September 2011

Biotic games: playing with living organisms

Biotic_games_pac_mecium2  biotic_games_controller2  Biotic_games_soccer2 

It’s easy to imagine how computer games greatly improve verbal and mathematical proficiency, but can they be used to foster an interest in science? Stanford University’s Ingmar Riedel-Kruse is convinced they can.

An assistant professor of bioengineering, Riedel-Kruse and his lab group have developed the first biotic games, which involve manipulating biological processes in real time. They use various visualization techniques to illustrate and monitor these processes on a computer screen with a gamelike interface.

Inspiration to create biotic games came from reading the history of computers and video games, Riedel-Kruse explained.

“Computer development enabled video games. Since biotechnology is currently undergoing a similar revolution, it struck me that biotechnology could also be a medium for a new type of game,” he said.

Many video games attempt to mimic real life, but biotic games use actual life forms, such as paramecia and yeast. Players learn about a variety of biological, chemical and physical properties without dealing with the rigors of formal experiments. Additionally, living organisms often respond in random ways, which makes them fascinating to watch.

“Biotic games enable interesting play experiences based on real-life phenomena, biological unpredictability or the stimulation of olfactory senses,” Riedel-Kruse said. “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."

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