Playing with Microbes – Biotic Games
Stanford researchers are developing ‘biotic games’ involving paramecia and other living organisms. So far, they have created three games that mimic classic video games.
The “biotic games” involve a variety of basic biological processes and some simple single-celled organisms. One game in which players guide paramecia – the single-celled organisms used in countless biology experiments from grade school classes to university research labs – to “gobble up” little balls, a la PacMan, was named PAC-mecium. They’ve also created Biotic Pinball, POND PONG and Ciliaball, named after 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 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. Finally there is a microprocessor tracks the movements of the paramecia and keeps score. The installation shown in the image stores the living organisms used in the biotic games.
The player attempts to control the paramecia using a controller that is much like a typical video game controller. In some games, such as PAC-mecium, the player controls the polarity of a mild electrical field applied across the fluid chamber, which influences the direction the paramecia move. In Biotic Pinball, the player injects occasional whiffs of a chemical into the fluid, causing the paramecia to swim one direction or another.
The researchers emphasize that paramecia, being single-celled organisms, lack a brain and the capacity to feel pain.