We have been having a blast at the IAFP Annual Meeting this year, and have been so busy that we’re just now getting to blog about some of it halfway through the conference!
In addition to the scientific outputs of the Collaborative and its ever-expanding network of members, we’ve developed a bit of a reputation at IAFP for our interactive games about norovirus these past four years. This year we ended up applying some existing technology in a fun way that’s never been done before – with the help of some kind companies, some special volunteers, and a very nice person in our university’s IT department. (We can’t talk about them all just yet because it’s behind-the-scenes magic that would ruin the game, but we owe them a lot of thanks.)
We wanted to show how viruses find their hosts, because it is a little crazy when you think about it. Viruses are microscopically tiny and essentially inanimate objects (since they lack energy of their own), yet must somehow reach living hosts to cause infection. In a sense (we know we are anthropomorphizing a bit), they either get lucky, by being in the right place at the right time, or they must be sneaky to increase their chances, by doing things like being shed in large numbers, being durable enough to last on surfaces until a susceptible host comes along, or being dispersed widely in the air when someone vomits them up (all things norovirus does). But how could we translate this into a teaching game?
As it turns out, passive RFID tags, which are often used to track products and equipment, are a lot like viruses. Both contain information in a protective shell (genetic vs. data and protein vs. plastic), and sit in a quiet, unpowered state until given some external energy (a living host vs. radio waves). We put these tags on portable virus cards and have been handing them out here at IAFP. If people come within a few feet of one of our secret Hosts as they walk around the conference, their tag is scanned and the information goes online, letting people search for their tag number to see if they have been successful at infecting the Host. Players do not know who the Hosts are, and it has been changing every hour, but we have been dropping some hints about their location, appearance, or special traits.
So has it been successful? Well, in 10 hours of the exhibit hall being open, we have given out over 330 cards with tags (about 30 an hour or one every two minutes), and still have a day to go. About a third of the players have infected a Host, some multiple times, and we have received a lot of compliments that the game is fun and interesting. We’ll post some of the data on our social media after the dust has settled.
We still have plenty of cards left, hours to play, and prizes to give out, so if you are at IAFP and haven’t been by booth 821 yet please come say hello!