Play Pacman, Pinball and Pong with a paramecium

Using the latest computer graphics is one way to make video games more life-like - but what about incorporating life itself into them?

Physicist Ingmar Riedel-Kruse and his team from Stanford University have done just that by creating versions of classic games that you can navigate by physically controlling living organisms. A game called PAC-mecium is Pacman with a twist: players use a console to change the polarity of an electrical field in a fluid chamber filled with paramecia, which makes the organisms move in different directions. A camera sends real-time images to a computer, where they are superimposed onto a game board (see video above). By looking at the screen, a player can guide the paramecia to eat virtual yeast cells and make them avoid Pacman-like fish. A microprocessor tracks the movement of the organisms to keep score. Another game called Ciliaball uses the same principle to play virtual soccer with paramecia stars (see video).

Click to view

Biotic pinball uses a slightly different method to flick away paramecium "pinballs". A player controls a tiny needle that squirts a chemical repellant at approaching organisms (see video). An alternate two-player version of the game called Pond Pong places two needles on opposing sides of the gameboard and challenges you to aim paramecia into your opponent's pond.

Although the games are fun to play, Riedel-Kruse and his team also see them as educational tools. "Everyone should have sufficient knowledge about the basics of biomedicine and biotechnology. Biotic games could promote that," says Riedel-Kruse. The team hopes that other life sciences researchers will develop games that illustrate their work. They also think that the games could be used to run experiments during play and allow for crowdsourced results.

All of the team's game designs are published in a paper this month in Lab on a Chip. If you enjoyed this video, you may also like to see a laser gadget that plays Pong with cells.

This post originally appeared on New Scientist.