Last night we played Nesta’s first ever mobile game at the Science Museum. The Museum’s monthly Lates series focused on gaming, which was great timing for us as it followed the 6th July release of Superbugs, which places players in a petri dish where they need to survive against bacteria for as long as possible.
Our stand had a stellar group of experts playing the game: science presenter and anthropologist Prof Alice Roberts, UCL microbiologist Dr Adam Roberts, and games designer Ben Courtney. They helped Matt and me manage the pretty amazing number of people who crowded around our area for three hours starting the minute doors opened to let the queue of 5,000+ people in. (This turn-out may have been slightly due to the PokemonGO release earlier this month, which the widespread cosplay hinted at.) Many thanks to our friend Roger Highfield and the staff at the Museum for hosting us and ensuring things ran smoothly.
Superbugs is an initiative of Nesta’s Longitude Prize, a global competition with a £10million fund to find a test that can rule out unnecessary use of antibiotics. In 2014 the British public voted for antibiotics to be the focus of the prize, and since then we’ve received many applications from innovators around the world hoping to win and help transform global healthcare by tackling antibiotic resistance. The latest submission results show that the race is still on.
The test is hard to win: it has to show results in less than 30 minutes, be easy to use by people with limited training, and be useful in different settings around the world, among other criteria. We’re open to a wide range of participants from various fields, with varying levels of expertise. But we realise this still leaves out a wide pool of people with a vested interest in making our antibiotics last longer. Part of this crowd is the younger generation now going through school and learning biology. It’s crucial that kids from an early age learn not to take medicine for granted.
This is why we created (the award-winning) Superbugs. Our aim with this free game, available worldwide for iOS and Android, is for kids to have fun whilst realising the real-life dynamics between bacteria and antibiotics: just because a drug works against an infection now, that doesn’t mean it always will.
We developed Superbugs with Preloaded, a games agency known for building games with a purpose. Whilst working on our game they also landed a deal with Stephen Hawking, and are now finalising a mobile interactive version of A brief history of time. It was rewarding last night to hear Preloaded's Ben refer to Superbugs and A brief history as the ones he's most proud of.
The scientific input came from Dr Adam Roberts from UCL, a microbiologist and senior lecturer well known in antimicrobial resistance circles. Adam, who is also an advisor to the Longitude Prize, worked with Preloaded to ensure the game dynamics were faithful to the true science behind resistance. It was great (and a big relief to me) to have him with us at the Lates event to answer the many questions about the science behind the game.
We were also thrilled to have Prof Alice Roberts with us, who has been a supporter of Longitude since before the Prize had its topic and in fact announced the focus of it on the BBC's One Show. She’s also on the Longitude Committee, the group of experts who govern the Prize. Alice’s contributions to public engagement with science both as a prolific science presenter and as a professor at Birmingham meant she was a fantastic attribute to our stand, chatting to people and encouraging them to play throughout the night.
In true testament to the scale and ramifications of antibiotic resistance, Superbugs is our convoy into an age range and sector – gaming – that we’re just beginning to explore. Personally, I was thrilled to be on the explaining side in a Museum I’ve visited amply over the years. I don’t have a science degree, but the urgency of antibiotic resistance is very clear to me as is the need to communicate it, be it via tweets, games or a multimillion pound global competition. You don’t need to be a scientist to understand that you can either help or help curb the rise of resistant bugs, before it’s game over for everyone.
*Photos were taken with a phone mainly for tweeting so apologies for sub-optimal quality.