As the alter ego of former high school biology teacher and self-described “science nerd” Katie McKissick, Beatrice the Biologist aims to bring science to the masses in an entertaining, humorous way. McKissick’s mission is twofold: to introduce scientific topics in an accessible and interesting way to the general public, and to provide a resource for educators and students that sparks conversation and builds community. She firmly believes that there is a scientist inside each of us: after all, as human beings, we are naturally curious and inquisitive – always pondering the “how” and “why” of things.
Since 2009, Katie has been sharing her love for science on the Beatrice website with witty blog posts, fun comics, drawings, and videos. At the end of last year, she was toying with the idea of a kids’ version of Beatrice, complete with science-themed games. Her first idea was a game about “life on a microscope slide.” After connecting with the design team of programmer Niilo Tippler and artist/animator Chris Tokunaga (collectively known as TipTok), Amoeboid was brought to life. The creative, superstar duo behind TipTok has been collaborating for over a decade, and can boast such accomplishments as a Daytime Emmy for Tippler’s work on the PBS Kids’ TV show SciGirls, as well as game development for Mattel, Disney, and Nickelodeon, just to name a few.
One of the greatest challenges in developing “educational games” is to balance learning goals with entertainment value. Amoeboid, available now on the App Store for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, captures that oft-elusive sweet spot of fun and educational without being overtly didactic. As Phoebe the amoeba, your object is to navigate through a world (i.e., microscope slide) of food, friends, and foes. Drag Phoebe around the screen to eat food particles, collect strands of DNA, and avoid viruses. Your turn ends when the amoeba has been “infected” three times. There are opportunities to consume medicine to nurse Phoebe back to health, and to become “radioactive,” or invincible for ten seconds, allowing you to conquer your virus foes. Finally, you can make friends with other protists (single-celled organisms like the amoeba, a member of kingdom Protista) by connecting with them on screen. Your friends then appear in a gallery, where you can learn facts about each of these eight protists (including euglena, paramecium, and volvox).
As a bit (okay, quite a bit) of a science nerd myself, I thoroughly enjoyed playing Amoeboid, and think that it is fun and appropriate for all ages (rated 4+ on the App Store). Three levels of difficulty are available, as is the option for left- or right-handed gameplay. I personally have fond memories of observing single-celled organisms underneath the microscope in school, and actually developed some lessons on protists when I was working for the National Research and Development Center on Cognition and Science, so this game was definitely up my (nerdy) alley. I could see this particular app working well as a supplement for classroom activities and lessons when learning about cells, and/or the kingdoms of life.
The art is delightful (who knew viruses could be cute?) and the game mechanic is engaging. Even on the Easy setting, you are challenged and motivated to avoid those pesky viruses, and feel accomplished when you achieve your goals within the 60 second time limit for each level.
TipTok is currently developing two apps, including one that teaches vocabulary words for pre-kindergarten aged kids. Beatrice the Biologist continues to develop content for her website, and aims to create several science-themed games, all with the goal of making science both fun and informative. With Amoeboid now under their belt, I would say that this group of creative collaborators has a promising future ahead of them.