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May 2011

From the National Center for Education Research (NCER)

IES-Funded Technology Developer Wins Grand Prize from the National STEM Video Game Challenge

Screenshot of the 'You Make Me Sick!' game

The National STEM Video Game Challenge was originated to motivate interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) by tapping into the natural passion of youth for playing and making video games. The Developer Prize through the Challenge is focused on the design and development of games that teach key STEM concepts and foster an interest in STEM subject areas. The Challenge is supported by the Entertainment Software Association, Microsoft, and the AMD Foundation in partnership with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and E-Line Media. The $50,000 award was presented by the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra.

Filament Games recently won the Grand Prize from the National STEM Video Game Challenge for their IES-supported project under the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR). The IES SBIR program provides awards of up to $1.05 million to small businesses and partners for the full-scale development of products to facilitate student learning or teacher efficiency, or tools to improve education research. After projects are completed, the goal for the program is for products to be commercialized in the private sector.

Filament Games, a Wisconsin-based technology firm, received a 2010 Fast-Track (Phase I and II) award from the IES SBIR program to develop and research the Game-enhanced Interactive Life Science (GILS) intervention—a suite of web-based life science games to facilitate deeper conceptual understandings of the science inquiry process among middle school students, and especially among struggling learners. The project is scheduled to end in 2013.

Filament Games won the challenge among a group of some 40 applicants for a beta version of a game titled You Make Me Sick!, the first of the five games to be developed as part of the GILS suite. You Make Me Sick! aims to teach students about the physical structure of bacteria and viruses, as well as how they are spread. In the game, a student player designs a disease and attempts to make a virtual target human host as sick as possible. To do this, the player reviews the characteristics of the target and designs their disease to maximize the possibility that the target will be infected. The player then steps through a series of "invasions" of the host. Once the host has been infected, the game switches to a microscopic view where the player conducts disease-specific invasions. At the end of the game, the player is scored based on the "success" of their illness, including both the design and invasion activities. The learning goal of the game is to increase the learner's conceptual understanding of bacteria and viruses.

The beta version of the game, which is aligned to Chapter 6 of Programming Concepts Inc. educational life science curriculum, was field tested as an embedded component of that chapter's curricular materials by seven middle school life science teachers. Initial results demonstrated high levels of teacher and student engagement, and also provided data that the research team will use to iteratively refine this and the other games being designed.

A demonstration of the beta version of the game can be viewed at