Creative science at Game Dr; progress so far!

Friday was a fun day…. Me and my friend Siam returned to our old high school to deliver several talks and sessions on creative science, i.e the work that comes from setting up collaborations between creatives (Siam) and scientists (me).

For the last 2 years I’ve been working with my talented and ambitious friend Siam Colvine. Siam has opened my eyes to the creative world and has taught me how to use creativity (well) in my science communication projects.

My PhD research focused on the development of new antibiotics from gut bacteria. This is a very important area of research due to the emerging problem of antibiotic resistance, where bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotic therapies.

During my PhD, I became extremely passionate about communicating the problem of antibiotic resistance to the public. In order to raise an ‘antibiotic aware’ generation, the public must be educated on the value of antibiotics in modern medicine and also the problem of resistance. To achieve this we must target our future antibiotic users – school pupils.

I teamed up with Siam in 2014 to create an interactive game, Bacteria Combat, which educates young pupils on bacteria and antibiotic resistance. We coupled our expertise in design and science to develop an engaging and innovative game which was recently developed into an app by Future Fossil Studios. Bacteria Combat app is available on the app store and Google Play and is currently being developed into a multiplayer game.

The amazing success of this project fueled me to launch an innovative start-up, Game Dr , which aims to develop engaging digital games to educate the public on healthcare and science. We are currently partnering with Monocool Interactive and a research group at Aberdeen University to develop an app on fungus!



Through Game Dr, we are now exploring the use of film to change public perceptions on important healthcare issues. Last month, we teamed up with Little City Pictures and ASCUS lab (both Edinburgh based) to shoot an educational science / dance film – Antibiotic Apocalypse. The film aims to educate young adults (ages 15-26) on the problem of antibiotic resistance and demonstrates the success that results from  interdisciplinary collaborations.


Photography by Little City Pictures

Antibiotic Apocalypse will be available to the public next month and will showcase how an eclectic mix of science / fashion / dance and imagery can be used to educate the public on health.

Here’s to the next (wine fueled) project!

12722186_10156462681615573_746937809_o (1)

Photography Siam Colvine


Antibiotic Apocalypse Film!

Hello 2016…. and hello to lots of new projects!


Over the last 2 months I have teamed up with a talented film director, Siam Colvine and producers Little City Pictures from Edinburgh to create an educational film on antibiotic resistance: Antibiotic Apocalypse!

The film will target 15-26 year olds and will demonstrate the problem of resistance in a completely unique way.

The film will teach viewers that antibiotics target both good and bad bacteria and are ineffective against resistant bacteria.

We will be shooting the film at Edinburgh’s Summerhall in collaboration with Ascus lab.

To give you a flavor of the film, have a listen to the soundtrack!






‘Bacteria Combat’ in the human gut

Following the release of ‘Bacteria Combat’ app, an interesting article was published in Current Biology which supports bacterial competition in the healthy human gut.

The article published by Foster and Bell shows that bacterial competition and not cooperation dominates in the human gut. In other words, bacteria prefer to kill each other then grow along side each other! … Talk about angry siblings…

Many species of bacteria produce killer toxins and antibiotic compounds which inhibit the growth of other bacteria cells. A key example of these are bacteriocins which are protein toxins produced by bacteria during nutrient stress and intraspecies competition.

Although further work is required to confirm this theory, it appears that ‘Bacteria Combat’ is far more significant in human health than once imagined!

….I wonder if the fights we see in the Bacteria Combat app are reproduced in our guts..

Watch out BifidobacteriaLactobacillus  has an amazing strength score!

Download Bacteria Combat Lite from Google Play here:

And from the App store here:

app pr 5 app pr 2

The first day of a new game….

Last month I decided to start a new game which aims to educate on antibiotic resistance.

This is proving a lot more difficult than I first imagined…

The analogies are there but they just don’t fit well enough to be effective and educational. Weapons… bombs… armies… Olympics.

At this stage, it is time to take a step back and assess all the educational material out there.

What are the key messages of current content, how has it been communicated, what is being missed out? These concepts I need to include in this game….


To poo…… or not to poo?

‘Poo Taboo’

As the recently published book ‘Gut’ by Giulia Enders (May 2015) demonstrated, the gut is a fascinating and multi-functional organ involved in immunity, brain function, stress and digestion.

A key function of the large gut also termed the colon, is defecation or POO PRODUCTION which is a topic that seems to bother us quite a lot. Many view poo as an unpleasant substance and would rather eat their own brown matter than discuss it’s consistency with peers and colleagues.

Ultimately, this general attitude has resulted in great stigmatisation around poo (‘poo-taboo’) which results in bowel patients avoiding doctor appointments and hiding their bowel related symptoms.  In some cases these symptoms are indicative of bowel cancer and if reported early enough may prevent disease developing. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK (2012), accounting for 10% of all deaths from cancer. Nearly 16,000 men and women die of bowel cancer every year in the UK.

As a nation, we need to change our attitude towards poo. Yes, we have evolved to avoid this bodily product due to its role in the spread of infectious disease, but what is it really? This smelly, brown substance is simply our undigested food (oh hello corn on the cob), some hitchhiker gut bacteria along for the ride, water and some delicious lubricating oil for your poo vehicle (mucus).

It’s different shapes, sizes and smells merely reflect the state of your colon and diet… similar to the pimples on your chin or ulcers on your tongue. Imagine the colon as your little poo factory, if the boss is off sick and the employees have a wee skive, production breaks down!

I absolutely loved reading Ender’s ‘Gut’ as the general message of the book matched exactly to what I write here and research I conducted during my PhD. Basically poo is normal and the gut is awesome. For its 1000’s of readers across the world, I predict a change in attitude towards this topic and therefore a surge in poo fans over the next decade (#todayspoo on instagram?).

However, what about our future poo producers – our youth of today. What can we do to help them become comfortable with poo (although I’m sure many 7 year old boys already brag to their friends about the number of sweet corn found in last night’s produce).

In a recent project I carried out at the Centre of the Cell, Queen Mary University London, I developed a digital game for this purpose. Working with the Centre of Digestive Diseases (Charles Knowles group) and a talented developer Martin Rees, I created a poo race game which aimed to educate pupils on defecation and change attitudes on the topic of poo and bowel health. The main objective of the game is to guide your poo vehicle out the bowel in a healthy time of approximately 24 hours. However, this is not as easy as it sounds…..

Poo Racer game

The poo race game (working title: Poo Racer) begins with players selecting their very own poo vehicle; The Sludge Racer or The Boulder. As you may gather, The Sludge Racer has a greater speed than the Boulder, which has better control!

screengrab_0009_Layer 1

After players pick their vehicle, they then pick their bowel track: Normal or Collision course. We wanted to include some mention of bowel diseases in this game and therefore the collision course was included to represent polyps and tumours in bowel cancer.

After selecting their race vehicle and track, players are ready to go! The traffic lights flash green and the clock is launched into action. As players race they are prompted to collect bacteria points which represent friendly gut bacteria.

screengrab_0007_Layer 3

Green points = 1 bacteria, Gold points = 10 bacteria. After a while of intense racing, players reach their first pit stop where they can refuel their poo vehicle. Here players use their bacteria points to purchase fuel for their poo vehicle for vehicle upgrades (vehicle upgrades improve your final poo time). The fuel options include bad food choices, good food choices and antibiotics. Good food will improve their poo speed and eventually may upgrade their vehicle to the perfect poo! Bad food will impact badly on the poo speed and eventually may downgrade their poo vehicles to diarrhoea or constipation! Antibiotics kill many of your bacteria points on the next track.

screengrab_0006_Layer 4

The game continues for two tracks and two pit stops and finishes off with an intense dash through the exit tunnel (rectum) where players have 20 seconds to reach the exit gate (sphincter).  YAH!

The game finishes with a final score which states players’ final time, poo status and points, i.e:

45 hours 05min  26 sec, CONSTIPATED, 300 points.

By the end of the game, players have publically pooed in front of their friends and will have likely shouted “SPEED UP” OR “SLOW DOWN” at the screen (..sounds like a standard poo experience to me).

Impact and evaluation

The gamification of science is gaining increasing credit and is being used more frequently in research, education and public engagement.

We carried out evaluation on this game which showed that game play alone changed attitudes towards discussing poo with friends and diet choices. The majority of players (70%) also stated that they would play the game online with friends – publicising poo times!

poo graph

These data are based on 60 year 5 school pupils.

Poo racer has the potential to have great impact on society’s attitude towards bowel health as it demonstrates poo and bowel function in a light-hearted and engaging manner. This factor alone may be crucial in well-being of bowel disease patients who express difficulty in finding suitable vocabulary to discuss their symptoms with friends and medical professionals. Poo Racer will be installed at Centre of the Cell science museum and the App store this winter!

Pop me an email for further information:

Carla’s tips on making educational and FUN science games!

Level one: The topic

OK, so you’ve been asked to make a science game and it needs to educate on topic X….Where do you start!? Before I do ANYTHING I take a blank sheet of paper and write down my science topic in the centre. Feel free to use your favourite tech toy to do this or post some ideas on Google Docs.

You then want to think about every single analogy you can for this science topic and write it down on that piece of paper. Let’s take an example:

Metaphorical ‘poo’ games Research showcased Realistic games Research showcased
1.     Potion making game

Gut = cauldron

Balance of ingredients

“Rectal recipe”

Genes involved; bacteria involved; triggers 1.“Poo tycoon”

Management game

Manage bowel health and poo transit.

Inquiry based learning

Bacteria, histology, inflamm. proteins
2.     Race car game

Race through large intestine.

Top speeds – incontinence

Player decides car qualities ( disease phenotypes)

Need for speed / Mario Karts

Car qualities will represent triggers for FI.

Petrol: diet, engine: stress,

2.Weight / balance game. (Poo jenga)

Poo is balanced, player can build up blocks to maintain this (Jenga style).

Imbalance of normal bowel factors. (genes, gut-brain axis)

Avoid using analogies which are basically rewording of the science. For example if your aim was to design a game on genetic mutation, don’t see the nucleotide sequence…see what the public see (a bar code?).  Also my last piece of advice is; you can find analogies EVERYWHERE. Sometimes the best thing you can do is go for a walk or a drink and watch people and the world around you.  And speak to everyone about your game idea. A lot of my ideas have evolved and developed after sharing the analogy with peers, who identify with the analogy and then bring unique and individual links to the idea. 

The key is to make this analogy as accessible as possible – that way your game will be understood and enjoyed by a larger audience.

At this stage it is also important to PLAY lots of different games that identify and relate to your analogy.

Stay tuned for Level 2: Learning objectives.

Can ALL science really be made into a game?

Developing both an educational AND fun science game is quite a task. It takes more research than is required for designing a new experiment, more resilience involved in overcoming those first few failures and better communication skills needed for a key note conference presentation.

I have discovered this slowly but surely over the last two years as I have crawled out of academia and into the world of game development. And so I have decided to set up this ‘blog’ to share all of my thoughts, views, annoyances and tips on this topic.

For my first blog entry I thought I would start with the basics  and discuss the method which can be used to turn ANY TYPE of science into a game. Yes this may sound like an impossible task (especially if like me you work with Crohn’s disease patient faecal samples) but hopefully by following this process you will obtain a set of skills which will allow you to make scientific gamified analogies out of teacakes!

Stay tuned for my first entry – publish date 5.9.15

Bacteria Combat

game play image 4

Also stay tuned for more blog posts on my up and coming science app: Bacteria Combat.

This bacteria card battle app educates on antibiotic resistance and good /bad bacteria!

The game content was created by myself and my friend Siam Colvine ( The app was developed by a game development company in Dundee called Future Fossil Studios (