At Standford University, Assistant Professor Ingmar Riedel-Kruse and his team are developing ways to take real micro-organisms and make them part of video games.
Real-life mimicry is something most video game companies strive for, whether this is done by adding more polygons to a character's face, developing new modeling techniques or using more photo-realistic textures, but Assistant Professor Ingmar Riedel-Kruse is going to do them one better. Instead of simulating biological processes on-screen - as several great science games like Fold-It and EteRNA do - he and his team have developed ways for players to actually interact with micro-organisms and affect their movement, leading to a game-winning high score or an embarrassment of tiny, tiny proportions.
Using a camera mounted above a fluid chamber, images of swimming paramecia are streamed to a laptop computer and then superimposed over a game board. Controls on the laptop let gamers adjust properties in the fluid chamber, be it to change the strength or direction of an electric current or to allow the introduction of chemicals to encourage the organisms to move in a certain direction.
So far, the team have re-worked a few classics and given them new, biotic-themed names. Take your pick from PAC-mecium, Biotic Pinball, POND PONG or Cilliaball, each a familiar game experience but with a twist - the user is actually in control of a living organism that helps to win or lose the game.
Obviously, there are some concerns with Biotic games - some critics argue for a "playing God" problem, while others simply say it is cruel to direct such creatures to do our bidding for our entertainment.
Riedel-Kruse, meanwhile, sees it as both a talking point for discussions about the use of biological organisms in a lab and entertainment setting and also just where we as a species are going to draw the line. In addition, Riedel-Kruse and his team hope that by giving players the chance to interact with real organisms and see how they work, more interest and study in the field of microbiology will be generated.
Who knows? Perhaps some clever gamer's "cheat code" will unlock a whole new future for humankind.
Either that, or when the paramecium rise up to become our overlords, we'll be royally screwed.
In the meantime, enjoy!