Plague Inc – Learn while you infect the world

It’s the summer holidays here in Australia. This means I get to play more games than usual. Rather than spending my evenings planning lessons, I get to sit on the couch with my tablet and play games while watching the Australian Open.

Last week I stumbled across a game called Plague Inc, available on iOS an Google Play. The goal of the game is to design a disease that will become an epidemic that wipes out humanity. You as the player chooses where you start the disease, the symptoms of the disease, how the disease will be transmitted and the defence mechanisms it will have such as drug resistance.

The game is an authentic simulation of epidemiology. While it is not 100% scientifically accurate, it is accurate enough to reflect the following epidemiological aspects:

  • The location of the origin of the disease affects where and how fast the disease is transmitted. For example, a disease originating in a third world country with limited health care resources will spread faster than the same disease originating from a first world country. The disease will also spread via transport routes.
  • To design a disease that will kill everyone on Earth, the player needs to balance the rate of transmission, the severity of the disease and how lethal the disease is. Making the disease too lethal early in the game will result in doctors noticing the disease and research on a cure will begin too soon.
  • Islands are harder to infect. In the game it is often difficult to spread the disease to Greenland and Madagascar.
  • The transmission of disease follows trade and travel routes.

Plague Inc has a lot of potential in games based learning. I am planning to use it as an introductory activity for students to think about how diseases are spread on a global scale and how scientists approach epidemics. The game can be used to discuss evolution of pathogens and vectors of diseases. The game can also be used for students to test out how wealth and regional location affect a country’s ability to respond to epidemics.

Plague Inc also throws in some ethical issues. In the later stages of the game, it shows how countries begin to respond to massive numbers of people dying. Some countries’ governments are overthrown, some countries fall into anarchy and some countries bomb areas with large numbers of infected people in order to control the spread of disease. This can be used as a stimulus for a whole variety of learning that spans across many subjects.

I am planning to use Plague Inc with my Year 9 class this year when we are learning about diseases. I am going to use the game in the beginning and have students come up with questions they would like to explore and mould that into a project based learning opportunity.

Plague Inc is a bit morbid and perhaps not entirely politically correct, so it is best to check with your principal if you are thinking about using Plague Inc in your classes as well.

Level Up! Using games culture to enhance learning & innovation

Level Up! is a project that involves embedding games elements into everyday classroom practice. The project involves games based learning, gamification and games design. The brochure and poster presented at the Microsoft Asia Pacific Partners in Learning conference are shown below. Click here to access the virtual classroom tour details from the Microsoft Partners in Learning website.

poster presented at the PIL c onference

It’s more than just a game

For the past 5 months I’ve been coordinating a team of 10 students to design a mobile geolocation game for mobile devices. The game is built on Aris and is designed for Year 6 Orientation Day. The team of 10 students consisted of students in years 9, 10 and 11 (15 to 17 year olds) who were part of a student-led technology team.

The team was divided into students taking on different roles. Two students were the main programmers in Aris, three students were narrative writers for the game and five students were media collectors and collected images and photos for the game. The narrative writers came up with the following as the main narrative that ran through the game:

My older sibling just left MHS and apparently he left me notes around the school for me to use to get around the school without any trouble. Now all I need to do is find the notes.

My older sibling’s friends said that these notes are crucial for me to find my way around the school; so therefore I won’t get in trouble from any teachers for being late to class.

The team designed seven quests based on this storyline. All quests related to major landmarks of the school that Year 6s would need to know when they enter high school. Each quest contains four items that students collect by scanning QR codes. After they have collected all the items for a quest, they go to the school’s assembly area to “exchange” their items with a quest “guardian”, who gives them a badge. Students need to collect all seven badges to receive a medallion and win the game. Here are some of the quests’ storylines:


The bell has gone for recess.

The first thing you need to do is to visit the toilets. Visit both the boys and girls toilets. Then find the toilet and collect toilet paper code. Find the toilet and collect soap code. Then head towards the canteen. This place is where you buy food for recess or lunch. There are also seating areas. Near the windows you will find a food code. Go and eat on the Quad and then put your rubbish in the bin. Go to the podium where the assembly takes place, to scan the appropriate guardian to receive your badge.


The bell rings for your next class. You stare at your timetable and notice that you have PE prac. You are unsure of where to go. You see a bunch of people going towards the back end of the school and you ask one of them where is the PE meeting area, They tell you the PE meeting area is just there where all the silver seats are at the back of the school. Go to the silver seats and you should find a basketball code.

After you meet your PE teacher, you need to change into your sports uniform. Go to the change rooms behind the hall to find the sneakers code. After you get changed, go to the hall and find the hockey stick code. Then go to the fields to find the soccer code. Finally go to the podium where assembly takes place, to scan the appropriate guardian to receive your badge.

The game was a success! There were some initial glitches that the students fixed during the day.

iphones with the game on the screen

The orientation game on iPhones

student scanning QR code

Year 6 student scanning a QR code to collect an item for the game

student scanning QR code

Another Year 6 student scanning a QR code to collect an item for the game

student coordinating iphones for the game

A student running the show by setting up all the iPhones before another session with Year 6s

For me, this experience is much more than making a game and playing a game on iPhones. Watching the students create the game has shown me how much young people can thrive when given a challenging task in a stimulating environment. Something that traditional classroom experiences can’t offer.

The students created the game from scratch, after a very brief training session with Macquarie ICT Innovations (MacICT). The students met face to face for 50 minutes a week and a lot of work was done outside of this time. Each student had a defined role in the team (programmer, narrative writer or media collector) and they had to constantly communicate with each other (face-to-face and on Edmodo) and complete their tasks according to a timeline, which was created by the students. There were times when one team could not continue their work because another team has not uploaded their work. In the beginning, I was the one that ensured students worked to the timeline, but overtime another student took on a leadership role and began coordinating the team. In the end, I had almost no input in the game and the students did it all themselves. It was fantastic!

students working together on Edmodo

An example of student leadership and the development of project management skills

From making this game, the students applied their literacy skills, team work skills, project management skills and problem solving skills. The way the students worked also reflected how adults worked in real-life in many businesses. Our face-to-face sessions began with each team stating where they were up to and the whole team uploading what their goals were for the session. Each team would then go off to do what they had to do. Some students stayed in the room to program the game or write narratives. Other students went around the school taking photos. Within the narrative writing team, all students wrote the narratives for the game and one student took the role of editor and made sure there were no spelling or grammatical mistakes. Based on the narrative, the media team created images or took photos. These were then passed onto the programmers who put everything together.

The testing phase of the game involved a lot of debugging. The game initially had lots of glitches and the team had to critically analyse which parts of the game were causing the glitches and how to fix them. This involved a lot of problem-solving skills where students had to undergo processes to isolate which component of the game that caused the glitch.

So after 5 months, the students succeeded in making the game. They created a game almost all by themselves with minimal help from teachers and developed some critical skills that they can carry through beyond their school years. Young people can rise up to the challenge and do amazing things! I am so proud of them.

And thanks to MacICT for lending us the iPhones and their support throughout the game design process.

Mobile gaming in school

Primary-secondary transition … when Year 6 students spend a day at high school to see what it’s like before attending the year after. This usually involves a tour of the school. “Here is the canteen. Here are the toilets. This is the front office.” Kids become bored in about 5 minutes.

So how can we make it more engaging? In a way that is fun and will allow kids to actually remember the places?

Turn it into a game!

I’m exploring at the moment is mobile gaming. Instead of students being shown around the school and taking in information passively, a group of students and I are planning to have small groups of Year 6s as players completing quests with the use of iPods and QR codes.

I’m leading a group of students on making a mobile game in Aris for this school tour activity. The video below shows the potential of Aris in geolocation activities:

The group consists of 6 students ranging from Year 9 to 11. There are three teams within the group: (1) Narrative writers; (2) World designers; and (3) Media designers. The narrative writers have constructed a draft narrative, which involves elements of a typical day in high school – what to do at recess and lunch, locations of staffrooms and locations of other significant places at the school such as the library and sporting fields. From this, the group has created 9 quests.

The first quest they have constructed is the Social Quest, which involves unlocking the Social Badge. The narrative is:

The bell has gone for recess. You have 30 minutes to visit the toilets, buy a nutritious meal from the canteen that will give you energy to last you till lunch and place your rubbish in the bin in the quadrangle.

The students have made a plaque in Aris which contains the quest’s instructions. The plaque will be revealed on players’ iPods when they scan a QR code. QR codes will also be placed in the toilets, canteen and quadrangle. The QR codes in each place will contain the following information:

-Toilets – You have used toilet paper to dry your hands. To be a safe, respectful learner you’ll need to place the toilet paper in the bin.

-Canteen – There will be multiple QR codes with picture of different food underneath them for students to choose the most nutritious food

-Quadrangle –  To be a safe, respectful learner you’ll l need to put your rubbish in the bin

Players are awarded items when they scan each correct QR code. When they have collected all the items, a virtual character called “Social Guardian” will appear to say they have unlocked the social badge and give instructions for the next quest.

The media designers have constructed the social badge while the world designers have placed all the information onto Aris.

social badge

aris screenshot

This is still work in progress so watch this space for updates 🙂