History of Biology
Deals with biodiversity // biology // cells // history
  cell theory // microscopes // classification and taxonomy // genetics // heredity // DNA // genomics // evolution
Intended for high school
Available on Web
Cost free
Developed by SPONGELAB (external) (professional developer)
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History of Biology

In the History of Biology game, you, the assistant, are required to navigate through a labyrinth of clues, objects, and internet sites trying to figure out why Dr. Shyre has disappeared. What secret project was he working on? Who might be after him and are they after you too? Hidden amongst the history of biology, Dr. Shyre has left clues and puzzles to unlock the secrets of his most important and controversial research ever.

History of Biology is an interactive, online science scavenger hunt where students experience the history of biology, through the people and the impact their discoveries had on, and continues to have on, our culture, society, politics, economics, and ethics. Starting in the 17th Century, with the invention of microscopes and the first descriptions of microscopic life, users complete weekly missions and solve puzzles by researching the lives and scientific discoveries of over 20 scientists. Users progress through a rich story-line driven game that parallels the scientific timeline of discovery. The game content takes users through the cell theory, microscopes, classification, evolution, mechanisms of heredity, the central dogma of genetics, the genomics revolution and where biological science is heading in the near future.

Description Provided by Developer

Screenshots of History of Biology


Expert Reviews
By scientists and teachers
6 / 15
1 / 5
2 / 5
3 / 5
Player Reviews
By everyone else (and you!)
9 / 15
2 / 5
3 / 5
4 / 5

Expert Reviews

Mr. Sunflower
Scientist, Game Developer

I've never much enjoyed either riddle games or trivia games, and History of Biology is both. So, if you happen to like either of these genres, then you should take my opinions with modest skepticism. I'm also of the opinion that neither riddles nor trivia are particularly effective teaching tools. Thus, History of Biology is not my cup of tea, and I would not recommend it for either fun or teaching.

The game includes 15 missions, and I played through the first four. This took me about an hour and a half. My intention was to play through the whole game, so as to get the complete experience, but when I was presented with the 'formula' for the fifth mission (an equation where you had to sum or multiply several uninteresting numbers) I just didn't have the heart to go on. Instead, I skimmed through the teacher's walkthrough, and while some of the later puzzles do look more interesting than the earlier ones, both my inner child and my inner scientist said, 'no.'

The game opens with a wonderfully atmospheric cutscene, full of both danger and mystery. You walk through a classy building, while faux-news clips talk about the mysterious and reclusive Dr. Shyre, a man who was offered two Nobel awards, but didn't show up for either. You will be his new research assistant.

As the cutscene ends, you sit down at a hardwood desk in a small office lined with bookshelves, open a padded mailing envelope, and pull out a tablet. After you power up the tablet and solve a small puzzle, you find a message from your mysterious employer, Dr. Shyre. He says that he's discovered something amazing and dangerous, and he needs your help, but doesn't give any explanation. What did he discover? What is it that he actually wants you to do? Why you?

Dr. Shyre then assigns you your first mission: using some objects on the desk and the resources of the internet, solve some riddles, calculate a number, and enter it into the tablet. Unfortunately, this is essentially the pattern for the rest of the game: seemingly arbitrary riddle-tasks assigned via the in-game email system. This introductory puzzle illustrates both the best and worst parts of the game.

On the good side, the need to use the internet sets up an augmented reality (AR) situation, one where you'll need to search the web for real information about actual historical figures, and for faux information on fictional game-world entities (information planted on faux websites by the game devs). From a gameplay perspective, AR promotes immersion and suspension of disbelief. It also helps to create more authentic experiences, and research shows that authenticity helps with both learning and engagement. Thus, I usually enjoy this sort of thing. Unfortunately, there's no depth to the research tasks, and you're never asked to do much more than discover isolated factoids.

This lack of depth is my first major complaint. Isolated facts have little power or meaning. The power of knowledge comes from the way it is used, and research suggests that people don't learn much about how to use knowledge unless they actually use it. At the same time, doing stuff, and feeling a sense of agency and accomplishment is a big part of what makes games feel fun and rewarding. Unfortunately, in the first four missions, most of what you do is 1) find facts, and 2) enter those facts into boxes. There are very few opportunities to actually use the facts that you are gathering. From the teacher's walkthrough, it looks like some of the later missions require more doing, but based on my experience with the first four missions, I don't hold out much hope.

My second major complaint is excessive esoterica. For example, the second mission asked me to calculate a number like, 'the year in which a certain book was published times the number of the figure on which a certain image is found within that book.' Finding these facts required mild usage of internet research skills, but neither of those two numbers held much interest for me, and multiplying them together felt like a meaningless task.

When a game called 'History of Biology' says that your mission is to find two particular numbers, it implies that these two numbers are important to the history of biology. Unfortunately, for the most part, that's not true, and I say this as a biologist. Further, most facts are technical rather than human. I admit that, when you finish a mission, you do get a congratulatory email, and that email often offers a bit of context for your facts. However, the game design doesn't require you to make any use of context. By placing high gameplay importance on facts of low historical importance, and by avoiding human interest stories, the game perpetuates the stereotype of science as something that is disconnected from daily life.

Spongelab (the game developer) appears to be strongly classroom oriented, and they say that they offer several sorts of guides for teachers. I can imagine some situations where History of Biology might be a good complement to other activities. However, the all-or-nothing nature of many of these puzzles makes me think that less-engaged students, the ones that you would most want to re-engage with a game-based curriculum, would be more likely to get stuck and frustrated than to become more engaged.

In short, I think this is a game with good intentions but poor execution. If you're really into science, riddles, or trivia, then you may like it. Otherwise, you should give this one a pass.

Fun rating: 1 out of 5

Learning rating: 2 out of 5

Science rating: 3 out of 5


6 / 15

This review has 0 comments.

Player Reviews


The game presents 14 different missions in which players have to use tools, analyze data, and do their own Internet search to find the solutions. The information given is thorough, but could be overwhelming without any guidance. Finding the solutions is quite challenging, which I like, and the game is a really immersing.
However, I found myself wondering how the missions were linked with each other and why these particular once were chosen. A better explanation or integration with the surrounding narrative would be helpful.
The learning happens during the Internet search and interaction with the information provided in the game. There is no check for understanding or deeper learning. I have to mention that I am only in mission 7, though, and I can't say if concepts will be integrated in later missions. It took me on average about 15 minutes to solve a mission, which makes the game quite long. However, players can save at any point and come back.

Fun rating: 3 out of 5

Learning rating: 3 out of 5

Science rating: 5 out of 5


11 / 15

This review has 0 comments.

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