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!
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.
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.
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!
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: C.firstname.lastname@example.org