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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.