Virulent

Game review by
Seann Dikkers, Common Sense Media
Virulent Game Poster Image
Be a virus, trick the immune system, and infect your human.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Educational Value

Kids can learn about viruses, proteins, immune defense systemsm and the amazing complexity of how we get, or don't get, sick. Virulent was created in collaboration with top virologists, so it is visually accurate, yet the designers' goal was clearly to make this as engaging and fun to play as possible. In addition to learning science, players will problem solve, think creatively, and get a primer in how perspective changes the way you look at something.

Positive Messages

Messaging is fairly neutral at the cellular level. Overall, successful players infect the host by using resources well. At times, players need to sacrifice units to guard key cells.

Positive Role Models & Representations

You play as a virus that is attempting to invade and populate a human host. From a virus' perspective, this is outstanding role modeling. Overall, the player takes on the "thinking" that a virus would have while colonizing a body. Beyond the cellular level there are no role models.

Ease of Play

Virulent uses a basic click/touch and drag mechanic that is intuitive and easy to play. Middle to advanced levels will take a few attempts to solve, but the challenge of retrying a level is enjoyable. Expect one to two hours to play in full.

Violence

Anti-viruses stop the viruses with simple, low-impact, graphics. There is little to no violence of note.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Virulent is a free online simulation game where you play as a virus. Over the course of ten levels, you try to infect the human. There is no questionable content in the game and players walk away with an experienced perspective on how viruses work. The game makes use of actual scientific terms so the vocabulary learning is direct, but hidden a bit.

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What's it about?

VIRULENT allows the player to act as a growing viral infection. Your job is to guide your new virus further and further into the human host and infect it. Each of ten levels introduces new viral tactics and immune system defenses. You play by constantly adjusting your path (by drawing it with your mouse) toward the other side of the board while avoiding the nasty anti-viral defenses. Each level adds new tricks for both you and the immunities. Players can play the entire game in 1-2 hours.

Is it any good?

Virulent is designed to be an enjoyable experience that also happens to teach the player about virology. This free game creates a memorable experience with a scientifically-rooted glimpse at how viruses spread. The game is immersive by making the tracing the key mechanic and encouraging the player to adjust his or her strategy during each level by adding new elements. The puzzle solving is sufficiently challenging without being overly frustrating. Soon you find that breeding proteins is fun and slightly devious.

The game is a bit short and seems to purposefully avoid using the terms that it is built around. For that reason, kids may need to do a bit of research to learn the scientific vocabulary. Also, level 9 can be a bit buggy (if it does, just restart) and may require a bit of coaching for younger players. Still it is worth the evening, and it will leave you wanting more games like this one that teach without making you feel you're in school. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether learning science in a game is an effective way to understand the content. Did the game help your kids to understand how viruses work?

  • How do viruses spread? What can you do to avoid getting sick? How can you help your body put up stronger defenses than what was in the game?

  • What else has a story to tell? Can your stomach tell a story? Can a tree tell a story? What other apparent "villains" may have a story to tell us?

  • Families can also discuss how perspective can be used to tell stories. What can be learned by seeing something from another perspective?

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