Microscopya: A video game that entertains and educates kids about biology
In the aftermath of Comic-Con, children are enjoying a new video game that was introduced over the weekend. A couple of San Diego scientists created Microscopya to help students learn biology.
The game enables kids to create their own avatars to lead them on a journey through human cells.
Matthew Cooney is a conservationist and science communicator who helps students and the public learn about complicated science in a simplified way. He is one of the creators of the Microscopya game, but told KPBS News that he was not strong in science when he was in school.
“I didn’t learn like the rest of the other students. I had a very different learning type,” he said. “I was a visual learner. So, if teachers were saying something, it really wasn’t getting absorbed — but, if you gave me a puzzle, I could get through the puzzle.”
The game uses immersive visual graphics and video along with original music to create a fantasylike environment. The player can have fun while engaging in the intricate dynamics of the molecular world and making scientific concepts accessible in creative ways.
Beata Mierzwa shatters the stereotype of the comic book mad scientist. She is the game’s co-creator and a UC San Diego cancer researcher.
“There’s a stereotype of having the crazy guy in the lab coat," she said. "So, we want to make sure that we highlight women can be scientists.”
Mierzwa is also an artist and fashion designer who uses her talents to mentor young girls as an If/Then ambassador with the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Microscopya is the culmination of two years of research, development and testing with students across the country.
“Rather than teaching textbook facts, we want players to experience the wonders of biology in a more engaging way, so it was very important for us to focus on art and music to create a world that is a joy to explore,” she said.
Cooney and Mierzwa said science would come easy to some students. For those who are visual learners and problem solvers, there are puzzles and pictures.
Visitors to the Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park got to try the game over the weekend. Noah Schefa, 11, was stumped when trying to figure out how to get energy into the body’s cells. “So I’m trying to restore the power, but I don’t know how,” he said.
Mya Sanisya, 12, started to get the hang of it the more she played. “My favorite part is that there are some challenges and you have to find a way to overcome them,” she said.
Together, the team of scientists made it simple for players to design their avatars. The avatar leads them through each of the cell adventures and puzzles.
All types of people can be represented.
“A girl or a student who is playing it can see themselves as the hero in the story. They use their creativity and learn that you can overcome obstacles, solve the puzzles and be the hero of the story,” Mierzwa said.
Microscopya is available now as a free downloadable app for Android or iOS. You can also download it through a browser at https://beatascienceart.itch.io/microscopya