Plague World: A Modern Prometheus

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By: sasha, adamaig

This unit was developed through support of the MacArthur Foundation and is a unit in the Quest Atlantis project (see Modern Prometheus was based on Shelley's Frankenstein and was developed to better understand the power of videogame methodologies and technologies for learning persuasive writing and engaging in ethics.

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Plague Overview

Developing the different characters was quite challenging, especially trying to recreate a feel for a previous time in history. Of special importance was developing the letter from mom and the letter from the doctor to one's mom. The goal here was that these would be shared in the context of the classroom before the child even entered the 3D world--these letters are below if you scroll through the images. These letters are significant in that they are designed to position the player in their role during the game. This idea of learning involving positioning the student as a character within a role in which they are important is in sharp contrast to how most school-based learning occurs. Watching students respond to their role was quite satisfying, even if these letters went through five iterations ;-) It is our experience that this initial positioning is crucial to the unfolding game play and learning, so proceeding through multiple iterations in which one observes potential users is essential. See Comparison Study Article.


Ingolstadt: The Plague Unit (or Modern Prometheus) was developed with the goal of better understanding the potential of converting a classic piece of literature, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, into a game that can be used in schools. Connecting to our theory of Transformational Play   the Plague world highlights the potential of how a context can be designed in order to bid for a specific form of player participation, with players being intentionally positioned as agents of change whose purpose is to help the village of Ingolstadt decide if they should allow "Dr. Frank" to keep looking for a cure in spite of his questionable research methods. Players soon learn that persuasive writing is a necessary tool to resolve the game’s narrative conflict. As the game progresses, players’ experience how their choices and use of persuasive writing dramatically changes Ingolstadt and its citizens.   This Unit, one of many in the Quest Atlantis project, allows students to engage issues such as medical ethics and contemplate concepts such as the ends justifying the means and the nature of human existence, as they experience a village affected by a disastrous plague.    

The first two Missions, What's Wrong in Ingolstadt? and Two Sides of the Problem, introduce Questers to the crisis that has divided the townspeople and gives them their first taste of persuasive writing. Questers see that different people in Ingolstadt have different opinions regarding the doctor, providing Questers with foreshadowing, and they also get a sense of the realities of a plague when they meet Henry, the reporter they must replace because he has been infected. Players also struggle with their own issues of morality as they have to make decisions, potentially ones that challenge the correctness of the law, as they decide whether breaking the law is necessary to reach a greater good.

More than simply reading someone else's story, Questers are positioned as first-person protagonists—apprentice investigative journalists come to write about the plague—who struggle with ethical dilemmas as they advance the narrative storyline. An important part of the Unit is that the Quester receives an initial letter from "mom", explaining what she knows about the grave situation in Ingolstadt. "Mom" includes a letter she just received from Doctor Frank himself, whose writing further establishes the Quester as the protagonist with an important role. Again, all of this was designed to establish for the player a sense of conceptual play.

The examples below show some of the situations and information Questers gain within the space.

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  • @ 07/03/10 12:34 EST on Page: Legitimacy - Reply - Flag(0)
    Finding legitimacy for school content is difficult to do in the context of the classroom. The idea of games having embedded legitimacy for academic content is one of their potentials.
  • @ 12/15/10 04:34 EST on Page: Plague Overview - Reply - Flag(0)
    When I first read this I was reminded of trying to build interesting conceptual scenarios for my social studies students. However, even if I described events or read primary source documents, there was always this lingering feeling that this was not real. However, when I read about transformational play and this idea that the narrative world actually changes based on player choices I become quite intrigued. From a classroom teacher perspective, this sounds like the curriculum I was looking for, somewhere between the complex game of Civilization that was too time intensive for myclassroom and a more engaging textbook. From a cognitive science perspective, I start to imagine new forms of presence and embodied cognition with these types of learning experience allowing us to build richer theories about how people learn. From the perspective of a parent, I imagine a new vision of education for my children, one in which they not only learn academic content at school but come to care about that content and see it as useful for making sense of and transforming storylines they care about and that can be engaged within the structure of actual schools.