It’s all fun and games


...with NanoMission, but believe it or not, you might learn something, too

Gaming for the greater good is the higher purpose of PlayGen’s managing director Kam Memarzia, one of the founding members of the London-based interactive media company that uses game technology for learning rather than just entertainment. That goal recently brought PlayGen into the world of nanotech when it released the beta version of its latest game, NanoMission.

Dubbed by its creators as “the world’s first scientifically accurate interactive 3D learning game based on understanding nanosciences and nanotechnology,” NanoMission aims to transform young gamers’ visions of nanotechnology from one of miniature robots to a practical science with applications in the real world.

“While most teenage gamers are familiar with nanotechnology, very few have a realistic understanding of what it can do, or realize its impact on the world around them,” says Memarzia. “Coupled with declining numbers of physics, chemistry, and engineering students, this is a major cause for concern.”

PlayGen hopes to change that with its NanoMission series. Half Tomb Raider and half science class, NanoMission features an alluring Lara Croft-like scientist named Lisa who, in the first module, fights to save a young colleague, Jacob, from cancer by selecting and maneuvering a cancer-killing vesicle through his bloodstream to the site of the tumor.

Fantastic voyage it’s not. NanoMission tries to stick to the science, as in this scene where Dr. Goodlove informs Lisa that people can’t possibly operate at the size of a single protein molecule.
Click here to enlarge image

One of the most gratifying aspects of the game is the simple yet effective plot setup in which the lead scientist, an elder Dr. Goodlove, ridicules the absurdity of shrinking people and placing them into tiny submarines that are injected into people’s bloodstream - as is the typical scheme in classic sci-fi movies.

“Nanoscience is a billion-dollar industry and its connection to science fiction can be unhealthy,” Memarzia says of the introduction.

Dr. Goodlove then explains the real solution, in which they will inject highly toxic cancer-killing molecules into Jacob’s body. Lisa must guide the nanomolecules to the tumor while avoiding all particles in the bloodstream and detection by Jacob’s immune system.

Once players select which type of vesicle they want - fast but easy to detect or slow but stealthy - they are immersed in a spooky network of blood cell tunnels where they must steer clear of sticky antibody proteins and lumbering red blood cells while following an onscreen map to the tumor, all while a heartbeat throbs in the background, adding a sense of menace to the game.

Memarzia’s team made a point to work with scientific advisors to make sure the game is scientifically correct. Eventually the game will have several modules, released every couple of months beginning in April 2007, that will allow gamers to play against each other while learning about nanotech.
- Sarah Fister Gale