August 5, 2011

Bacterium Publishing & Teaching Through Games

Bacterium is essentially finished. Rather than have a simple sandbox game, I opted to put in a tutorial, a sandbox mode, and 15 challenge stages where the player can try to accomplish certain goals with his/her bacteria. For example, the player may have to infect 30 enemy bacteria with a virus simultaneously, or obtain a population that's triple the enemy's population.

Now that those things are all in place, I've reached out to YoYoGames Publishing to see about getting this bad boy delivered on the iPhone and iPad. I've designed the game with those platforms in mind, so it has scrolling via dragging and an intuitive one-button interface. I'm hoping YoYo will be as happy with Bacterium as I am!

As I've spent the past week developing Bacterium, the core principle behind the game really struck me as something powerful that I should try to take advantage of in the future. That is: the game teaches the player about a real-world phenomenon without the player fully realizing that they are learning.

For example, in Bacterium, you control a population of bacteria that are competing with one another and with enemy bacteria for resources. If a bacteria doesn't acquire resources in time, it dies. The slower/weaker bacteria tend to reach the resources last, and they then die more easily, so in the long run, the population tends to become faster and stronger. This is the basic model of evolution through natural selection. It also happens to make for a really interesting game mechanic, and it, along with the general behavior of bacteria, make up the core of the game Bacterium.

So the player, who is literally playing around with different elements of the evolutionary process, may not fully realize what it is she is doing at the time. But if she were to then pick up a book or attend a class to learn more in-depth about evolution, she would have an intuitive understanding of how it works burned into the back of her mind because she played Bacterium.

Games are perfect for this kind of teaching, because they allow us to interact with working systems in motion and see how all the parts fit together. We can't get that depth of understanding from a diagram or reading a passage in a textbook. Now that Bacterium is near completion, my brain is bursting (figuratively) with ideas on what game project to pursue next. There are so many extremely complicated real-world phenomena that people greatly misunderstand -- but would be easy to understand in game form -- that I could easily spend my entire life teaching people how the world works through turning the world into a game. This idea goes beyond the old educational games like "Math Blaster" -- which were essentially animated worksheets.

It's a pretty damned exciting concept, to say the least. Be sure to subscribe to the RSS feed here so you can see what the next project will be!

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