Allthorpe-Mullis, Carla Brown, Elizabeth Danner and Gioia Mosler from Centre of the Cell

Centre of the Cell opened its doors to a group of young Londoners last week to run a full day of game development activities. Twelve 14-18 year olds were invited to evaluate Centre of the Cell’s existing games, test new games in the making, and even come up with some game ideas of their own!

Games are a key component of Centre of the Cell, an innovative science education centre located in QMUL biomedical labs in London’s Whitechapel. Inside Centre of the Cell’s Pod, visitors can watch films and play games that explore the world of cells, the human body and medical research.  Centre of the Cell Learning and Access Manager Liz Danner explained why the game development day was so valuable, “We’re always looking for innovative ways to make our games better and for new opportunities for our youth members. With three new games in development, we decided to organise an event where budding science communicators could play our games, provide their feedback and learn about the process of designing science games, all while developing their own skills.”

The day began with some evaluation of the Pod. The group discussed the strengths and weaknesses of Centre of the Cell’s current games and came up with ideas for what they thought made a great science game. Three suggestions that came out of this were that 1) a science game should link science with a well-known and simple game, 2) it should be suitable for all ages and 3) it should encourage competition between players.

Having considered what they thought made a science game effective, the afternoon kicked off with a game development training session run by Centre of the Cell content developer, Carla Brown. “I wanted to show the group exactly what my job entails, so I asked them to work in teams to design a game based on the research of a group of scientists who are working on antibiotics produced by bacteria. The teams had 20 minutes to translate the complex science into a simple and effective game. Each team made storyboards and designs for their games; Biogun, Stressed Out and Battle of the Germs, which they successfully pitched to us, Dragon’s den style!"

Next up the young game developers were invited to test out three brand new games being installed in the Pod later this year, which are all at different stages of development.

Prototype of the poo race game ‘Gut Feeling’

Screenshot of the early digital prototype of the poo race game ‘Gut Feeling’. ‘Gut feeling’ educates players about faecal incontinence and will be in the Pod at the end of this year.

Gut feeling

Carla is working with Professor Charles Knowles’ group at the Centre of Digestive Diseases. Carla’s poo race game ‘Gut feeling’ aims to educate players about faecal incontinence and bowel health. “I showed the group early video footage of ‘Gut feeling’ and due to the skills learned during the workshop, they were able to identify key areas for improvement. Two examples of this included changing the point system to increase player motivation and increasing the number of ‘bowel obstacles’. After having their game ideas assessed by myself and colleagues, I think they really enjoyed getting into the role of a game critic!”

Gene Heroes Game

The tentatively named Gene Heroes lets players discover how genes affect health. Gene Heroes will be in the Pod, and on the app store, at the end of this year.

Gene Heroes

Centre of the Cell content developer Elise Allthorpe-Mullis is working with East London Genes & Health, one of the largest community-based genetic research studies in the world, led by Professor David van Heel. 

“My game puts the player in the shoes of a scientist exploring East London looking for people with genetic knockouts. I’m in the later stages of game development, so the group were able to play a digital prototype. It was great to see them getting excited about the game, they gave me a lot of feedback about the design, game-play and scoring system, which I have started to incorporate into the next prototype, and they even spotted a few software bugs!”

Asthma Game

The ‘Asthma Game’ (working title) during set up before the test-play session. Gioia hopes to develop the game into a digital version over the next few months.

Asthma Game (working title)

Dr Gioia Mosler works as Learning and Outreach Officer for Centre of the Cell and the School-based Asthma Project, a project run by a team of Queen Mary University researchers studying asthma in young people. 

“I am developing a game about asthma that will form part of a self-management workshop for young asthma sufferers. The game teaches players about general topics related to asthma, such as asthma triggers, and also educates them about the importance to regularly use preventer inhalers in order to prevent symptoms. The game is currently a board game version, which the group were playing with great enthusiasm! 

After playing the game almost all of the players had learnt what a preventer inhaler is for and how often to use it. The young game developers gave me some really valuable, practical feedback, including some great name suggestions; ‘pumps versus triggers’ and ‘asthma chase’ were among my favourites. The group’s comments will be extremely valuable to give the board game the final touches before we play it with young asthma sufferers.”

Throughout the day the group developed key skills involved in good science communication. The youth members learned how to turn complicated science into enjoyable games, they identified effective strategies on how to communicate science effectively, and finally through this they found the confidence to communicate their own ideas to us. By the end of the day they really were a great group of science communicators!

The fun we all had throughout the day was reflected in the many end-of-day comments left by the group.

“I feel as though the game development day was great because I enjoyed playing all the different game prototypes and giving people feedback.”

“All the game developers were really up beat and happy. Overall the day was really interesting and I felt that my opinion was valued!”  

By Elise Allthorpe-Mullis, Carla Brown,, Elizabeth Danner and Gioia Mosler
Centre of the Cell



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