'Biotic games' put players in control of living microorganisms

Stanford researchers give new meaning to the term 'microtransactions'

Stanford University researchers have devised a new breed of gaming that allows observers to remotely control living microorganisms in so-called 'biotic games' inspired by classic arcade titles.

Developed by Ingmar Riedel-Kruse, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford, and his lab crew, the microscopic games require players to manipulate single-celled organisms called paramecia in a fluid chamber by means of weak electric fields. Superimposed videogame templates are then added to a static camera feed, and a computer combines the two images to create a game that literally lets its users play around with life. The games include PAC-mecium, wherein players coax paramecia through a maze filled with virtual pellets; and Biotic Pinball, a game that uses the electric fields to push the paramecia over a basic pinball board.

It's no Spore, but it's damn interesting to watch:

Shocking living creatures into playing games is generally considered to be a social faux pas, but as Riedel-Kruse points out, paramecia feel no pain and have no brain with which to write strongly worded emails to PETA. This makes them perfect for these kinds of experiments; the kind that Riedel-Kruse hopes will lead to a better appreciation and understanding of life on a molecular scale.

"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 Riedel-Krusel. "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.”

These 'biotic games' join the likes of PSN's Fold-it and the similar online RNA folding game, EteRNA, in a growing niche of scientific videogames with intriguing real-world potential. Now if Nintendo could just create a single-celled plumber's hat, we could really get this party started.

Jan 14, 2011

[Source: Stanford University via HotBloodedGaming]

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