Friday, May 4, 2012

Isn't it time for a really good chemical video game?

Come to think of it, Plantville Pete does sort of look like an engineer. 
See Arr Oh, in winning the typospotting contest a week ago, has requested that I write about chemical video games, which I am only too happy to do. I confess that I am not a huge gamer; I grew up without any consoles, but I recall many, many excited trips to my friends' homes to play on their Nintendo system. I spent the requisite time in college playing Tomb Raider, Madden 64, GoldenEye and MarioKart. (Much to my wife's dismay, I play Tetris incessantly on my cell phone these days.)

A good video game is a combination of good graphics, a little button-mashing, a little bit (or a lot) of thinking and lots of replay value. I haven't really heard of any good chemical video games, but I understand that SpaceChem is a really fun game. Sporcle chemistry quizzes can be fun, but only if you like to type really fast (who doesn't?) Plantville was set up by Siemens as a means of communicating life in the manufacturing world to the general public (depressing, isn't it?) I haven't had the opportunity to play it, but I can imagine it could be a really good time.

I could imagine a few good chemistry-oriented video games:
  • Grad School Myst: Someone hands you a research paper and tells you to go into the lab. Solve the puzzle (what puzzle?), navigate the department and find your way out!
  • Drug Discovery Dash: Crank out those compounds in the lab, meet those milestones and don't let your solvents be stolen by Custom Synthesis Sam! 
  • Chemical Plantville: Get cooling on that jacket quick, before the reactor lets loose!
Does anyone have any good chemical video games? I'd love to hear people's thoughts on SpaceChem.

UPDATE: He who spots the typos calls the tune! I forget that See Arr Oh's comments were more creativity-oriented:
I would like to hear your opinions on something I've thought about for quite some time: chemical video games. We all know about the success of FoldIt and its application to enzyme structures and Diels-Alder-ases (seriously, they've now published a paper about it!). But why can't we have an actual video game, based on synthesis? Too close to the drug trade, perhaps? (I could imagine mislead parents believing that their children were learning how to make MDMA). It seems like a natural fit: lots of public domain data, catchy structures, old-fashioned, interesting names.  
Could it just be that there's not enough overlap between traditional EE / CompSci and physical science? Or IS there a game, and I've just somehow missed it?
I'd play that game, definitely. You could easily imagine a synthesis game where you came up with compounds in a virtual library and then you'd get points based on some sort of computational docking score, etc., etc. In a perfect world, pharma, biotech and CAS would be chomping at the bit to develop such a game. You could hook both experienced chemists and young gamers looking for a challenge into playing it (in a perfect world.)

Check out SeeArrOh's comments on this post, too.


  1. darn, i was really hoping to find one here, but no luck

  2. I honestly think that a well implemented video game would be an excellent learning tool for organic chemistry undergraduates. Sort of like typing video games and other "edutainment".

    1. Unstable IsotopeMay 7, 2012 at 10:31 AM

      You have me thinking - could one make a game to help students learn functional groups, like a multi-player race or something. I wonder how you'd implement to get them to recognized reactions (say aldol or Diels-Alder).

  3. Fisher have a zombie game, bizarrely, on their home page right now with real Fisher Scientific prizes!

    Maybe you've already seen this

  4. Don't forget about the success certain gamers have already achieved with FoldIt!

    You could imagine all sorts of endpoints for this technology, from catalyst design to biomimicry.

    Of course, it's not really a "game," per se, with 1-UPS and "Game Overs"

    Who's up for a version of Tetris or Bejeweled where you drop functional groups onto a "molecule?" Extra points for logical connections!

    1. sure! i'd be up a retrosynthesis game! haha, then I wouldn't get funny looks for a strange disconnection. or how about one for screening materials? There is the but i think that at the moment it is a repository for useful tools for screening possibilities, but one could envision something similar in "game" mode. "Find the perfect battery combination!"

  5. Unbeknownst to the faculty, several of my grad school classmates had World of Warcraft avatars named after their respective PI's. Similarly, the FPS enthusiasts in the department used PI nicknames (again, unbeknownst to the faculty) as their gamer profiles. I have watched a Starcraft PVP wherein the Zerg player was KCN while the Protoss player was EJC. Anyway, at the risk of dating myself, perhaps the total synthesis folks would appreciate a Tomagotchi-type game using finicky synthons instead of juvenille animals.

    @CJ and the forum: What do you think about science-career-themed versions of popular board games? Think about can be a winner in the "Game of Tenure". Folks in pharma may get a kick out of "Pharmapoly".

  6. I think I just found a fun summer project.

  7. There is one in the iOS app store called Waterfall.

  8. There was also a compound naming zombie flash game, but I cannot find it at the moment. It was similar to "typing of the dead" in that you had to type in the name of the compound before the zombies got to you. I cannot find it however. Anyone?

  9. it would be cool if they could somehow incorporate chemistry into a minecraft or terraria style game....