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The Red Queen Game

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

The laboratory of Dr. Mandy Gibson designed this simple, cheap in-class exercise to teach the fundamentals of host-parasite coevolution to high school and college students. All you need is two decks of playing cards for each pair of students. One student plays the “host” and the other plays the “parasite.” Each card suit is a different genotype, and a parasite can infect a host if two cards have matching suits. Hosts and parasites reproduce according to their success at resisting parasites or infecting hosts, respectively. The students play multiple rounds, or generations, and personally experience rapid oscillations in genotype frequency through time, as rare suits increase and common ones decline. The game received the 2016 Thomas Henry Huxley Award from the Society for the Study of Evolution for achievement in education and outreach.

The game emphasizes four key concepts:

  • Coevolution is rapid

  • That which is most fit now may soon become the least fit

  • If rare genotypes have an advantage, genetic variation will be maintained through time

  • We can use simple models to represent complex processes and test hypotheses

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