Science is the study and understanding of our natural world, the process of uncovering the beautiful details. But doing science as much about people as it is about discovery. I know this to be a fair statement because I’ve been in the thick of it most of my life. And I’ve always been fascinated by that behind-the-scenes glimpse of other scientist’s lives. Which is why, as a teen, I read books such as The Double Helix (1968), and currently Black Hole Blues (2016 — the story of the search for evidence of gravitational waves). It’s also why I’m so enthralled by films like Marie Curie (2016).
Science is a human activity with as much drama as any other. We are not like Mr. Spock. Some scientists, like myself, are often doubtful of our own data, and must do experiment after experiment until satisfied that the results are in fact true. Others are more confident. Emotions run high when scientists are passionate about their ideas and points of view, even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. There is an example from plant biochemistry circles, where the oxygen-producing mechanism of photosynthesis was hotly debated between two well-known scientists. They decided to resolve their different opinions by conducting the same experiment in the same lab, together. Turns out, they still could not agree on the interpretation of the results. You can see how scientific progress is influenced by personality.
So why not occasionally use the “people” part of science to heighten the player’s emotional investment in science-based videogames? Wrapping the science in a human context may make the game more engaging and provide a cultural and human context for the scientific facts being presented. And how to tell that story? Well, one of my favourite genres is the walking simulator (also called empathy games or narrative games). Games such as Gone Home, Firewatch and What Remains of Edith Finch allow the player to uncover game-world truths through the process of discovery. Not unlike science really, but without the experimentation.
And this is why Sunfleck Software is currently developing a game which we hope will be a ripping science story. A story of scientific progress and experimentation with all the foibles and follies of human nature. Science with a human touch.