Physical Science Blog

Games for Geeks that Pack a Scientific Punch

October 2, 2008

“Tail today, feet tomorrow. Mutation is good at” These sentences were painted on a billboard I noticed while walking near Cooper Square in Manhattan. I thought to myself that it couldn’t be a reference to real mutations. But it’s true: Evolution is behind the new computer game called Spore, even though there’s apparently a lot more game to it than actual science. I haven’t played it because it’s not exactly free, but here are some other fun games for geeks with more science than Spore and for less money:

-In Sea Monsters Adventure from the BBC, your mission is to survive “the seven deadliest seas from Earth’s past.” Spin the wheel of extinction to stay alive, and try to “catch” the Dunkleosteus, a fearsome predator from about 360 million years ago.

-Scour your brain for science vocab words in Science Vocabulary Hangman from the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia. The poor hangman gets increasingly worried if you’re not good at guessing words like photosynthesis and gravity.

-“Who Dung It?” This quiz, also from the BBC, has you match “the poop with the poopetrator.” Figure out which creature left which fossilized feces while learning about what paleontologists call coprolites.

-Using Newton’s third law, play N3wton from the free online game site called Kongregate. Remember: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, except sometimes for the enemy cannon.

-Learn how to fold proteins even if you don’t know the first thing about biochemistry in Foldit, a game from the University of Washington. Read my previous blog post to find out how Foldit might help you win a Nobel Prize.

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1 Comment

Thank you Rachel for this article. It’s good to see that some games have more science substance than the heavily promoted Spore. I was recently distressed to see Spore touted in the science section of the New York Times. While Spore might be a fun game, it is not based in the science of evolution. Sure Spore creatures can have differential survival and therefore evolve. This idea of survival of the fittest has a vague resemblance to our understanding of evolution. However, evolution has no direction and is blind (see Richard Dawkin’s book “The Blind Watchmaker” for further elaboration). In Spore the players select new characteristics. While this might be fun and is likely essential for the programming of a video game, it is closer to playing God than to evolution by natural selection. In a time when our public and governmental understanding of science is so depressed, it is important to understand if and how much real science is depicted in popular games and media outlets.

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