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Friday, May 25, 2012

How a game designer would 'teach' cell structures

The restrictions of traditional passive media have shaped schools and formal education experiences more than we can possible imagine. So it is useful to consider how content might be structured using new technology.

Cell Sim - Learning Objectives
The goal of the Cell Sim is to develop in the player a knowledge of the core components of cells, and how and why differences in cells exist. (And story, badges, et al can be added. This is just a core interface and gameplay design.)

Cell Sim - Set Up
In this sim, the player will have to design cells to meet stated challenges. Players will do this using a toolkit of simple building blocks that correspond to real world cell elements (suggested building blocks are presented below). The graphics will be accessible and encourage experimentation.

Cell Sim - Basic Screen Interfaces and Interactions
The player gets a 'board' in which they can place cell elements. The cell they define will exist in the surrounding environment, and will have a shape based on the placement of these elements (the membrane auto-adjusts the size). In this most simple of example (the level one) below, the player has to build a cell that can carry a signal from the right to the left, using a few different options.

Almost invariably, the cell the player will create will be long and thin, which maps to the cell properties of a real world transmitting cell.

The player could in the next level connect several signals and receptors, and design a cell that had the natural properties of a neuron.

Subsequently, the player could design increasingly complex cells, and for a wider variety of purposes, including some ready for growth and replication. Rather than simply be a puzzle, however, the cell can evolve dynamically during the course of a gameplay. In a similar structure to the popular iPhone game Plants vs. Zombies, the player can harvest nutrients to build functionality while defending against hostile forces. A screen shot may look similar to this:

Over the course of the gameplay, players would develop for themselves different types of cells. They would also engage in all of the essential cell activities, eventually making a multi-cellular organism.

Technical names and timelines could be used in game and interjected during transition screen to reinforce necessary vocabulary.

Cell Sim - Conclusion
The entire module could take less than 30 minutes to engage. But the player would remember core functionality and properties for years, if not longer.

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