A digital game-based approach to conceptually understanding cellular metabolism


Research Committee

Dr. Derek Ng (Faculty Supervisor)

Dr. Sian Patterson & Dr. Roula Andreoupoulos (Content Advisors)

Dr. Jodie Jenkinson (Second Voting Member)

Dr. Andrea Gauthier (Game Research Advisor)

Context & Visual Problem

Glucose metabolism—the cellular processes that convert glucose into usable energy—involves several complex pathways. While lectures and readings appropriately cover the enzymatic reactions, associated molecular players, and regulation points, their inherently passive and linear nature fails to effectively convey the dynamic, inter-pathway relationships central to metabolism. Subsequently, students memorize the pathway steps rather than develop an integrated understanding of the metabolic system as a whole, leading to difficulties in inferring the downstream effects of pathway activity and/or mutations—a critical skill for clinical applications and other domains of biology.  There is currently a lack of existing active learning resources which may better facilitate a conceptual of this biochemistry topic.

Serious Games as a Solution

Digital game-based learning (DGBL) is one active approach shown to facilitate learning—providing learners with an engaging environment that facilitates productive negativity (encouraging learners to identify and address gaps in knowledge); this aspect is conducive to promoting conceptual understanding. However, the effectiveness of serious games and productive negativity has yet to be studied within the context of biochemistry.



Project objectives

The Aim

Develop robust design documentation and assets for a 2D computer game called Sugar Scramble that:

  • emphasizes the inter-pathway relationships of glucose metabolism

  • can be used to statistically/quantitatively investigate the effectiveness of productive negativity on learning in a future study.

The Means

 Employ an extended version of the Activity Theory Model for Serious Games (ATMSG; Caravalho et al., 2015;  Callaghan, McShane, & Eguiluz, 2018) such that the game is both conceptually integrated as well as involves a quantitative component (i.e. makes in-game failure recordable)


Sugar Scramble will be primarily designed for undergraduate students. Future studies will employ this tool with students in the BCH210H  class at the University of Toronto.

Game Proof of Concept/ Demo Animation

See the process