242: Lab Coats and Lunatics

Lab Coats and Lunatics

Videogames have always been children of science: From games played on university mainframes to current technologies like Project Natal, gaming will forever be indebted to science. But what are they giving science in return? Jacob Aron examines how videogames can better portray both scientists and science.

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I want a puzzle with ferrofluids. In fact, one could make an extraordinary puzzle game using basic laws of electricity and magnetism.

And just so you know, the link to ferrofluids is broken - it leads to "space-warping" video.

we can't afford people to think scientists are all madmen trying to take over the world.

But we are madmen trying to take over the world.

OT: Good article. I would love to see more real science (especially Astrophysics) in games as well as in movies.

As far as the scientists themselves go, I've never really given any of them a second thought. Until I played Fallout 3 that is. James is perhaps the first scientist, besides Otacon, that's not just a guy in a white labcoat. He's a true scientist, but he's also a friend and a father.

I think he is the best scientist ever portrayed in a game.

Well the image of scientists in media is further complicated by our modern age. We use them as the vessels to carry plot. People value natural explanations for phenomenon more now than ever before, as a consequence media has to explain the extraordinary events that occur in an exciting story in a realistic way. Perhaps it is more that people care about realism, and back in the day when people believed in magic, etc. such supernatural elements were good enough in fantastical story telling.

Scientists are perfect for a more realistic story. Hence why science is often the enemy, but also the force of good.

I think a good example of how science has changed how we approach story telling is with zombie horror. Can you think of a recent zombie movie/game that had a supernatural explanation for a zombie outbreak? It used to be the norm, some sort of dark magic, pact with Satan, some sort of power beyond scientific understanding. Now it is almost always some sort of science/research gone wrong (with the exception of aliens, but even then often a scientific explanation of the zombie tech is at least hinted).

As for myself, I am a biologist. I find issues of how certain religions view our field more pressing a concern. But it is interesting to note how the world thinks I and others in the field work. From video games to television with the cooly dark lit labs with multi-colored fluids it is fun to witness. I mostly find myself asking, 'why don't my labs look that cool?'

Sillyiggy:
'why don't my labs look that cool?'

Never hurts to dream.

While gaming owes some of its existence to science, it owes far more to engineers who are technicaly a seperate field. Engineers often get a far more favorable portrayal in fiction. James Bond's "M", Star Treck's Scotty, FireFly's Kayle, and Team Fortress' Engineer are some examples. In many ways they take the roll of the "good" scientist, the one using their brain to make useful stuff. Where as the "bad" scientist is using their brain to make problems.

I guess Fallout 3 is a game that portrays scientists in both a good and a bad way. You have your dad and his team and then the enclave scientists, they are just humans after all.

Good article =) I think it's good that video games try to incorporate at least some realism into their science; the more you can base things on actual fact, the cooler they appear, in my opinion. and yes, I'd also like to see scientists portrayed in more realistic and sympathetic lights. Although some of the stuff we do might come across as a bit arcane, the majority of us are not actually trying to destroy the world. Quite the opposite, in fact. ;-P

If the theory is correct, then there are universes where the Nazis won World War II, the Dreamcast never died and Duke Nukem Forever actually got released.

I'm gonna guess that no matter how many universes you traveled to, you'd never find one in which Duke Nukem Forever was released.

Great article, I have to agree that more science in games would be a good thing.

Gammaj4:

I'm gonna guess that no matter how many universes you traveled to, you'd never find one in which Duke Nukem Forever was released.

It's like the dark flow of video games, so big and huge on the horizon of space, sucking entire galaxy's towards it but never capable of being observed.

Man science is so freaking cool.

What I have always found wierd about ME2, is that though the entire universe moves by science, no scientists (except perhaps warlord Okeer) have any sort of a role. Yes I know that Moridin could count, but he describes himself as a doctor first. So, to restate, there are no MAJOR NPC's that are scientists.

That really does surprise me.

I find the stereotype of Scientists to be for the most part, accurate.
Out of all the scientists I have met, only two of them never wore lab coats. Both of those were physics teachers. So maybe it is not so much that scientists in general wear lab coats, but all but a few physicists are seen wandering around in the large white coats of the trade.
Or, for the ones I met, the mostly-white, but slightly chemical-stained coats. As for the glasses... I only remember meeting two scientists that wore glasses, but I suppose it is a stereotype of a scientist because they are seen as 'nerds' of a sort, and a stereotype of 'nerds' would have them wearing glasses. And of course, more reason to equate 'nerds' with scientists is that they are both seen as smart.

If more scientists looked like this:
http://drt.users.sonic.net/milestocode/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/Abby_NCIS.jpg

Then I think we'd have more scientists, or people who wanted to BE scientists. As for the stereotypical scientist image, I don't know if it's life imitating art or art imitating life, but most I've met all had that same look: White coat, button down shirt, only about half had glasses; but still it seems an odd thing that most of these people have the same look.

I'd love to see some research data on this one, let us know how many out of a total of people that wear the typical scientist 'gear'.

Great article, Braid really is the most awesome science lesson ever made.

I think this presents one of the great opportunities of gaming. We learn better when we play with something-as a general rule-so illustrating scientific principles in a fun way is a really great opportunity to get people interested in a subject that can have a high barrier to entry.

carpathic:
What I have always found wierd about ME2, is that though the entire universe moves by science, no scientists (except perhaps warlord Okeer) have any sort of a role. Yes I know that Moridin could count, but he describes himself as a doctor first. So, to restate, there are no MAJOR NPC's that are scientists.

Dude, he's the VERY MODEL of a scientist (salarian). After hearing his musings on the ethical and cultural aspects and responsibilities of science, I'm inclined to say that he is the best example of a scientific hero in any game I've ever played. Besides, his class is labeled "Salarian Scientist".

Also, Liari is another prominent scientist in the series in both role and behavior (again, clearly labeled in her class/title).

Speaking of time-travel:
The team working on Achron are trying to create a strategy game which relies on time-manipulation at its very core. Watching the alpha test videos they have up makes it obvious that the whole system is going to be way crazy (multiple players experiencing different moments of the same time-stream), but it may just be playable. The temporal mechanics they've decided on are really interesting, especially the idea that changes to the space-time continuum propagate at the speed of time.

http://achrongame.com/

Fix that link! Magnetic Ferrofluids goes to the lightspeed town-tour! Good post =)

Kollega:
I want a puzzle with ferrofluids. In fact, one could make an extraordinary puzzle game using basic laws of electricity and magnetism.

And just so you know, the link to ferrofluids is broken - it leads to "space-warping" video.

Pixeljunk Shooter comes pretty close to that.

What do games give Scientists?

Something to waste time researching on.

Excellent work - I really need to get Braid!

I find that idea to incorporate scientific ideas into gameing rather interesting. I find games that allow you to learn something while exploring mechanics based on real life is a creative way to teach concepts to people who might not understand otherwise. In fact, I think Portal did this in a way, as it allowed players to play with acceleration by finding ways to increase it and redirect it. That game, Braid, you mentioned definatly sounds interesting to where it teaches ideas about different universes and space and time theroy due to their tie in with the core mechanics. I definatly think there is a future with tying in science with gameing. I will definatly look into Braid.

I find that your idea on the portrayaly of scientists in videogames might be wrong. In your article, you express that showing scientists as mad meddlers creating superweapons in labs might cause a negative view for scientists. I understand this to a point, but the adults who see this should be able to realize that this is only a movie or game, and real life science is different.

As for your other point, you try and say that showing scientists in the stereotypical men in white lab coats to be flawed. The article expresses that kids will not be able to look up to scientists as role models, and be turned away from pursuing a scientific career. I find this to be completly wrong. I think the opposite affect is what will happen. You see, if I were to show a young kid (maybe ten or so) a long page of chemistry work, or a detailed formula for the Krebs Cycle, I will probably lose his attention. If we try and start off showing kids that that is science, they may be turned off before actually looking into it. However, showing science as mad scientists creating time machines and robot arms, kids are going to think that stuff is cool and look into it.

Even fictional science, like showing Dr. Bruce Banner working with radiation, or Tony Stark working on repulsors (more of an engineering field, though holds the same point) draws in interest of younger audiences. It gets interest in groups which gets them to actually look into science with a biased view of it being awsome. Then, when they actually look into real science, they are not turned away from it, and actually give it a chance to see if they want to pursue it. Even crazy science might inspire a kid to become a scientist one day and revolutionize life on this Earth. Who knows? Maybe a kid will watch Star Trek, and one day go on to invent a handheld device that can allow communication with two or more people with out a wire like the communicators on the TV show.

Really, I think that we should embrace this fun, if not fictional, idea of science because it draws in interest into the field and inspires new ideas. This can even go over into other fields. Maybe we can use the Engineer in TF2 and Issac Clarke to inspire engineers, the Medic and Dr. Strange to inspire people to go into the medical field, and Batman, Norman Jayden, and Cole Phelps to inspire dectective and FBI agents. I think these interesting, and a bit "out there," portrayals of what a certain career might be are good things because it atleast gets publicity. It shows people that it is an actual thing, and for kids it gets them interested to where they might actually pursue something and find out they want to do it.

Kiithid:

Sillyiggy:
'why don't my labs look that cool?'

Never hurts to dream.

Make it happen!

Really though, fascinating article. I found the "Uncle Kleiner" in Kleiner's lab almost unbearably sweet. I also now have a mental image of Einstein playing computer games ^^

ghostrider409895:
Snip

You know, I think you're right there. I got interested in science when I was younger because I saw things in fiction like you've mentioned and thought "thats science? Thats. Fucking. Awesome." (well, that and a desire to find out how stuff works).

 

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