Video Game Stars Paramecium As Protagonist

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In the world of video games (and multi-cellular organisms), characters such as Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII come off as the ultimate protagonist. He's genetically enhanced and carries a big sword. Or maybe you prefer the cybernetically enhanced, such as Halo's Master Chief Petty Officer John-117. Link from Legend of Zelda is brave and Sonic is fast. And nobody better mess with Lara Croft in her shorty shorts whoppin' everyone's butt.

But nobody rocks it unicellular-style like paramecia. This little spheroid sports thousands of tiny hairs around the outer edge of its body called cilia that propel it at lightning speeds through freshwater scum. Hey, not even Kratos chooses to live in scum. And unlike all of those other so-called heroes, who battle the bad guys come hell or high water, Paramecium is a fleer not a fighter. He's the epitome of evasion, the personification of parry and the apotheosis of avoidance.

If Paramecium encounters a negative stimulus, like that generated by its arch enemy, Didinium — a poison-dart-toting bad-ass — our little single-celled organism does a 180 and high tails it outta there.

It may be for this reason that physicist Ingmar Riedel-Kruse and his colleagues, at Stanford University, have developed a few video games starring Paramecia. The "biotic games" resemble some familiar old-school ones, such as Pacman, Pong and soccer. The Paramecia play in real time, ala Tron, in a tiny fluid chamber. Their actions are captured using a small camera, and the video is transmitted to a laptop computer.

The user controls Paramecia using a handheld device, which delivers electrical pulses to different sides of the playing field. If the Paramecia sense a negative charge on the right side of the field, for example, they swim left.

The goal is for players to have fun interacting with biological processes, without dealing with the rigor of conducting a formal experiment, assistant professor of bioengineering Riedel-Kruse said in a press release.

The researchers think that their biotic games could be educational to help people learn about biology, and they also think that such a forum could serve as a place to conduct real experiments.

Here's a nice video from Stanford that demonstrates some of the games.

Photo: Getty Images

 

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