ImmuneAttack Game Will Teach High School Biology

October 12, 2005

USC's GamePipe Laboratory, in which ISI is a partner, has begun work on its first R&D contract: a $272,000 effort funded by the National Science Foundation to improve K-12 biology teaching.

GamePipe director Michael Zyda will lead the project, in collaboration with Chris Swain, a faculty member of the USC School of Cinema-Television, and Victor LaCour, a faculty member of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering department of computer science working with the Federation of American Scientists and Brown University.

The idea is to supplement and extend the chapter on the immune system of a standard biology textbook (Biology, by Neil A. Campbell and Jane B. Reece) with a dramatic videogame that presents the material in a challenging and accessible manner.


ImmuneAttackers (left to right) Chris Swain, Michael Zyda and Victor LaCour in front of a visual from the game under development.(click on picture for larger image)

"The vision for the project has been articulated by FAS and Brown," said Zyda. "GamePipe and the School of Cinema's Game Innovation Lab will provide the expertise to make this vision playable, educational, and fun."

GamePipe is part of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, a joint project between ISI and the department of computer science, established as a facility aimed at doing basic research in all aspects of gaming to produce new tools to improve the state of the art. The ImmuneAttack project falls under GamePipe's "Serious Game" Research track that focuses on developing games for training and education.

The proposal for "ImmuneAttack" lays out its parameters. GamePipe will:

&bull Design and develop a compelling and entertaining game that skillfully embeds the immune based pedagogy
&bull Work in close collaboration with Immunology Attack principal investigators and existing subject matter experts
&bull Deliver a stable application that can be handed off to FAS and Brown University for maintenance. The goal is to provide software that can be updated and extended by the project's principle investigators without ongoing assistance from USC.

USC GamePipe has promised a project that will :

&bull Be "visually stunning" and set in the 3D space of the human immune system
&bull Be tailored for the target audience: high school students
&bull Teach real scientific information about immunology through discovery based exploration, associative reasoning, and skill-based gameplay
&bull Provide approximately 20 minutes of play time and two challenge levels of play
&bull Be developed using an open source or low cost existing game engine.
&bull Follow the pedagogy established by the project's principal investigators
&bull Run on low-tech computers available in today's high schools.

The project is scheduled to deliver the first two levels of ImmunoAttack game for use in a test high school by March 2006. In addition to Zyda, Swain, and LaCour, the project team includes a full-time lead engineer, lead graphic designer, lead programmer, plus support personnel and student designers and programmers.

Zyda won national prominence in the gaming world for his work at the MOVES Institute at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey creating "America's Army," a PC game funded by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

He took America's Army from conception to three million plus registered players. He holds a lifetime appointment as a National Associate of the National Academies, an appointment made by the Council of the National Academy of Sciences in November 2003, awarded in recognition of "extraordinary service" to the National Academies.

"We will deliver ImmuneAttack," he promises.


ImmuneAttack is based on a chapter of a standard high school text, Biology, by by Neil A. Campbell and Jane B. Reece.