Microbial Videogames

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Microbial videogames insert living single-celled organisms into traditional gameplay.
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Ingmar Riedel-Kruse runs a biophysics lab at Stanford University, but he spends about half his time tinkering with videogames. He’s not playing World of Warcraft. Riedel-Kruse creates his own videogames using living microbes. The most playable is Pacmecium, inspired by classic Pac-Man, in which the player guides a host of paramecia around obstacles and targets. The four-button controller shifts a weak electrical field, which the paramecia are attracted to. 

There’s no grant funding for this, so Riedel-Kruse used what he had. There’s an armature made of Lego bricks and a commercial webcam rigged with a microscopic lens. You watch the action on a laptop screen as you steer the microbes away from a virtual chomping fish. 

Microbial Videogames webcamA webcam and microscope capture the action.

To test the game, our reporter enlisted Scott Patterson, the world record holder on several versions of Pac-man, for a pixilated showdown in the lab. Patterson was impressed, noting subtle differences in game play: “It’s more like I’m guiding them, rather than instructing them.” Who will win the title — the inventor, or the champ?


Video: Playing the microbial videogame Pacmecium



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