What’s more engaging than playing? With Heal the World, our large-scale collaborative board game we’ve created a game that we hope gives a flavour of some of the challenges we face. Developed in collaboration with our excellent colleagues from the School of Life Sciences public engagement team, we’re really excited about the way this has developed.
We’ve played it as part of festivals, in education programmes and even for public engagement professionals. If you have an event where you want people to work together and find out more about some worldwide problems, read on…
As a Centre, our scientific mission is to fight parasites. Many of them fit into the category of Neglected Tropical Diseases. These 20 conditions affect some of the poorest people in the world. They are often caused by parasites. Unlike bacteria or viruses, these one-celled life forms are very similar to us in how they work. The microscopic mechanisms that keep them alive are often shared with mammals – including people.
This means that it’s very difficult to come up with medicines which will hurt parasites without hurting us, and difficult means expensive. When trying to fight diseases of poverty, far across the world, this is a huge challenge.
We began by working with a team of summer interns. Over the course of a few weeks, we played various games and thought about what we had enjoyed about them. After that, we focused in on the important things:
We knew there had to be an economy in the game. After much discussion, we realised the limiting factor is cost to do work. To do research in low- and middle-income countries is difficult. Getting simple chemicals can be a nightmare. Tests that take us hours in the UK can take months. This led us to our system. In the game, we made different cost zones, to help people understand how much tricker it gets. This also ended up feeding into costs to travel, treat, build research capability, and everything else!
Of course, in life things don’t always proceed as expected. To account for this, we came up with a series of ‘random cards’ to challenge players further. Things like volcanic eruptions disrupting travel, changes of government and communications failures make it harder. Extra funding and resource can unexpectedly help. An infected traveller can cause total havoc!
Over the course of several plays, with lots of different groups, we’ve developed a game we’re really proud of. We had plans to play at Edinburgh Science Festival and Glasgow Science Centre but, of course, life dealt us a random card. We’re thinking about ways to take the game further afield now, so watch this space!