The Ruby Realm is designed to help dispel the common misconception among students 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 remembered.

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.