October 2011

I am sure many of you have read the story about a group of gamers who have broken a particularly difficult protein folding problem that has stumped scientists for the last 10 years. They did this through some social science in a group game space using a game program called Fold It.

The game works on both Mac, Unix and Windows machines and requires a small download. To get started, the game has 32 starter “puzzles” that help you learn how to manipulate the proteins and amino acids within the game space.

Players can initially manually manipulate the shapes, but as they complete puzzles they get tools to help them  work through the problems. While having a very introductory understanding of the protein folding process and how different amino acids react, I was still very engaged throughout the game. The creators have presented the process in a way that is very familiar to any person who has played puzzle solving games. Learning is scaffolded, starting with small concepts that build to more complex ones so the players never feel overwhelmed just challenged.

Fold It is a wonderful example of taking steps back to when science was more accessible to everyone. When individuals were able to make contributions to its advancement. Give Fold It a try and you or your students may help advance the study of amino acids and proteins!

I love when I am come across a great science game. Global, Math and ELA are so easily immersed in games through theme, interaction and mechanics. But science is not so easy to come across. I have mentioned Bolide and Fauna, two fantastic games with a strong science theme. I should mention that Fauna recently got an English printing by FoxMind Games. I can recommend a third to add that list, Strain by HungryRobot.

In Strain, students are building microscopic organisms with cytoplasms and organelles. The various cytoplasms and organelles add to the organism’s defense, toxins and Adenosine-5′-triphosphate (ATP). The students can use these elements to launch attacks at their opponents organisms and defend their own as they try to complete organisms to score points. Students can also infect other player’s organisms with viruses which the host organisms needs to remove using their supply of toxins. Most of these actions are done by spending the pooled ATP of the player’s organisms. ATP is the energy currency molecule of the cell so using it to purchase elements is nice thematic touch. That is what is so great about Strain, a lot of though was put into bringing the theme and the science through in the game.

A fast and fun game with some “take that” elements, Strain is a great addition to any game library. It is for 2 to 7 players and plays in a little over 30 minutes but that can easily be adjusted lessening the score needed or just playing for a set time.

I had a chance to play Indie Boards and Cards upcoming new cooperative game Flash Point: Fire Rescue. A fantastic cooperative game about fighting fires. Look for this along with a handful of other games in my upcoming December SLJ Gaming Life Column.

Some Ideas for Fall Play: Ease into the new school year with games that facilitate social interaction.

My new School Library Journal Article is out on alternative social games to help students get to know each other and learn to work together.

While this is not curriculum related, it is an exciting step forward in combining the analog and the digital to a shared game experience. This allows for the handling of rules and bits by the device, lowering the barrier to entry, while still facilitating the face to face social interactions that are so integral to analog game experience. This, combined with the surge of analog games being ported to the iOS devices makes for some great potential for classroom use of some of the more complex and fiddly games that have a good curricular foundation. I’m looking forward to seeing Codito’s implementation of Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization for the iOS platform.