RoboRiot is an 8-level strategy/adventure game that addresses two genetics misconceptions: that the inheritance of traits is not random, and that dominant genetic traits are inherently better or more powerful than recessive traits. The game is set on a planet where robots do most of the manual work: Water Bots clean, Fire Bots cook, Ice Bots make smoothies. But suddenly the robots start rampaging and wrecking things: A hacker has infected them. Players must build teams of rescue robots from spare parts and use them to subdue and disinfect the rampaging bots.
Players use a recycler to build their robots. It randomly combines “alleles” of two junked bots to create a new robot. Since the process is random, players cannot control what type of bot they get, and must run the recycler until it produces a bot with the traits they want. Once they’ve assembled their team, they take on the rioters. These encounters reveal that dominant genetic traits aren’t inherently more powerful or better than recessive ones. Clever strategy, not hereditary dominance, wins the day.
The RoboRiot game addresses two common misconceptions about genetics among students—that randomness is relative, and that a dominant trait is stronger (more powerful) than a recessive one. RoboRiot can serve as a metaphor or model for several key concepts in Mendelian genetics, including probability, sex cells, complex genetic patterns, and natural selection. The game is a conventional one, whose play mechanics are familiar to many students: Players recycle robots to rescue and disarm other robots that have run amok. There are various models of robots, each with a single function—as represented by a single “power"—and the distribution of powers among robots is not hierarchical. In other words, there is no “strongest” robot. Successfully creating and playing one’s team of robots requires strategic thinking about the relationships among heritable traits.
We have made randomness central to the gameplay activity. When recycling or deploying their robots, players experience the element of randomness in their action choices. The logic of the robot models and their relative powers is like the classic “rock-paper-scissors” game: circular, but complex enough to present a challenge. The focus on a single trait helps to clarify the logic of inheritance. The inclusion of different species/models of robots provides an illustration of the idea that a dominant trait can be more or less advantageous, depending on the circumstances (in this case, on the nature of the opponent).
RoboRiot also can be used with subtopics associated with heredity and Mendelian genetics, such as complex genetic patterns, sex cells, and randomness in heredity. Explanations and support materials for these are available in the Curricular Connections page.
The activities and resources provided here represent materials developed by the Possible Worlds team to help teacher-participants of the field studies integrate the digital games into their customary teaching of heredity.
The vignettes and materials presented here will help you understand how the Possible Worlds resources can be integrated with your existing approach to these topics. They are intended to help you make connections between the core mechanics of the games and the phenomena related to common scientific misconceptions.