This year’s notable games & apps take participants over the threshold from knowledge to understanding. For example, the physics of planetary accretion and near-light-speed travel may not be part of everyday experience, but these concepts come to life in video game form. Here are the winning Games & Apps entries:
Velocity Raptor (see image 1)
This dapper green dinosaur wearing a bright blue cape is in a hurry to save the world — in fact, she moves at nearly the speed of light. At such breakneck speeds, the world behaves according to Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity. This poses practical problems for players who must guide the creature through a world that morphs according to her velocity, incorporating concepts such as Doppler shift and length contraction. Velocity Raptor is an attempt to “give people some intuition” about the physics of special relativity by letting them play with it themselves, game designer Andy Hall says.
Credit: Andy Hall, TestTubeGames
CyGaMEs Selene II – a lunar construction GaME (see image 2)
In this online game geared to grade 5–12 students, players create their own moon with raw space materials, then pummel it with asteroids and flood it with lava. As they adjust the rates of accretion – new materials glomming onto the moon- and differentiation-materials of varying densities settling into a core, mantle, and crust – students create different kinds of moons and gain an intuitive grasp of the physics of collisions, says game theorist and principal investigator Debbie Denise Reese at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia.
Credit: Debbie Denise Reese, Robert E Kosko, Charles A Wood, and Cassie Lightfritz, Wheeling Jesuit University; Barbara G Tabachnick, California State University, Northridge
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0814512. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Portions of this software are provided under license from Second Avenue Software, Inc., copyright 2007 – 2010 Second Avenue Software, Inc. All rights reserved.
UNTANGLED (see image 3)
When faced with the problem of how to wire a more efficient computer chip, Assistant Professor Gayatri Mehta of the University of North Texas in Denton turned to crowdsourcing. Inspired by a game that recruits online players to discover novel ways to fold proteins, Mehta designed UNTANGLED, a game in which users compete to make the most compact circuit layout on a grid. To entice math and sciencephobes, she used bold color blocks and left out the underlying algorithms. The game allows her to record millions of new moves and discover human strategies for circuit design that could be employed to develop smaller, more powerful, and longer-lasting electronic devices. “I’ve learned a lot,” she says. “People have amazing skills.”
Credit: Gayatri Mehta, University of North Texas
This work is supported by NSF under grants CCF- 1117800 and CCF-1218656.