The Karabots Junior Fellows Test a Game About How HIV Spreads

A student in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program plays CD4 Hunter, a mobile game about how HIV infects a healthy cell, on an iPad

Regular readers will know we frequently utilize games and game-based learning to create unique and memorable learning experiences for our students. Last year, our fourth cohort of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program playtested The Pox Hunter, a game about convincing Philadelphians in the early 18th century the importance of vaccines. They also designed their own forensic science themed board and card games, learned about the spread of disease by playing Pandemic 2, honed their powers of observation by taking part in a room escape, and tested their mental might with a series of thematic review games. Our fifth and most recent cohort has continued the legacy set forth by their predecessors, recently assisting Drexel University researchers playtest a game about how HIV infects health cells.

CD4 Hunter is a microbiology-themed mobile game currently under development by the Center for Business and Program Development of Drexel University’s Institute for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Diseases and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. It cast the player in the role of an HIV virus. The player’s goal is to infect healthy cells in order to spread create more virus cells while resisting antibiotics. IMMID developed the game to instruct the public by means of game-based learning on how HIV spreads in the body.

Under the guidance of Mary Ann Comunale, EDD, MS, who helps oversee the project, students started with a brief questionnaire to gauge their knowledge of HIV transmission and serve as a means of measuring what they learned by playing the game. Then they paired up with iPads or on their phones and played CD4 Hunter. As they played, they wrote down their thoughts on every aspect of the game, including visuals, sound, controls, how effected it conveyed its message, and (of course) fun. Students competed for high scores, with the top scorers earning a Dunkin Donuts gift card for their efforts. Dr. Comunale followed their play session with another questionnaire to gauge how much they learned about the subject while playing the game. Everyone gave useful feedback and many of them downloaded the game on their phones to play later. Afterwards, the Fellows met with a panel of three graduate students specializing in epidemiology, virology, and vaccines, who shared insights into their research and life in graduate school.

Two students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program play CD4 Hunter, a mobile game about how HIV infects a healthy cell, on an iPad

If you’d like to try CD4 Hunter for yourself, it is currently available for free on Apple iTunes and Google Play.


The Karabots Junior Fellows Race Around the Umlaut

Students in the KArabots Junior Fellows Program stand on a stage in Mitchell Hall at the College of physicians of Philadlephia. They receive small trophies for competing in an educational game show.

Regular readers to our blog will know that in the past we have utilized game-based learning into our youth programs. Students have learned about crime scene investigation by exploring virtual crime scenes; they studied vaccines by testing a game about historic vaccinations; and even designed forensics-themed games of their own. Interactive game shows have become a regular CEPI staple, challenging our students to test their memories over topics in healthcare, STEM, and CEPI programming. Our games-based approach has also extended to events such as Pennsylvania Teen Health Week 2017 and the Philadelphia Science Festival.

Youth Program Coordinator Kevin Impellizer (dressed in a lab coat and goggles) gestures to a projection screen, on which a Jeopardy-style game board is projected. The game took place at the "Friday the 13th @ the Mütter" event at the College of Physicians of Philadlephia

Recently, we carried the game show format even further, converting the College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Mitchell Hall into a massive board game. Titled Race Around the Umlaut, students from the Karabots Junior Fellows Program broke into small small teams of contestants to compete in a variety of challenges. Some of these challenges reviewed information they had learned in lessons from throughout the semester while others tested their general knowledge. Among the ways they put their mental might to the test: they reviewed news headlines in an effort to pick out real from “fake news”; they attempted to match SAT words with their definitions; they tried to answer SAT/ACT math problems in a tense race against the clock; and they even competed in a fast-past game of Operation. Teams competed for glory and fabulous prizes and demonstrated the power of games to convert class into an exciting, competitive atmosphere.

A student in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program leans over a game of Operation while another student looks on. Part of a game show activity.

CEPI Curiosities: Captain Novolin

CEPI Curiosities: Tales from Medical History's Strange Side

Hello again, historio-medico aficionados. As always, this is Kevin, and I’m here with another installment of CEPI Curiosities.

For all you wonderful people who regularly follow our blogological exploits, you’ll notice we have a heavy focus on game-based learning in our Karabots Junior Fellows program. We strongly believe in the power of games and interactive learning to create exciting and engaging classroom experiences. With the popularity of games in modern culture, it should come as no surprise that we’re not the only ones out there trying to use games to teach about health and medicine.

But, I hear you ask, dear reader, “So, what? This is CEPI Curiosities; what’s so curious about health games?” Well I’m here to tell you about one of the earliest, and in some ways the most unusual, health-themed games I have ever encountered. I’m here to introduce you to Captain Novolin, a game designed to teach children about diabetes.

Screen shot of the title screen for Captain Novolin

Released in 1992 for the Super Nintendo, Captain Novolin was developed by Sculptured Software and produced by Raya Systems. Sculptured Software was an active player in the American games industry, mostly involved in developing home adaptations of arcade games, notably the Mortal Kombat series, as well as licensed games for recognizable brands such as The Simpsons, Star Wars, popular board games, and World Wrestling Entertainment. Publisher Raya, meanwhile, carved a small niche in the medical infogame market at the time with titles addressing cigarette smoking (Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon), asthma (Bronkie the Bronkiosaurus), and AIDS (the unreleased AIDS Avenger).

Captain Novalin’s story goes like this: Aliens led by the nefarious Blubberman have invaded Earth disguised as giant walking snacks and have kidnapped the mayor of Pineville. The unfortunate mayor suffers from Type 1 diabetes and only has a limited amount of medication. It is up to Captain Novolin to rescue the mayor and bring him his insulin before it’s too late! The adventure hits Captain Novolin on a personal level because as it so happens the good captain also has diabetes (the name Novolin comes from a brand of insulin). As a result, it is the player’s job to maintain the blue-clad crusader’s blood sugar levels, collecting healthy foods and avoiding sweets on his quest to rescue the pilfered politician.

Captain Novolin, star of the diabetes-themed game of the same name, avoids sugary cereal by jumping over it.

The game takes a literal-minded approach to the subject matter: Captain Novolin has to literally avoid unhealthy foods by jumping over or walking past the gaggle of gargantuan, ice cream cones, donuts, soda bottles and the like. If he comes in contact with one of the sentient sugary snacks [I promise that’s the last alliterative line in this article], he becomes dizzy; too much contact and he passes out, forcing the player to try again. Interspersed between the gameplay sections are tips on proper insulin usage and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. The game also periodically quizzes the player on information related to diabetes.

Screenshot from Captain Novolin quizzing the player on the importance of exercise for patients with diabetes

Captain Novolin is praiseworthy for staying on message, something that cannot necessarily be said for some of Raya’s other health games. For example, Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon, another Sculptured Software creation, has the player manage smoking by shrinking down and entering the body (a la Fantastic Voyage) to clear out tar with a laser. That being said, most video game enthusiasts have a low opinion of the Captain Novolin for its poor controls and unconventional premise.

Two images from Captain Novolin that address maintainig blood sugar levels

If you are interested in some more contemporary examples, of health-themed games you yourself can play without tracking down a Super Nintendo and a copy of Captain Novolin (a game that runs roughly $30-200 on eBay), there are some impressive games that spread awareness about important subjects, including depression (Depression Quest), cancer (Cancer Game; That Dragon, Cancer), hormone replacement therapy (Dys4ia), and vaccination (Illsville: Fight the Diseasehosted by our own History of Vaccines).

Until next time, catch you on the strange side!


Games of Forensics: The Karabots Fellows Show Off Their Prototypes

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program demonstrate a card-based roleplaying game on forensics to two visitors to the Mütter Museum

Throughout the school year, the Karabots Junior Fellows have learned about the basic principles of game design. They have met with game developers, used games to learn about STEM concepts, playtested medically-themed games in class, and done some game development work of their own. All the while, they have learned about a variety of fields related to forensic science.

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program demonstrate a game on forensics they designed to visitors to the Mütter Museum

Beginning in January, instructor Kevin Impellizeri broke them into five teams and issued a challenge: work together to develop a prototype for a game themed around forensic science. It could be any aspect of the field and they could develop a game in any style they wished (such as roleplaying-based, board-based, or card-based). Throughout the semester, they devoted periods in class to work out a concept, develop a prototype and put it to the test, making alterations as they saw fit. This past Saturday they finally unveiled their finished products.

A student in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program demonstrates a board game on forensics to two visitors to the Mütter Museum

The best test of a game’s success is seeing how it plays; therefore, we opened the Koop classroom and let visitors to the Mütter Museum come in and try them out. Visitors met with each team of Fellows, who explained the rules and helped them play through their games. Several of the Fellows even created and carried signs in the Museum lobby to entice visitors to play their games!

Several of the Karabots Junior Fellows entice visitors to the Müttre Museum to try their games, holding a sign saying "Try Mütter's New Games"

The Karabots Junior Fellows Test The Pox Hunter

Much of the curriculum of the current cohort of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program has revolved around games, from using games to teach our fellows about STEM concepts such as the spread of disease, crime scene investigation, and the Scientific Method to our Fellows designing their own forensic science-themed games. Recently, our Fellows got the chance to flex their game development muscles by acting as play testers for a computer game about vaccines.

The Karabots Junior Fellows test The Pox Hunter, a game about vaccination

The Fellows met with John Theibault who is part of a development team designing a game centered around public health and vaccination. The Pox Hunter puts players in the role of a physician in early 1800s Philadelphia whose goal is to convince people in the city to receive smallpox vaccinations in order to curtail a potentially deadly outbreak. The player pleads their case using different conversation tactics, such as empathy, reason, and intimidation, to convince a variety of characters representing different racial and socioeconomic groups throughout the city. Working individually or in pairs, the Fellows played through the game and offered their feedback. Drawing upon their experience developing and playtesting their own game prototypes, the Fellows shared what they felt were the game’s strengths and weaknesses and offered recommendations for what they would like to see in the final completed version.

The Karabots Junior Fellows navigate The Pox Hunter, a vaccination theme game currently in development

While The Pox Hunter is still in development, if you are interested in using games to learn more about vaccines, feel free to check out Illsville: Fight the Disease, an interactive activity that explores the evolution of vaccination developed by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

The Karabots Junior Fellows Become Game Developers

The Karabots Junior Fellows work in teams to develop forensic science-themed tabletop games

The current cohort of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program has had a great deal of exposure to both forensic science and the use of games in the classroom. Their exploits throughout the year have involved studying diverse fields of forensics, including forensic anthropology, document analysis, and even lie detection. They have used games to learn about the Scientific Method, crime scene investigation, and the basic principles of computer coding. As part of their year-long project, it is their goal to bring the worlds of gaming and forensics together by designing their own forensic science-themed tabletop games.

Over the last few months, they have been responsible for breaking into teams (called Houses) to plan and design their own games. They have been given complete creative freedom to shape their games however they like, with each House deciding the theme, tone, mechanics, rules, and objectives. Their only restriction placed on them is that the game must involve some aspect of forensic science.

A list of challenges for the Karabots Junior Fellows' Houses to complete while designing their own games

Recently, the Fellows took a big step in bringing their visions to life. In a recent session, Mr. Kevin issued a major challenge to the Houses with a significant amount of House Points on the line (each semester, the House with the most points earns a prize). The challenge: complete and play test their first prototype, and share their games with other Houses. Each House assembled, and set to work.

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program discuss their forensics-themed game

The Houses worked feverishly to complete all the challenges in the allotted time. In the end, all but one successfully completed their prototype and put them to the test. Along the way, they learned to channel their creativity, to work under deadlines, how to manage successes (and failures) and, most important, how to work together. We look forward to sharing their completed products in the near future!





The Karabots Fellows Explore a Virtual Crime Scene

Over the past few months CEPI has sought to integrate game-based learning into the curriculum for our youth programs. Recently, the Karabots Junior Fellows learned about how games are being used to train the forensic investigators of tomorrow.

The Karabots Junior Fellows meet with forensic expert Allen Burgess who leads them through the game Virtual Forensics Lab

The students met with Allen Burgess, DBA, who served as a consultant and technical manager for Virtual Forensics Lab. Developed by IDeS (now a part of Boston College’s Center for Teaching Excellence) for use in forensic science courses at Boston College, Virtual Forensics Lab takes students through virtual adaptations of real-life crime scenes. Students explore the crime scene, gather evidence, and attempt to draw conclusions based on their observations. Dr. Burgess walked through one of the crime scene scenarios with the Karabots Fellows, encouraging them to put their powers of observation and deduction to the test.

A screenshot of Virtual Forensic Lab