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Bacteria Shoot-’em-up Wins Ph.D. Video Game Competition

Andrew S. Wiecek

In a two-day competition at the Wellcome Trust, scientists and game developers produced six games that strived to be both entertaining and scientifically accurate.

Start off with Space Invaders. Now, change the location from outer space to the gastrointestinal tract. Replace the aliens with harmful bacteria. And substitute your defending mechanisms from a spaceship that fires laser beams to immune cells that release peptides. What you get is Dysbiosis, a video game that allows players to explore science while having fun. And that was the motivation behind the Wellcome Trust’s “Gamify Your Ph.D.” competition.

In a two-day competition at the Wellcome Trust, scientists and game developers produced six games that strived to be both entertaining and scientifically accurate. Source:

Last month, the Wellcome Trust brought together six teams of scientists and game developers to their London headquarters for the two-day event to produce just such games. The six scientists were selected from applicants from the biomedical science or medical humanities.

2012 Wellcome Trust Gamify Your Ph.D. Winners

Check out the winning games, many of which you can play in your browser!

See the winners...

In the end, a panel of judges selected Dysbiosis as the winning entry based on its entertainment and scientific accuracy. The game was produced by University of Oxford postdoctoral research fellow MargheritaCoccia who worked with game developers ClockworkCuckoo and ForceofHabit.

“I found myself working with the game developers that were really keen on making something that was scientifically accurate. So, I was keen on making something that was fun to play,” said Coccia. “The entire process was really enjoyable.”

Coming into the competition, Coccia already had an idea for developing her immunology research into a game similar to Space Invaders. Because of the technical complexities of that game and the limited time frame for development, her teammates suggested basing their game design off the lesser-known 1980’s arcade game called Tempest. With that inspiration, the team got to work designing the game, writing the code, and preparing their presentation.

“They were quite worried that essentially after the first input from me that I would be sitting in the corner and not doing very much. But I got involved with the graphic design at that point because we had to design good bacteria and bad bacteria, and I tried to make that as scientifically accurate as we could,” said Coccia.

As a result of winning the competition, the team has won support for further development of the game so that it can be publicly released. “I really think that gaming as a medium for translating and engaging the public on science is something that will blossom in the future,” said Coccia.

The judging panel consisted of Wired UK editor Nate Lanxon, scientist and game designer Bennett Foddy, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe principal designer Charlie Hasdell, and Wellcome Trust department head Danny Altmann.

2012 Gamify Your Ph.D. Winners

Winner: Dysbiosis

First runner-up: Monsieur Baguette presents... RNA transcription of Saccharomyces Cerevisiae

Second runner-up: Simalaria

Finalist: Campy Command

Finalist: Ulysses Contract

Finalist: Lab Hero: Womb for Improvement

Keywords:  Gamify Your Ph.D.