Professors at NC State and East Carolina Universities have been working for the past few years to create Crystal Island, a free educational video game that will increase student’s learning and understanding of science, health and literacy.

At the beginning of the game, the player arrives at an island where the characters are getting sick and the player must figure out what is causing the sickness. The player will then explore the island and go to different buildings to talk to other people and gather information. This is done to replicate the scientific method, and students use that method to find the cure and source for the disease.

The purpose of creating a video game with an education narrative is to create a story for those playing by getting the computer to intelligently select events to occur, according to Bradford Mott, creator of Crystal Island and a senior research scientist in computer science. Mott developed the Crystal Island video game while completing his Ph.D. at NC State in 2006.  

The game is engaging for students, according to Mott. 

“The goal is for the computer to adapt to what that student is playing instead of creating a scripted video game,” Mott said. “The idea that its narrative is centered around learning captures the student’s imagination and makes them want to figure out the mystery of why these people are sick and really brings the work to life.”

Various research schools across the country have used Crystal Island as part of their teaching material. It was first played at Centennial Campus Middle School in Johnston County and now used across the state in 14 middle schools. Tests were made during a four-week period in Johnston County, determining that the game was successful in improving literacy and science skills in students.  

Originally, the video game focused on teaching students about microbiology, based off of North Carolina eighth grade curriculum. Later, due to work on the game continued by IntelliMedia Group, the game allowed for a focus on health and literacy as well as microbiology. 

Funding to create the video game came from a variation of grants that include some from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, National Science Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture funded the game because of its inclusion of food safety and salmonella poisoning teachings. 

East Carolina University was contacted as part of the creation of the game with the grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in order to help with teacher professional development and help conduct testing productivity across Johnston County.

Kieran Riban, a sophomore studying statistics, expressed her enthusiasm for the game.

 “I think it’s a good idea, and I like the idea of a first person perspective game because it makes the game more realistic,” she said.

The Crystal Island video game can be downloaded for free at