biotic games, from switched

its impact on gaming in general and its firmly cemented place in video game history notwithstanding, pac-man was a fairly simple and straightforward game.  you could move in four directions – up, down, left and right, while escaping ghosts that are coming after you.  a powerpill lets you dispatch of your foes and send them back to the start point.  get all the dots, beat the level, move on. i remember seeing human pac-man re-creations in college at halloween time as well as a number of imitations and parodies.  but now, we have broken into new plane – a place where pac-man is a real game, with real biological creatures swimming through fluid as the round yellow man himself, controlled by us.

confused?  allow me to elaborate.

scientists at stanford have recreated a pac-man shaped playing field, where the creature playing the role of pac-man is actually a single-celled organism called a paramecium (come on kids, you remember your old science classes).  this has led to the title of this little game – “PAC-mecium.”  illustrated in the lower-left in the picture above, the “player” directs the movement of the paramecium via joystick, same as he or she would on an arcade screen, and it moves accordingly.  this joystick is connected to a controller that shifts the polarity of an electric field that’s put across the fluid, changing the direction the paramecium moves.  a video camera keeps score.  i hope you’re all with me on this one in the fact that this is some serious craziness, despite the relatively basic science behind it.  other so-called “biotic games” include POND PONG, ciliaball, and biotic pinball (gizmodo).  so why do this at all?  what possible scientific gain can society garner from this sort of strange experimentation?  according to professor ingmar riedel-kruse, awareness.  all a strange ad campaign for science.  “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,” said the good professor (the register).

and it may just work to get people paying attention to science, especially microbiology, as these experiments illustrate.  but that’s not to say that all of the attention is good.  some of his testers had some ethical problems with what these “games,” and because of this professor riedel-kruse thinks that it may also be a good starting point to stimulate discussion on issues of bioethics. “we are talking about microbiology with these games, very primitive life forms. we do not use any higher-level organisms,” said the professor to the stanford university news.  for those of you that need to brush up on your biology, paramecia are single-celled organisms, lacking a brain and nervous system – meaning that they don’t possess the capacity to feel pain.  the professor assures us that nothing with any sort of higher-level function was used for this project

this is just a sampling of what the scientific world has for research and biotic gaming. “we would argue that modern biotechnology will influence our life at an accelerating pace, most prominently in the personal biomedical choices that we will be faced with more and more often,” riedel-kruse told stanford university news. “therefore everyone should have sufficient knowledge about the basics of biomedicine and biotechnology. biotic games could promote that.”

i wouldn’t look for a console release of anything like this for the 2011 holiday season, but it may be appearing in a lab near you.  as novel of an idea as this is, all one can really ask themselves is “what next?”

for more games that are scientifically relevant, check out fold-it and carnegie mellon university’s eteRNA and help science help you.

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About Tushar

Author and creator of Technical Fowl. IT/Tech hero. Jiu Jitsu purple belt. Enjoying the venn diagram intersection of tech, gaming, business, and politics.

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