Ready Player One? Are you ready to enter the world biology and games? At WetWareWorks we believe the intersection of gaming and biology has enormous potential. It reminds us of the countless hours we spend on computer gaming and how that shaped our interest in programming, computers, internet and technology. Games kept us up till late at night, made us squeeze every juice out of the performance of our hardware and made us self-taught hackers. Isn’t it remarkable that the combination of biology and gaming remained largely untapped for so long? In this article we wish to pay tribute to the pioneers in the field, research why so few biotic games are around till date and take you on a ride into the wonderful world of biology in the arcade.
Let’s start by honoring the leaders in the field. Ingmar Riedel-Kruse, Wim van Eck and Maarten Lamers are the founding fathers of the today’s biotic gaming scene. The article “Design, Engineering and Utility of Biotic Games” is foundational to how WetWareWorks understands the concept of biotic games. In the article Riedel-Kruse and collaborators also simply pose the question: given all the evidence for the benefits of gaming and the rise of biotechnology, why is there so little known about games based on biotechnology? As a starting point they draw a pretty helpful conceptual framework, defining biotic games as any activity (including equipment) that:
The first game by Riedel-Kruse shows what this looks like in practice. Paramecia, single-celled galvanotatic organisms (sensitive to electrical fields), were placed under the microscope, while the human player controls the electric field. By overlaying virtual objects multiple games were developed. Here’s a clip featuring Ingmar demonstrating the games:
The article also presents other type of biotic games, such as a horse-race style betting game involving PCR primer pairing and a game leveraging growth competition between yeast strains. In more recent work by the Stanford professor the hardware and user interface have been separated, bridged by a cloud application.
Riedel-Kruse et al also speculate about PCR machines becoming household appliances for gaming purposes and advancing the field of biotechnology as a whole. Just like gamers created the demand for heavy duty graphical processors, which had a tremendous effect on the development of computers in general. Additionally they hope biotic games will spark a greater interest in biology in schools and by society as a whole. WetWareWorks aims to contribute to the same mission!
Whereas Riedel-Kruse focuses on the use of modern biotechnology (micro-organisms, DNA manipulation, lab-on-chip technology, etc) Wim van Eck and Maarten Lamers have been working on games that involve larger animals many years earlier. In 2006 they developed “Bug-Man” a hybrid between the legendary video-game PacMan and tracking crickets in a maze, documented on http://biodigitalgames.com. In 2012 they published a categorization of opportunities for biotic games, which they call “bio-digital games”. The addition of “digital” in the title excludes analog games, such as BioPong in which players prevent a cockroach from passing their Pong paddle. WetWareWorks also focusses on digital games only, because of the abundance of digital smartphones and computers in today’s society. Another important exclusion from the genre of Biotic Games are games that aim to gamify biological research or utilize simulations, such as Foldit. In “Hybrid Biological-Digital Systems in Artistic and Entertainment Computing” Van Eck and Lamers show even more examples of Biotic Games.
Inspired by these works and in an effort to distribute the tools Roland van Dierendonck, Christian Schultz and Pieter van Boheemen developed Do It Yourself kits for building biotic games while working at Waag. By taking advantage of the local FabLab’s digital fabrication techniques, such as 3D Printing and Lasercutting, they demonstrated the feasibility of local production of the necessary components and online distribution. In a step by step guide they show how to assemble a microscope setup, connect the wiring and code a two player biotic game similar to the work of Ingmar Riedel-Kruse. The video below shows the setup in action at the CuttingEdge Festival in Oslo:
Recently Roland van Dierendonck collaborated with Raphael Kim and developed a new game based on the competitive growth of several micro-organism. As a world first, this game was live broadcasted on the popular streaming platform Twitch in their channel Mould Rush.
The videos and images below show more exemplary work in the genre of biotic games and related bio digital interactive installations.
Ken Rinaldo, Augmented Fish Reality, Presented at the Ars Electronica Festival, September 2004, Linz, Austria
Garnet Hertz, Cockroach Controlled Mobile Robot, 2008
Bakkum, J., Gamblen, P.M., Ben-Ary, G., Chao, Z.C., Potter, S.M.: MEART: The Semi-living Artist. Frontiers in NeuroRobotics 1(5), 1–10 (2007)
Wilson, S.: Protozoa Games (2003), http://userwww.sfsu.edu/swilson/art/protozoagames/protogames10.html
Kenyon, M., Easterly, D., Rorke, T.: Tardigotchi (2009), http://www.swamp.nu/projects/tardigotchi/
Angelo Vermeulen, Biomodd (2007) www.biomodd.net
Kim, H., Gerber, L. C., Chiu, D., Lee, S. A., Cira, N. J., Xia, S. Y., & Riedel-Kruse, I. H. (2016). LudusScope: Accessible Interactive Smartphone Microscopy for Life-Science Education. PLOS ONE, 11(10), e0162602. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0162602
Noz, F., An, J.: Cat Cat Revolution: An Interspecies Gaming Experience. In: proceedings of ACM Conference on Computer Human Interaction, Vancouver, pp. 2661–2664 (2011)
Alfrink, K., van Peer, I., Lagerweij, H., Driessen, C., Bracke, M.: Playing with Pigs (2012), http://www.playingwithpigs.nl
C. Tan, R., David Cheok, A., & K. S. Teh, J. (2015). Metazoa Ludens: Mixed Reality Environment for Playing Computer Games with Pets. International Journal of Virtual Reality (IJVR), 5(3), 53–58.
Lee, S. A., Bumbacher, E., Chung, A. M., Cira, N., Walker, B., Park, J. Y., … Riedel-Kruse, I. H. (2015). Trap It!: A Playful Human-Biology Interaction for a Museum Installation. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2593–2602). New York, NY, USA: ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/2702123.2702220
BioGraphr Gerber, L. C., Doshi, M. C., Kim, H., & Riedel-Kruse, I. H. (2016). BioGraphr: Science Games on a Biotic Computer, 16.
Johannessen, E.A., Mikroskopisk Pacman (2016)
Early by work Cira et al 
Comito, K., Medvedik, O., Choukah, S. (2013) another Ingmar Riedel-Kruse inspired hack as explained in this Forbes article on Biological Games
 Washington, P., Samuel-Gama, K., Goyal, S., & Riedel-Kruse, I. H. (2017). Bioty: A cloud-based development toolkit for programming experiments and interactive applications with living cells. BioRxiv, 236919. https://doi.org/10.1101/236919
 Cira, N. J., Chung, A. M., Denisin, A. K., Rensi, S., Sanchez, G. N., Quake, S. R., & Riedel-Kruse, I. H. (2015). A Biotic Game Design Project for Integrated Life Science and Engineering Education. PLOS Biology, 13(3), e1002110. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002110
 Eck, W. van, & Lamers, M. H. (2006). Animal Controlled Computer Games: Playing Pac-Man Against Real Crickets. In Entertainment Computing – ICEC 2006 (pp. 31–36). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/11872320_4
 Lamers, M. H., & van Eck, W. (2012). Why Simulate? Hybrid Biological-Digital Games. In C. Di Chio, A. Agapitos, S. Cagnoni, C. Cotta, F. F. de Vega, G. A. Di Caro, … G. N. Yannakakis (Red.), Applications of Evolutionary Computation (Vol. 7248, pp. 214–223). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-29178-4_22
 Kim, R., Siobhan, T., van Dierendonck, R., & Poslad, S. (2018). A New Mould Rush: Designing for a Slow Bio-Digital Game Driven by Living Micro-organisms, 9.