Serious games are flourishing on the internet, providing more and more tools to learn outside classic educative patterns. “Hero.Coli” is one of these. Developed by Raphaël Goujet, a PhD student at the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity in Paris, this game is a front door to enter synthetic biology.
When it comes to video games, which kid would not be bored by the classic overprotective sentences of his parents ? “It makes you dumb” some even say. Does it really ? Well, for some experts, journalists or even visionary citizens, video games could in fact be the future of our education system. Reading online articles or forums, you are very likely to find arguments about video games being a true revolution for knowledge transmission. At the center for research and interdisciplinarity (CRI) in Paris, a young researcher has taken a bet on it. Raphaël Goujet is a PhD student in synthetic biology and game developer of “Hero.Coli”, an online video game in which a player embody a bacteria that has recently been launched. Don’t you dare finding the idea crazy, for it is in fact an amazing tool when it comes to teach cellular or synthetic biology. The player starts by moving his bacteria in a biological midst and is soon challenged to find a few items that will allow him to custom the cell in order to develop new abilities. How does that work ? As you collect the items, which are actually biobricks — basic DNA sequences matching one genetic function — you can assemble them to construct bigger genetic sequences and then creating a specific biological circuits. To sum up, it is like a digital Lego game allowing you to virtually create your own modified bacteria.
For Raphaël Goujet, such tools can be effective, for they are “motivating, multi-sensory, interactive and user friendly”. The PhD student adds that some are even able to develop social skills. But the true value is that teaching through video games allows to explore content, by purposely focusing some levels or parts of it on specific and accurate themes. For instance, Hero.Coli is designed to progressively dive into the complex mechanisms of a cell. Starting with understanding the use of flagella to increase the speed of the cell you pilot, you will soon have to assemble more complex building blocks to makes your bacteria more efficient. “They progress by a trial-and-error process which is a true learning technique”, says Raphaël Goujet. Also, player’s creativity is encouraged, for they are truly free to experiment several combinaisons and learn from their tests.
Whether you believe or not, it is not deniable “serious games” have a strong dynamic nowadays. Valérie Lavergne-Boudier and Yves Dambach event wrote a book entitled “Serious games, a revolution in learning”. But is it really a revolution ? Some would say video games are an efficient interactive display that has never had its equivalent in history of educative tools. Except it has. Surely not in the complexity and in the way of using it, but in terms of potential, definitely. Hopes based on video games to change education in a radical and efficient way sounds no more than the echo of an old symphony of predictions regarding radio or television in the past century. On this subject, Raphaël Goujet points to a Youtube video posted by Veritasium, which explains in a really efficient way how we are just mimicking our ancestors behaviours. In this short movie, Derek Muller (creator of the Youtube channel Veritasium) quotes a Thomas Edison’s statement made in 1922 : “the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system, and in few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks”. This teaches us there is no silver bullet when it comes to changing our habits. Still, it does not mean video games are not part of a complex evolutionary process in which they have a legitimate place to be…
For more information about the game or to play Hero.coli, visit the website : http://herocoli.com
Watch the Veritasium video :