CellCraft: Can a Creationist Game Teach Biology?

CellCraft is a computer game designed by Anthony Pecorella. Image: cellcraftgame.com

This week GeekTeen John sent me a link about a just-released computer game called CellCraft. He thought I might want to write about it on GeekDad, because it was fun to play and full of information about what makes up a living cell. I even tried it out for a few minutes, and found it easy to figure out and nicely designed.

But in looking for some background on CellCraft, I found an interesting conversation regarding going on over at the ScienceBlog Pharyngula (and repeated on his blog Panda’s Thumb) , written by biology professor Paul Z. Myers. It seems that among the scientific advisers for the game is David DeWitt, Director of the Center for Creation Studies at Liberty University. And certain aspects of the game suggest that the game is an introduction to the “Intelligent Design” view of cell composition. (Even the platypus characters in the game may be a creationist reference.)

Many of the comments on Pharyngula maintain that its creationist origins shouldn’t disqualify CellCraft from being used as an educational tool. They argue that it’s hard to get students to memorize the parts of the cell and CellCraft is an entertaining way to help them do it. (Whether that is a worthwhile exercise in itself isn’t part of the argument, unfortunately.) But other commenters point out players may come away from CellCraft with the idea that complex cell organelles just appeared when needed — no evolution or large amounts of time needed.

One commenter, who introduced himself as Anthony Pecorella, principle designer and director of CellCraft, writes that he took a “frankencell” approach “because it worked better for our story and moved through the material better.” More tellingly, he goes on to say:

If we had included evolution, we’d have parents up in arms about it and the game would have a much harder time being used in classrooms.

I’ve already posted about the dangers of trying to be “neutral” when it comes to teaching evolution. As far as I’m concerned, laying the blame on “parents” is a poor excuse. CellCraft may be a clever and creative game, but by leaving out important facts to placate a few extremists it doesn’t represent science, and it isn’t truly educational, either.

You can play the game for yourself, and read the credits, on NewGrounds.

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