A History of Immune Attack

Nanobot searches for Selectin so that the Monocytes can transmigrate... and save Roz.


2001 The Beginning:  Gathering Evidence.

The Federation of American Scientists started gathering research about how technology could be used to transform education in 2001.  Under the guidance of their new president Henry Kelly, the FAS launched the Learning Science and Technology Research and Development Roadmap project, which brought together approximately 100 researchers from the academic, government and corporate sectors. This extensive collaborative effort was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation to FAS-LTP (Grant number 0226421), the Department of Education, as well as the Hewlett Foundation, Microsoft Corporation, and Carnegie Corporation.  The Roadmaps were published in 2003 on the FAS-LTP website.

The collaborative work of the roadmap participants identified key research and development areas for next-generation learning systems; pedagogy and instructional design; building physically correct interactive simulations; dialogue and question management, learner modeling, and tools for assembling and constructing learning systems from these components.  These roadmaps were presented to Congress, and provided the background data for the development of legislation that was passed in 2008 as part of the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  This legislation authorizes the establishment of a National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies.   http://www.fas.org/press/faq/nationalcenter.html

Games can teach, we’ll prove it!

FAS began its bold experiment to PROVE that video game could teach and train in 2004. The newly formed FAS-Learning Technologies Program applied for and received three peer-reviewed, federally-funded grants to design and develop learning games.  In addition to Immune Attack, FAS-LTP has also produced a simulation trainer called Multi Casualty Incident Responder and a game called Discover Babylon.  Multi Casualty Incident Responder combines realistic simulations with advanced training technologies to teach firefighters.  Discover Babylon is an immersive 3D game for 8-12 year olds that teaches about the significance of Mesopotamia in world culture using library and museum objects.


Gathering More Evidence.

In October 2005, FAS-LTP convened the Educational Games Summit (www.fas.org/gamesummit) which was the first meeting of government, academia, private foundations and the entertainment software industry to address the challenges of developing, marketing and funding educational games.  The resulting report, www.fas.org/gamesummit/Resources/Summit on Educational Games.pdf summarizes the research about why video games are expected to teach well, and in particular, why complex video games (like Immune Attack) should teach the skills that high wage jobs demand, such as data collection and decision making.  Henry Kelly, President, Federation of American Scientists, as quoted in the Educational Games Summit report, says:

“Game developers have instinctively implemented a lot of the recommendations of learning scientists and used them to help players acquire a skill set that closely matches the kind of thinking, planning, learning, and technical skills that seem to be increasingly demanded in business. In the game world, the measure of a player’s success is complex and practical. Can you use your knowledge? Can you feed your people? Can you cure the patient? Can you beat Dan Snyder at his own football franchise?”

Immune Attack!  2004-2008.

With a competitive grant from the National Science Foundation (Award number 0427827), FAS lead a collaboration with Immunologists at Brown University, with graphic art experts at University of Southern California.  We chose to create a biology game, because of the need to engage more students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related fields.  We choose immunology because high school teachers indicated that this subject is one of the most difficult to present.

Game development is an iterative process, and scientists, teachers and students all had input.  Garry Gaber, CEO and President of Escape Hatch Entertainment, rose to the challenge.  Escape Hatch provided graphics and game mechanisms in Immune Attack that are not only fun and exciting for students to play, but that have been patiently modeled and re-modeled in response to scientists’ critiques.  This unique interaction requires Mr. Gaber’s personal dedication to the creation of an excellent educational video game, a sense of humor and collaboration on the part of our scientists, and the experience with maintaining unique collaborations that FAS-LTP provides.

Key parts of the game mechanism are that every object in the game functions as it should in nature, except for the fictional, cell sized submarine (called a nanobot) that the player pilots remotely through the body.  In this manner, game actions that are not true to nature are clear, because they involve the nanobot.  Additionally, great care was taken to generate the communication that comes from the game’s “on board advisors” so that it helps the player play the game while always presenting information that is true to science.

Once a working engine, working graphics generation system and storyline had been established, the work of testing Immune Attack with students could begin.  The most important factor in educational game development is, after all, that students should be engaged.  To this end, FAS-LTP spent an entire school year’s time testing the Immune Attack prototypes with students in 5 high school across the country.  After each evaluation with students, their comments and reactions were used to design the next prototype.  Finally a game mechanism and modified story line were finalized that was engaging for students and accurate to the science.


In May, 2008, the final version of Immune Attack was made available for free download on the FAS website [immuneattack.org].  This version of Immune Attack is a proof of concept, a huge step toward demonstrating that a video game can be made about science.  A video game storyline can be written about cells and proteins that is compelling enough to make students want to play the game.  And importantly, video game action can be created that is true to science.   Now, for the very first time, students can learn about innate immunity painlessly.  Well, not without repeatedly dying virtual deaths in virtual exploding fireballs.  But now immunity, and the cell biology and the protein biochemistry involved in immune reactions are presented to students in an familiar format: the video game.  Information is presented intuitively, players need to accomplish a goal so they seek out the information rather than listen passively, and the constant challenge of beating the game keeps them on task longer than anyone could ever listen to a lecture on innate immunity.  The richness of the video game arena is proven to be an excellent home for the Cellular and Molecular science of the human immune system.

Immune Attack has been downloaded by over 9000 people.  Five hundred teachers have registered with us as interested in evaluating Immune Attack in their classrooms.  Immune Attack is featured on the AAAS website ScienceNetlinks.  Seed magazine wrote an article “Gaming on the Shoulders of Giants” about us.  Nature Medicine featured Immune Attack in an article.  Edutopia has made two videos about McKinley Technology High School students using Immune Attack: these students served as beta testers for Immune Attack from the very beginning.

Immune Attack 2009-2014.

Melanie Stegman, Ph.D. was hired by FAS-LTP in Summer 2008 to be project manager for Immune Attack.  Melanie is leading the evaluation of Immune Attack and the development of Immune Attack 2.0.   To support the evaluation and distribution Immune Attack, much appreciated funding comes from the Entertainment Software Association Foundation, who have been dedicated to Immune Attack for over three years.  In order to develop Immune Attack from a proof of concept into an even more engaging game with ever more science included, Melanie has received a very competitive grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Grant Number: 1R25AI084848-0110.  Collaborating with FAS_LTP in this work is the Maine International Center for Digital Learning, who helping us greatly with evaluation design.  And EscapeHatch Entertainment, of course, because they are best game designer/programmer ever.

Additionally, other important funding has come to Immune Attack from Amgen Corporation, PHrMA, Verizon Foundation.

Many goals remain to be accomplished.  Most importantly we must evaluate the effect of playing Immune Attack on students knowledge and on their attitudes toward cellular and molecular science.  Evaluations are underway, and any teacher, teaching any subject to 7th though 12th grade students is invited to participate in our evaluation. Preliminary data points out that students are learning.  Students who play Immune Attack learn about the functions of Monocytes, about proteins mediating the functions of Monocytes, and about molecular interactions among human complement factors, bacterial surface proteins and how cytokines are produced and what effect those cytokines have on white blood cells and vein endothelial cells.  Most promising is our preliminary data that students are gaining confidence with molecular and cellular biology.

Our preliminary data is so promising that the American Society of Cell Biology decided to put our abstract in their Press Book.  Our evaluations have been small scale so far, but we hope that in the next 4 months that we will be able to get about 20-30 teachers to evaluate Immune Attack in their classrooms.  The evaluation requires three 40-minute sessions in an online computer lab.  Computers need 2GHz processors and 1 GB of ram, a video card 64 MB or better and and must be running Windows XP, Vista or 7.

Scientists, we need you!

In order to develop new game levels that are full of exciting game play we need intricate molecular details about chemistry, physics, chemical engineering, nanotechnology, biochemistry, immunology and cell biology.  We have 20 dedicated scientists already serving on our Scientific Advisory Group.  Acting as a board of reviewers, these scientists keep Immune Attack accurate by “peer reviewing” the game.  There enthusiasm and expert assistance will keep Immune Attack an exciting true to life adventure!

If you would like to serve on the Scientific Advisory Group, or as an advisor as a teacher, please contact us at immuneattack at fas.org.  We are having a great time presenting real cellular and molecular science to the public and we welcome you!

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5 comments on “A History of Immune Attack
  1. hadinata tjaw says:

    hadinata tjaw . this game is suprisingly good

  2. Tech Edu says:

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    • melanie says:

      Dear Tech Edu,

      Thank you for your comment! I am glad you think our site and game is useful. Please keep in touch!



  3. Howdy everyone!

    Read more about Immune Attack development here: http://www.fas.org/pubs/pir/_docs/Spring%2010_Newsletter.pdf

    Immune Attack is available for free at MyGameIQ, which lets you download Learning Games the same way the Steam lets you download other games. I expect that schools will start using MyGameIQ more and more. Request your school get connected yourselves!

  4. ambushed says:

    I think that game is so educational and important to everyone, that i think you should try advertise the game at Steam, http://store.steampowered.com, so alot of student(players) can reach that game and get the known of his existence.

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