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Be a virus, invade the human, and learn

Learning rating

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Based on 2 reviews

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Expert evaluation by Common Sense



Subjects & Skills

Critical Thinking, Science

Great for

Game-Based Learning

Price: Free
Platforms: Mac, Windows, Web

Pros: The missions allow kids to see the human body's immune defense system in action.

Cons: The game has some buggy play, and limited content and replayability.

Bottom Line: While short, this game lets kids play and experience "thinking" like a virus.

In the classroom, teachers can either introduce the content prior to playing the game, or they can let students play first and then refer to game when covering the topic. A single one-hour class period should be set aside for game play; and it would be best in a computer lab so that each student can play. Another strategy would be to show the game on a projector first, to demonstrate basic movement or review levels to point out specific interactions. Plan to include a discussion about the terms used in the game and compare them to terms used in the field and then fill in the gaps together. Classes can talk about the aspects of virology that the game didn't cover.

Also, since the game solicited the help of the world's top virologists, the screenshots from Virulent are probably more biologically accurate or current than your textbook. They can be used in worksheets, tests, or presentations with confidence.

Editor's Note: Virulent is no longer available.

What if you were a virus? That is the premise behind Virulent, a simulation game created in collaboration with top virologists. While playing, kids learn about viruses, proteins, immune defense systems, and the amazing complexity of how we get, or don't get, sick. In addition, players learn problem solving, creative thinking, and will get a primer in how perspective changes everything.

To play, you use your mouse to draw paths through a microscopic view of the body's immunities. In the 10 levels, you play as the Raven virus trying to infect and reach the other side of the human. You can be stopped by defenses that chase your virus. Every time you trace a line, it redirects your virus, thus allowing you to see and respond to the game easily. As the difficulty increases you also get the ability to spawn defensive and offensive proteins that can confuse the body. However, the body's defenses also get more complex. Soon you are managing an army of viral infectors against a host of immune agents. The result produces a sense of the robust battle that our bodies fight every day, and an understanding of key cellular interactions between viruses, white blood cells, protein replication, and anti-viral defenses.

With Virulent, kids learn by becoming the virus. The goal of the game is to try to defeat the human body's immune system. Players learn to navigate through 10 levels of open play. The interface is responsive and intuitive along with clear and progressive feedback that acknowledges the player's growing skill within the game. Part of the fun is simply moving the virus around. The level design requires the player to develop alternative strategies to succeed and encourages trial and error to learn. Scoring is simply the time it takes you to complete a level, so you could replay a level to get better times, but the game offers no additional kudos for doing so. Plan on a single play through.

Virulent represents a new generation of experience-based educational games. In this game, students learn to do things and experience situations prior to learning facts about virology. The game provides a context for learning more. Virulent is a good experience for parents and classroom teachers to use as part of a life science or biology curriculum.

Learning Rating

Overall Rating

By becoming this virus, kids are instantly drawn to this game. The draw-the-path for the virus interface is fun and the levels progress to mildly challenging.


Players shrink to the protein level and are the virus. The creators worked to make this game as true to real life as possible -- but fun. The only drawbacks are the limited length and replayability of the game.


This game was made for the consumer market and has minimal supplemental materials beyond the information found on the web site.

Common Sense reviewer

Community Rating

Virulent is an infectiously engaging introduction to viral behavior

Virulent is an iTunes app simulation of virus behavior that incorporates gamification elements to engage students from grades 4-12 in exploring the microscopic world. The player becomes the “mind” of the viral invader, seeking to combat the defenses of the host in order to not only survive, but to thrive. The graphics are crisp, with a dark, red/black theme. The audio is of a monotone female voice, with the overall effect being Borg-like. We are the Collective. Resistance is futile. Yes, the game is engaging, and has potential to teach the player by involving the player in the life cycle functions of the virus. I learned about B-Cells, and how important they are to my continued health. Go B-Cells!

No major concerns. The teacher who employs this app should build in checks for understanding to ensure that students are learning the lessons available. Also, in imbuing the simulation with human choice, voice, and volition, it is easy for students to subconsciously conclude that that non-intelligent organisms have “thought” and “mind.” It is important for teachers to explain that the simulation creates a “will” for the virus in order to make the simulation engaging to us. We become the virus’s will. The mindless nature of biological processes should be emphasized in review of the learning from the simulation.

Sample Uses
This simulation has clear application in cellular biology units. Teacher should build checks for understanding, and one way to do that is to allow the students to play the simulation for homework, then have the students guide the teacher during the first 15 minutes of class the next day. The teacher could play ignorant of the various cells and cell functions, in this way drawing out from the students their understandings. In this way the simulation can have a number of levels of interaction.

Do I plan to use it?
I certainly am alerting my Science colleagues to this simulation’s existence. Also, because my school teachers a special course od diseases, I will pass the information to teachers of this course as well.

Commitment and Learning Curve
Medium. Set up is easy. Just follow the link and download to the Apple device. The play of the simulation takes time. This game play should probably take place at home.

Best for ES MS or HS?


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