Players will learn a great deal of cell biology simply by immersing themselves in and exploring the virtual world of Petri Dish. But that will only happen if they find the world engaging enough to want to dig down beneath the surface.

We accomplish this in two ways. First, we set up the world so that there is a lot to see and do. When the player does something, the world responds, which triggers curiosity. Second, we engage the players with problem-solving. The world of Petri Dish is a harsh one. Cells regularly encounter challenging chemical environments and die. A player must work hard and solve complex problems in order to help her cell survive, then grow, then reproduce, then spread autonomously as a multicellular colony, and then compete and cooperate within a larger ecosystem. And by continuously applying what she knows to solve complex problems, the player will construct more rigorous and scalable mental models, and practice higher-order thinking skills. This type of problem-solving can even foster the development of learning communities in classrooms.

Problems/Questions Players Will Encounter

  • How can my cell increase energy production?
  • How do I decide when to build proteins to produce energy and synthesize amino acids, phospholipids, and nucleotides?
  • How do I get my cell to prioritize for a specific pathway?
  • Which chemical reaction should I regulate in order to regulate a pathway?
  • What is the best way to store nutrients my cell doesn’t need right away?
  • Should my cell break down proteins it isn’t using and recycle the amino acids to build other proteins?
  • Should my cell inject amino acids back into the cellular respiration pathway when energy and glucose are running low?
  • When should a cell divert resources for reproduction?
  • How do I get my cell to build an organelle?
  • When should a cell divert resources to build an organelle?
  • What should the first organelle be used for? The second?
  • What is the best way to isolate the cellular respiration pathway from the photosynthesis pathway when both pathways are operating in parallel?
  • What is the optimal surface area/volume for my cell?
  • Is it worth increasing the size of my cell’s genome in order to give it a protein it will only need under rare circumstances?
  • Is it better to be a generalist or a specialist?
  • How do I get cells in a colony to differentiate and cooperate with each other?
  • How do I get cells in a colony to grow toward nutrient-rich areas?
  • How fully-developed should daughter cells be to balance survivability and reproductive speed?