MicroCulture is a card-based event game that embodies the behavior of the human microbiome – the collection of microorganisms that reside in different locations throughout our bodies in varying prevalences and with varying effects, both positive and negative. It was designed as an icebreaker game that relies on a simple forms of social interaction in order to participate.

Each card lists a specific bacteria within a given microbial flora – the mouth, skin, gut, or airways – as well as the needs or characteristics this microorganism might exhibit. The card also lists a prompt asking players to find someone with related traits, personal preferences, or cultural backgrounds, recruit them to their team, and therefore diversify and  strengthen their team's microbial flora, or MicroCulture.  The  team with the most human microbes at the end of the event wins the game.

MicroCulture is a collaboration between Parsons School of Design and the MIT Media Lab: David Kong, Colleen Macklin, Roula Gholmieh, Melanie Bossert, and myself. It was launched at the SXSW 2015 conference as part of the MIT Media Lab Lounge events.

In 2016, MicroCulture partnered with the iconic American Museum of Natural History in New York City to produce an updated, customized version of the game for its monthly SciCafe event.


American Museum of Natural History – API – collaboration – data visualization – digital + print design – events – interactive media – game design – javascript – laser cutter – MIT Media Lab – motion graphics – Processing – SciCafe – SXSW – Twitter – web


Game Mechanics

To start, 4 players are selected to be the initial colonizers, each belonging to a different microbial flora – Mouth, Skin, Gut, and Airways. They are given a badge identifying their team affiliation and 3 of their team flora cards to recruit new players.

Each card provides a description of a bacteria species found within the flora and a prompt to find someone with related features. For instance, if the bacteria can survive in cold temperatures players might be prompted to “Find someone who is from somewhere with sub-zero winters”, or if the bacteria cannot metabolize proteins found in meat, they could be asked to "Find someone who is a vegetarian". These are only two examples of the 150 different bacteria types and traits included in the game.

If players find someone matching the description on one of their cards, they recruit them to their team's flora by handing them the card.

SXSW Version: When a player is recruited, they are given a card and a color coded token that they can attach to their SXSW badge.  They are also directed to follow their flora on Twitter in order to be added to the live player count data visualization: @MicroCultAirways @MicroCultMouth @MicroCultSkin @MicroCultGut.

AMNH SciCafe Version: When a player is recruited, they return the card used to recruit them to the game information desk in order to be registered as a member of their team and to receive a team identification sticker and 3 cards to recruit more players.


Microculture consists of three key components:

[1] 4 decks of bacterial flora cards - skin, mouth, gut, and airways

[2] Team flora ID badges - available as tokens or stickers

[3] Real-time, web visualization of recruited players

Bacteria Cards

used to recruit new players to a team's bacterial flora



Team Flora ID Tokens/Stickers

help players to visually identify team members and

to indicate that they cannot be recruited by other teams

Real-Time Visualization of

Recruited Players

keeps the players updated about the status of the game

as well as their team's current ranking

Creative Commons License

Microculture is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Based on work at

Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at


Related works

All content © Copyright Jane McDonough, 2016.