While the realism in today’s video games might create the impression that electronic characters are alive, a team of researchers at Stanford University has taken it a step further by creating “biotic games” which allow the player to actually interact with living organisms by controlling biological processes. The team has currently developed eight games similar to simple 1980s arcade titles which allow the player to control paramecium. While these biotic games are currently in the proof-of-concept stage, the researchers hope that eventually even people with little or no knowledge about biology will be able to participate in biomedical research just by playing more complex biotic entertainments. In a paper published in Lab on a Chip Stanford investigators mention that they hope to have "significant conceptual and cost-reducing effects on biotechnology and eventually healthcare; enable volunteers to participate in crowd-sourcing to support medical research; and educate society at large to support personal medical decisions and the public discourse on bio-related issues."
From Stanford Report:
The basic design of the games involving paramecia – the single-celled organisms used in countless biology experiments from grade school classes to university research labs – consists of a small fluid chamber within which the paramecia can roam freely. A camera sends live images to a video screen, with the "game board" superimposed on the image of the paramecia. A microprocessor tracks the movements of the paramecia and keeps score.
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.
Full text of the paper in Lab on a Chip: Design, engineering and utility of biotic games…
Stanford Report coverage: Stanford researcher uses living cells to create ‘biotic’ video games
(hat tip: Kotaku)