Dengue: Catch the Fever!

Dengue: Catch the Fever!

It all started with a bean…

The Red Cross team (Kanchan Shrestha, Vanessa Lamers, Sophia Colantonio and Lauren Graham) in International Organizations & Conferences has been working with Pablo Suarez of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre this semester.  A scientist by training, he has been using games to communicate messages about climate change in a fun, interactive and informative way.   They have been geared towards decision makers and other high-level officials who need to grasp the complexity of the climate challenges they need to address, but often lack first-hand experience to understand the nuances of the problem.  He designs his games to require as few props as possible so that they are not cost-prohibitive to play.  He often uses beans.

Pablo playing games at the COP:

Why games?

Games are a way to simulate complex, real-life situations in a simplified manner that people can understand.  They offer participants the opportunity to walk in another person’s shoes and play a role where they have to process information and make decisions accordingly.  The interactive and engaging nature of the experience allows a model for experiential learning that is both interactive and engaging.


Pablo identified the need for a climate change and health game that could be used by Red Cross/Red Crescent volunteers in the field or in meetings.  After experiencing our own “Aha!” moments from playing his games, we decided to design our own with the help of game design students at Parsons in New York City –  Mohini Dutta, Ben Norskov, Eulani Labay, Lien Tran and graduate Clay Ewing.

As a team, we decided to focus on dengue fever because 2.5 billion people are at risk for exposure.  It is spread by mosquitoes, and there is currently no treatment or test to confirm the infection.  As some regions warm as a result of climate change, incidents of tropical diseases like dengue are expanding to regions where it was not common, including to the U.S.  For these reasons, education and prevention are critical.

Game Design

There are two versions of the game: (1) a stationary, tabletop version, (2) a running, field game version.  This provides the flexibility of playing with different age groups or with space constraints.

In each version, players are divided into two teams – humans and mosquitoes.  They are stationed on opposite sides of the table or field with multiple piles of pieces (they could be glass beads, beans, any small object) that represent eggs in a mosquito breeding ground.


The objective for the humans is to eliminate the breeding grounds.  The objective for the mosquitoes is to continue to populate the breeding grounds and suck the blood from humans.

Game Rules

  • During game play, humans choose to either protect themselves from being bitten, or to remove an egg from a breeding ground.  Mosquitoes choose to “bite” humans or to lay eggs to continue to populate a breeding ground.  Each player may only take one action per round.
  • Humans are allocated a certain number of “life blood” which they want to conserve, but must give up one each time they are bitten by a mosquito.  When a human runs out of life blood, he or she is out of the game.
  • Mosquitoes start in the first round with a certain number of eggs to lay.  They can use the life blood pieces taken from humans to lay eggs in the breeding grounds.  If humans successfully remove all of the eggs from a breeding ground, as a team they are able to select with mosquito to remove from the game.
  • Neither eggs nor life blood may be transferred between players on the same team.
  • There are a series of hand motions that the humans and mosquitoes use to indicate their action during each round.
  • There are additional variations of the rules that are periodically added by the game facilitator to simulate the variable impacts of climate change.

Dengue at COP17

The response to the game thus far has been very positive.  Those who have played it understood the purpose and how to play, and had fun in the process.

On Wednesday, Pablo and I facilitated two tables of the tabletop version of the game with ministers of parliament from Uganda, Red Cross staff and other guests.  We had a great time and the experience confirmed that the game can be successful with a cross-section of people – high-level officials with limited background on climate change and humanitarian workers on the front lines of the problem.

During week 1, I also facilitated several practice sessions with the Red Cross volunteers attending the conference so that they would become familiar with how to play the game and how to facilitate it in the field.  I am in the process of collecting feedback about the game design, and how it could be tweaked to fit the individual circumstances that they experience on the ground.  The next steps post-COP are to refine the game and prepare supplementary documents and country-specific variations.  Everyone that I have talked to or played the game with is excited about using games to convey the climate change message in their country.

I am working on the logistics for playing the live, field version of the game, so keep your fingers crossed!

Stay tuned…