The Science of Sustainability

Learning About Life Through Real-Time Biotic Video Games

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Stanford researcher Ingmar Riedel-Kruse. Photo by L.A. Cicero

Games are practically omnipresent in our society, filling our social networks, computers and phones. A team led by Stanford researcher Ingmar Riedel-Kruse has taken gaming to an entirely new level, introducing life itself into games.

Riedel-Kruse and his lab have developed the first biotic video games. The player's moves directly influence the behavior of living micro-organisms in real time as the game is being played.

Players are able to influence the basic biological functions of single-celled organisms. The team's goal is for players to learn about biological processes and interact with them without having to go through the rigorous process of formal experimentation.

In total the team has created eight different games that allow players to interact with paramecia (the single-celled organisms used in numerous biology experiments). In one of the games, paramecia move around a small fluid chamber. A camera collects images of the paramecia moving around and sends the images to a video screen that has a game board of a soccer field superimposed on the image. A microprocessor tracks the movements of the paramecia and keeps score as the paramecia "kick" the virtual ball around with their movements in the chamber.

In Biotic Pinball, the player injects a chemical into the fluid at calculated moments, causing the paramecia to swim in one direction or another.

If you're worried about the effects these games may have on single-celled organisms, Riedel-Kruse assures that these organisms have neither a brain nor any ability to feel pain, so they are not causing any harm.

Riedel-Kruse tells the Stanford University News:

"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…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."

To learn more about the biotic games being developed, check out this video.

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Category: Biology, Engineering

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Laura Khalil

About the Author ()

Laura is a marketer by day and nerd by night. She's the Chief Nerd Herder for Dorkbyte, a blog devoted to art, technology and science. She's been named one of the most engaging women to speak about technology and has been featured on The Setup. A member of Noisebridge, she is working on two robotics challenges, leading a puzzle team that competes in a variety of puzzle challenges throughout the US and monkeys around on ham amateur radio. She loves astronomy, Making and hardware hacking. She was most recently involved in teaching hardware circuitry at Maker Faire.Laura has executed marketing strategies and campaigns for tech startups in the Bay Area. Her work with social media has been inducted into the Viral Marketing Hall of Fame.