The Ruby Realm is a 20-level adventure/maze game about photosynthesis that addresses the misconception that soil provides the mass in plants. Players navigate a vast cavern in search of missing friends, only to discover that they have entered a hidden, treasure-filled world whose vampire inhabitants do not like intruders. Luckily, players have a trusty guide in Biobot Bob, a robot powered by artificial photosynthesis, who helps them fend off hungry bats and angry vampires.
Players must find light sources where Bob can generate the glucose he needs for power. Using Bob’s Molecule Replicator, they shoot light beams at carbon dioxide and water molecules, breaking them apart and recombining the atoms to form glucose. They can also make other substances, such as tear gas, which Bob uses to repel the vampires. The game helps students construct an understanding of photosynthesis by letting them actively participate in the process of chemical change.
The Ruby Realm is designed to help dispel the common misconception among students that trees are made from sunlight, water, and soil that the trees suck up from their roots. The idea that a liquid (water) and a gas (carbon dioxide), in the presence of sunlight, are sufficient to produce the mass of a tree trunk is too counterintuitive. The idea that trees “eat” the nutrients in the soil in order to grow, as we need food to grow, is far more intuitively accessible than is the photosynthesis formula, even if it is literally memorized.
In the game, the player has to replicate photosynthesis in order to produce solid glucose, liquid methanol, and a smelly tear gas, and restart respiration to keep the “biobot” avatar navigating its way through a maze to rescue friends. The chemical change involved is produced by finding sunlight to pop apart water and carbon dioxide molecules, and then recombining them into the new molecules that make up the three substances. This is a maintenance chore in the game, rather than the main event, which is using the substances to navigate through the maze, avoid vampires, deflect bats, and keep the avatar's motor running.
The fact that the chemical transformation involves different combinations and patterns of the same three atoms—carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen—becomes evident when students not only see the representations of the molecules but are required to construct those images actively and make decisions based on their understanding of what those patterns mean.
The Ruby Realm also can be used with subtopics associated with photosynthesis: cellular respiration, raw materials, and chemical change. 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 photosynthesis.
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.
In this activity, students become editors at NoWay!com, a web site that publishes amazing-but-true stories. Two stories being considered for publication include claims about photosynthesis. Students must evaluate the validity of the claims by looking for relevant evidence in the informational resources provided. Based on what they find, they decide whether or not the site should publish the stories.