Welcome to Superoceras, a blog about science and natural history, slightly biased towards paleontology and zoology, but inclusive of all sciences. Started in October of 2009, my goal is to communicate scientific knowledge (and the occasional piece of nonsense) in an informative and entertaining manner. Feel free to contact me with questions, comments, concerns, or criticism at superoceras(at)gmail(dot)com, and follow me on Twitter @Superoceras for all that and more in 140 characters or less!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gotta clade 'em all!

My friend Peter has started his own blog (The Nameless Blog) about video games, and has published more posts in his first week than I did in my first month. If you're a gamer I highly recommend you check it out. But his writing has inspired me to write about one of my gaming experiences that, surprisingly, I can tie into the science/nature/education content I like to write about here at Superoceras.

I'm not going to lie to any of you. Back in the fall of 1998, my interests in speculative biology, video games, and collecting things all merged together in what I considered to be the coolest trend of the day: Pokémon. I probably shouldn't admit it, but I spent a great deal of time capturing, training, and battling those little "pocket monsters". I even did a phylogeny of the first 151 creatures as a gag with a friend of mine. I wish I could find it. Don't lie, you want to see it too.

But one thing always bugged me about the Pokémon world: how the game portrayed the process of evolution as not only an instantaneous event, but as an event that takes place in an individual organism during it's lifetime. Evolution in Pokémon is not like evolution in real organisms. We know that evolution takes place over vast amounts of time, and in populations rather than individuals. But I feel like a lot of people understand the process of evolution to be more akin to that of the Pokémon variety. Specifically, I found this to be the case in a lot of the primary school individuals I used to work with who were also fans of the game, and had never been exposed to evolution in the classroom.

As I told my students, Pokémon evolution can be better described as a metomorphosis, like that undergone by many insects, and even some vertebrates, where an individual goes through biological changes after birth that have a profound effect on their physical form, behavior, and ecology ( think catepillars to butterflies, or tadpoles to frogs). Believe it or not, kids found this information fascinating, showing me that they really do have an interest in the material, if only they could be exposed to it. But it also clued me into something that I should have realized from my own childhood: kids are good at observing, cataloging, and recognizing living things, real or fictional.

When I was a kid, I knew the name of every dinosaur in the museum and animal at the zoo. I floored my first grade teacher one day doing the "animal alphabet" when I shouted out the name of the quetzal (an elaborately featherd South American bird, and national symbol of the country of Guatemala) before the film reel's audio recording did. I loved learning everything I could about nature from books, films, and just being outside. And I remember a lot of that information to this day. I know the same can be said of a lot of kids. How many parents out there (and be honest) have kids that know more about dinosaurs, animals, etc. than they do? It's not something to be ashamed of. Kids have a termemdous mental capacity for retaining that kind of information. And the creators of Pokémon knew it. That's why the games are so popular. The trouble is, a lot of kids nowadays don't get the kind of exposure to nature and wildlife, or even books and information about nature and wildlife, that I was lucky enough to get. Instead, they play their games, and retain the information in them. Like the names and types of hundreds of Pokémon.

I think, if kids had the chance, they'd prefer learning about the world around them as opposed to the fictional creatures in the games. Sure, the games are still fun, and kids would play them, but why virtually battle a pidgey when you can watch birds in your backyard? Why catch a krabby or staryu in the game when you could explore a tidepool on the beach? I know as a child, I would have prefered the real life option to the virtual one any day of the week. I know kids today would probably feel the same way. If only there was some way to captivate their interest, perhaps using a platform they are already familiar with, like Pokémon?

Image from The Phylomon Project at

What's this? There is! The Phylomon Project is planning on doing just that, and is in the beginning stages of making a " non-commercial-open-access-open-source-because-basically-this-is-good-for-you-your-children-and-your-planet", Pokémon style collectable card game for educators and kids showcasing real, live animals. Any artists or photographers out there wishing to contribute can read the submission guidelines and help supply some images (I know I'm going to) and teachers and parents can provide feedback on likes and dislikes. The people over at Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia are looking for feedback and support, so lend a hand to the project if you feel so inclined. I'd love to see it be a huge success, and have another way for kids to learn about the living things in the world around them and the real meaning of the word evolution. Best of luck Phylomon Project!

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1 comment:

  1. it's more a periodic table version of Magic the Gathering, but same idea of taking a fiction/fantasy game and replacing the invented stuff with facts

    edutainment is indeed the future