Video game designers are always striving to make games more lifelike, but they'll have a hard time topping what Stanford researcher Ingmar Riedel-Kruse is up to. He's introducing life itself into games.
Riedel-Kruse and his lab group have developed the first video games in which a player's actions influence the behavior of living microorganisms in real time – while the game is being played.
These "biotic games" involve a variety of basic biological processes and some simple single-celled organisms (such as paramecia) in combination with biotechnology.
The goal is for players to have fun interacting with biological processes, without dealing with the rigor of conducting a formal experiment, said Riedel-Kruse, an assistant professor of bioengineering.
"We hope that by playing games involving biology of a scale too small to see with the naked eye, people will realize how amazing these processes are and they'll get curious and want to know more," he said.
"The applications we can envision so far are on the one hand educational, for people to learn about biology, but we are also thinking perhaps we could have people running real experiments as they play these games. ...
"We tried to mimic some classic video games," he said. For example, one game in which players guide paramecia to "gobble up" little balls, a la PacMan, was christened PAC-mecium. Then there is Biotic Pinball, POND PONG and Ciliaball. The latter game is named for the tiny hairs, called cilia, that paramecia use in a flipper-like fashion to swim around – and in the game enables kicking a virtual soccer ball.
The basic design of the games involving paramecia – the single-celled organisms used in countless biology experiments from grade school classes to university research labs – consists of a small fluid chamber within which the paramecia can roam freely. A camera sends live images to a video screen, with the "game board" superimposed on the image of the paramecia. A microprocessor tracks the movements of the paramecia and keeps score. ...
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