Field of Cures
Daniel J. King
There are several ways for a work of electronic literature to be serious — an interactive experience can be designed to educate, persuade, or raise awareness of an issue. Field of Cures will serve all these serious functions while being a casual game in form. At the micro level of gameplay, the player will learn how to manipulate a simple model of genetic inheritance to breed specific species of medicinal plants. At the meso level, the player will have to choose between ethical and unethical research practices in conducting clinical trials to get new drugs to market. Finally, at the macro level, the player will face trade offs between increasing profits, fostering public health, and protecting natural biodiversity. All these features are engineered to fit on the screen of the player’s phone, operated by the taps of a single fingertip. Field of Cures is a design project that combines the goals of an educational game and a persuasive game, to explore the boundaries of what a casual game can accomplish. The learning goals of Field of Cures are to use simple models and emergent gameplay to teach the player about genetic inheritance and expression, the value of biodiversity conservation, and the clinical trials process for drug development — while also fostering ethical thinking about the pharmaceutical industry. Cross-breeding plants to get the right species for each situation requires the player to understand that offspring inherit half their genes from each parent at random, and that different traits have different rules for how genes are expressed. In Field of Cures, plants have a pair of color genes, a pair of type genes, and a pair of size genes. Both color genes are expressed, the dominant type gene is expressed, and the size trait depends on the average of the size genes. The value of biodiversity conservation becomes apparent because having more unique species available in the game world makes it easier to bring together whatever genes are required at any given moment. Developing a field with a factory, laboratory, or villa comes at the cost of the native species that grow in that habitat. Cures are discovered by running clinical trials, proceeding from the selection of a hypothesis, to a small-scale pilot study, to a large-scale randomized controlled trial. The player will learn about different methods of putting a spin on a study to make it easier for trial results to achieve statistical significance without achieving clinical significance — an NPC business advisor urges the player to take such shortcuts in the name of expediency, while an NPC science advisor advocates instead for research integrity. The player will be exposed to different points of view, given time to develop empathy for game characters, and allowed to make their own choices and see how the consequences of their decisions affect the game world, which fosters ethical thinking. Field of Cures is currently in an early stage of development, with the initial stages of the game available to play as a demo on a PC using a mouse.
About the Artist
Daniel J. King is a PhD student at UCF's Texts & Technology program who is interested in serious design for casual games.