Playing with Ideas = Science, Playing with the ideas in Cosmos = games by na2ure

 We are loving the revamped Carl Sagan “Cosmos” program,(airing on Fox and National Geographic channels), produced by fellow RISD alum Seth MacFarlane and hosted by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. Geeking out with me over it are my daughter ( who is my game tester), and my co Founder at na2ure, Dr. Vijal Parikh (who did research in astrophysics and tried to create an astrobiology major, inspired by Sagan’s work, at Cornell).

Tyson narrates the stories of how scientists have played with Big Ideas over the years, engaging with other scientists or picking up where the last idea or discovery left off, until a Law of Nature is born/explodes like the Big Bang. These centuries long stories show that playing with ideas is the highest form of exploration, research and discovery. Curiosity drives play - Why? Why not? and What If? are the inner scientist reaching out to grasp our world and beyond, a process which starts in childhood and can last a lifetime. 

Pattern recognition, as Tyson points out, is one of the highest human skills and was key to our survival in the wild eons ago. Today it’s our key to developing skills for survival in the world of learning and working. Pattern recognition is integral to un-chunking and re-chunking ideas until they fit. I design games for children (and their adults) to play with so they can understand basic science by patterns and chunks, unpacking and repacking them via gameplay. Play is integral to young kids looking at things, and that’s why I chose play to show how nature makes things, aligned it with visual and conceptual modules to mirror patterns and themes.

In Ani-gram-it, you learn how nature ‘spells’ anatomy, and the variety of nature’s solutions to seeing, moving, eating etc. are the anatomical parts of many animals featured, which you use to “make” an animal. After each turn, the body parts return to just parts, like letters in an anagram. You can build another animal, or further describe a current one, depending on how far down and evolutionary branch that animal’s anatomy has been described. It is designed so young and old, expert and novice can play at an equal level and all enjoy and learn together.

Many threads weave through the stories surrounding light in Cosmos. I used several threads covered to create these games, like color. My own journey as an artist and designer led me from simply using colors to exploring the physics and chemistry behind them - to find out how light works and nature makes color, and color fingerprints for elements and light emission. I read all this while working for a high end florist and then started geeking out on botanical color. Dr. Parikh’s journey at Cornell and Arecibo space telescope was a daunting task of sifting through light pulsar data to find intelligent life.

The first emperor of China, gets a bad rap in Cosmos for killing ideas and burning books, though he was actually an inspiration to me for all his standardizations which created enormous efficiencies. It was a drive for standardization which led me to create a periodic table for zoology and botany so each icon becomes a lego like piece in a formula. The ‘elements’ are in color coded groups for extra classification chunking. I invented a game with those symbols in our soon to release app ferret, and the digital inverse to Ani-gram-it.

You can’t play my game on natural selection I invented 2 years ago and dovetails perfectly with a segment in Cosmos…...yet, but the gameplay shows how species evolve (it’s pretty fun and quite funny). I’ll get right back to finishing that one up for our next release just after we launch Ani-gram-it board game and ferret in the next weeks.

So stay tuned to what we’re inventing here at na2ure, where you can explore science through play. Keep watching Cosmos. If there is one game to play now to compliment and deepen your enjoyment of Cosmos, it’s Ani-gram-it. Bring the kids in your life at home and your classrooms into a dialogue with evolution and how the greatest designer made, and continues to redesign, the world we live in.