U Of I Students Create New Kind Of Video Game

Aug 15, 2016

A screenshot of Darwin's Demons.
Credit Polymorphic Games Studio / University of Idaho

Students at the University of Idaho are using biology to create a new kind of video game. It uses evolutionary principals to make enemies smarter as they reproduce.

It was a summer project for students in the Polymorphic Games studio: Build a video game based on the biology of evolution. The goal was to make a better video game that teaches biology in the background.

Barrie Robison is a Professor of Biology. His students came up with Darwin’s Demons, which is based loosely on the 1978 game Space Invaders. The player shoots at enemies who shoot back. The best enemies that live the longest have the most babies. Robison says that means the population gets “smarter” with each generation.

“We really do think that these evolutionary models can make a better game. It’s built on a foundation of real evolutionary science, so we hope that it’s a good demonstration of evolution that it could be used in the classroom,” says Robison.

He says while it can teach something about evolution, it’s really designed to be a fun and challenging game that “learns” as it's played.

“Evolution can actually make games better because the enemies are an evolving population that adapts to your play style. So the game gets more difficult because the aliens that can best navigate your defenses are the ones that have the babies in the next generation,” Robison says.

It’s not built as an educational game, but he says the player will learn some biology as they play.

Darwin’s Demons is in the beta stage and can be downloaded for free at the Polymorphic website. The students hope to start selling the game online later this year.

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