Website review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2015

Surviving History: The Fever!

Choose your own path, survive an epidemic on this clever, funny site

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Pros: Cool role-playing concept, tons of potential outcomes, and a quirky tone make for an engrossing, fun trip through history.

Cons: There's a lot to read, which could be a barrier for some students.

Bottom Line: It's a cool way to engage with a moment in history and a fun way to see how one choice can have a big impact.

In a history or social studies class, use Surviving History: The Fever! to learn about life in America during the post-revolutionary period. Use the primary-source documents to help students dive more deeply into the history and engage with what it was like to live in the United States at the time. Challenge your students to play solo or in groups as they try to unlock all the endings. You might even have them diagram their choices on butcher paper or a whiteboard to map out how difference choices lead to different outcomes. Or, have your students create their own branching narratives: What kind of story would they tell? What kinds of endings would they choose? 

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Surviving History: The Fever! is a website that lets users experience a real-life disease outbreak that gripped Philadelphia in late 1793. Users play as the fictional Dr. John Brooks, a doctor who lives in post-revolution Philadelphia with his wife and three children. As the narrative begins, Dr. Brooks starts his day and quickly encounters rumors of a mysterious illness afflicting his neighbors. Users read a passage about his day so far before choosing among a few links (usually two, but sometimes up to four) and select an action to take next. 

As users click through the narrative, they'll earn badges for things they do along the way (such as meeting a fellow doctor or helping a child) and end up at one of 20 possible endings -- some of which are happy, most of which are tragic. Users' progress is tracked using browser cookies, so you can continue to play through and revisit your achievements endlessly until you reset the browser. The site includes helpful information on how to do this; it also features a progress-tracking page where users can view the badges and endings they've unlocked. There's also a how-to page and an extensive list of primary sources that describe the historical outbreak and its aftermath.

It would be easy to underestimate this tool's appeal: There's a lot of reading going on here, and the experience might seem pretty dry at first. The site looks a lot like the choose-your-own-adventure books some may have loved to read as kids. While this game is definitely inspired by those books, the site's playful language, gripping narrative, and slick design make it an excellent way for kids to explore a modern take on the choose-your-own-adventure experience. There are also some interesting glimpses into the lives of people from this time whose experiences aren't often discussed; Dr. Brooks encounters the poor and the disabled, and the end-of-story narratives shed light on poverty and discrimination in an insightful tone that offers a glimpse into another world.

The site's main limitations are that it's mostly text-based and that its tracking system is pretty simple. Progress tracking is entirely based on browser cookies, so you can really only have one user experience per device. Plus, it would be even better if some of those clever Web-design choices offered more interactivity (such as more opportunities for kids to write or record) and a wider variety of multimedia selections. Nevertheless, it's an engaging experience that can help illustrate for students how even seemingly small choices can make a big difference.

Overall Rating


With a compelling story and a solid concept, the site proves to be much more than the text-only experience some may initially expect. It's fun and engrossing to earn badges as you try to unlock all the endings.


The choose-your-own adventure format gives kids agency over their experience, and they'll see that the choices they make have immediate consequences.


Solid how-to information helps kids get started, and a progress-tracking page displays all the badges and endings that kids have unlocked so far. Since results are stored locally to a browser, this is a one-user experience.

Common Sense reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

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