The notion of complex systems is central to many of today’s most pressing societal challenges, from tackling climate change to developing new pharmaceutical drugs to understanding the spread of diseases. Yet these complex systems are often hard to understand as they can be difficult for teachers to represent and for learners to access and explore. To address this challenge, the MIT STEP Lab has developed a suite of mobile-device enabled activities, the latest in our work with pSims, short for participatory simulations.


Today we are excited to announce the launch of our pSims Virus Game, as well as Tragedy of the Commons. The Virus Game challenges players to explore the spread of a disease using their mobile devices, scientific inquiry, and a playful process of experimentation. The Virus Game can be a powerful addition to students’ exploration of experimental design, infectious disease, collaborative problem-solving, systems modeling, and network dynamics. Our launch comes at a particularly thought-provoking time when the Coronavirus has spread around the world.  Using this activity might give people deeper insights into infectious diseases and what makes the challenge of tracking them down so difficult.


The activity starts with players out of their seats and walking around to “meet” as many other players as possible, both by meeting face-to-face and by scanning the QR codes on each other’s devices.  The rest of the activity unfolds like a mystery: some players become sick, others don’t, and everyone starts asking questions. What happened? How did I get sick? Why didn’t you get sick?


Although the activity might only take one or two class periods, students’ shared experience of the Virus Game can become an on-going point of reference.  One teacher might reference the Virus Game for studying epidemiology while another might reference it to contextualize mathematical concepts such as probability, frequency, and exponential growth. Other teachers might use this pSim in a government class, to discuss public health and healthcare. 


The Virus Game is adaptable, engaging, and practical across many subject areas and learning environments – or just for fun!


We are also launching a game about the Tragedy of the Commons.  In this game players are fishers, trying to make a living by maintaining their fleet of boats and going “fishing” at sites scattered around the room.  Based on where they go and the investment that they’ve made to date, they will get different returns. But if players are not careful, eventually they will also run out of a limited resource. The game then challenges players to work together to come up with acceptable solutions that meet criteria they establish.  This game is relevant to issues of ecology, climate change, and economics among others.


To play the games teachers simply need to go to the website and create a new game for their class (google account required to sign in).  Students must have some sort of mobile device (phone or tablet), but do not require accounts (only a registration code generated by the teacher).  


For more resources and information about our participatory simulation games visit our website here-

Categories: Announcements