Pac-Man is looking different these days–he’s slimmed down, translucent, and has grown a mane of cilia. And he’s also alive. Meet Pac-Mecium, one of eight “biotic games” developed by Stanford physicist Ingmar Riedel-Kruse and his team. For the first time in gaming history, players directly “control” living organisms such as paramecia–a breakthrough that could lead to the baby boom of citizen scientists.
In a paper published in the journal Lab on a Chip, the researchers describe the games they made with names like “Biotic Pinball” and “POND PONG” and “Ciliaball,” in which humans interact with everything from a few molecules to colonies of cells. In the case of PAC-Mecium, a game board image is projected over a paramecium, and while the player sees the image via a live camera, the paramecium’s progress and score are accounted for by a microprocessor. As Stanford News reports:
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.
If you’re hankering for a day at the races but don’t live near a horse track, you can now play “PolymerRace,” in which you can place bets on how fast a machine can copy DNA. In it, the players are fed the output of a Polymerase Chain Reaction machine, which copies DNA, and employing both chance and logic, they place their wagers on which line they think is the fastest.