New arcade-style exhibit shares message of drug resistance

Written by
Longitude team
Superbugs game

This week, we were excited to check out the debut of ‘The most dangerous game in the world’, a new arcade-style exhibit designed to engage young people in the issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Our mobile game, Superbugs, is one of six elements in the interactive exhibit, which made its debut at the NAMRIP summer conference on Monday 5 June 2017, with each element exploring a different aspect of drug resistance.

Superbugs is a free mobile game, where players are charged with killing bugs in a petri dish and surviving against bacteria for as long as possible. The game becomes more and more challenging, as each antibiotic used to kill the bugs eventually stops working. Our aim with the free game is for young people to have fun while understanding the relationship between bacteria and antibiotics: just because a drug works against an infection now, doesn’t mean it always will.

Another feature in the exhibit, ‘Microbe Combat’, is a fast-paced button pusher where players have to administer the right drugs to patients and keep them all alive until 2050. This game highlights the importance of using the right meds at the right time - and crucially, that antibiotics won’t work against viruses and fungal infections.



After introducing the serious issue of dangerous superbugs and drug resistance, the ‘Your skin is your shield’ element is more lighthearted, reassuring players that our skin is there to protect us from nasty bugs - as long as we practise good hygiene. It uses humour to prompt children to wash their hands properly after using the toilet, and shares the advice popularised by Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies in her book, The Drugs Don’t Work, that to clean our hands effectively, we should wash them for the length of time it takes to sing ‘happy birthday’ twice over.

On this front, it already seems to be having an impact: later this week, as the exhibit travelled to Cheltenham Science Festival, a delegate remarked that she’d overheard some children singing “happy birthday” in the bathroom!

Together, the different elements tell a story and reinforce the message that we can all play a part in helping to prevent the spread of drug resistance. In the final activity, players are prompted to share what they’ve learned and make a pledge to change their behaviour to help curb the spread of AMR.

Superbugs at NAMRIP conference

The thinking behind the exhibit

The exhibit was developed by the Winchester Science Centre, in partnership with the University of Southampton’s Network for Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Prevention (NAMRIP), with support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Professor Tim Leighton of NAMRIP approached the team at Winchester Science Centre with a vision of engaging the public in an impactful way, in a bid to get this important message out to as wide an audience as possible.

They wanted the game to be multi-sensory, to create an experience that could engage different age groups, with buttons to push, text to read, audio to hear, and more.

“We run a hands-on science centre; our core audience is 5-12-year-olds and their grown-ups,” says Graeme Pick, Director of Operations at the Winchester Science Centre.

“It’s got to be quite a simple message, because it’s got to be aimed at five to 80-year-olds. So at one level you do have kids who are basically coming in and pressing some buttons and lights are coming on, and they’ll take what they can from that, but often there’s a grown-up standing over their shoulder who will do the reading, hopefully, and we can get [the message] through that way.”

    Superbugs game at NAMRIP conference


    Graeme adds that part of the thinking behind the exhibit was the recognition that not enough people understand the problem of AMR, or how their behaviour can either help or hinder the spread of drug resistance.

    “Really, it was the fact that AMR is not talked about in the same way that, for example, climate change is. People are aware of what climate change is but aren’t aware of the dangers of AMR in the same way.”

    The game is modular (each element can work on its own or in different configurations); this gives the team flexibility and scope to take only certain elements to smaller events, or to replace elements if needed.

    The exhibit itself is a learning experience, and one that will continue to be tweaked and evolved in response to user feedback over time, adds Graeme: “Everything we build is a prototype, so we’re at the testing phase. We work with science communicators to find the best way to try and get the message across, and then we put it out there and we watch people interact with it. Then we take it back and it’ll get tweaked as needed.”

    The ‘most dangerous game’ will feature at a number of science shows this summer, including Cheltenham Science Festival, the New Forest Show and BBC Countryfile Live, before heading back to reside at the Winchester Science Centre.

    Ultimately, the aim is to spark people’s curiosity, says Graeme, who wants players to walk away with the feeling that: “There’s a little bit of me that’s a little bit more science-y than I was before, a little bit more interested than I was before and a little bit more engaged than I was before.”

    “We’re never going to educate people on the full message, we just need to give them that ‘in’.”