Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Extinct! teaches us that it's not easy being green

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Extinct! Are You Smarter Than a Plant?
Format: online Flash game

Price: Free

Release Date: June 2011

Target Age Group: unspecified

Developer: Joe Cutting

Genre: resource management / simulation
Learning basic plant biology has never been easier, and Extinct! Are You Smarter Than a Plant? can help players understand how and why evolutionary pressures differ between wild plants and farmed plants.

It's not often that plants get the spotlight in video games. Sure, the tongue-in-cheek hit Plants Vs. Zombies gave plants the rare opportunity to be the saviors of mankind in a dystopian, zombie-filled future, but I'd say that the average, ordinary, run-of-the-mill garden weed has still had to wait patiently for its turn in the sun. And in some respects, that time has finally come.

Extinct! Are you Smarter Than a Plant? is a short, but satisfying Flash game that puts the ordinary plants of the world at center stage, and introduce players to some of the perils of life in the plant world. In the game, players get to guide both a wildflower and a farm-raised crop from being mere seedlings to prolific seed-bearers, teaching players along the way about how plants need to manage their resources and how different life in the wild is from the luxury of being a being agricultural staple.

Fans of the resource-management genre will probably find this game instantly appealing, as success hinges on how wisely you spend your precious sugars and minerals while directing the growth of roots, leaves, and flowers. While there could undoubtedly have been greater variety and complexity introduced in terms of the resources players have to juggle, the simplicity of the gameplay does not diminish the challenge involved. Even though there are not many complicating factors, it's still not an easy game. The life cycle of your plant is short, and your opportunities for shedding seeds are relatively few. It is important to use your very limited resources wisely if you plant is going to have the best chance at successful propagation.

There are two different scenarios one can play in the game: as a wild plant or as a farmed plant. The gameplay is the same in both scenario, but the different objectives for success have a huge impact on how players must shape their plant's growth if they are to succeed. Wild plants need to focus on releasing as many seeds as possible while competing with neighboring plants for sunlight. Farmed plants, however, need to avoid crowding their neighbors while holding onto their seeds until harvest time. And even though both plants still need the same resources to thrive, the conditions under which each plant grows are vastly different--farmed plant gets an abundance of resources to fuel their growth, thus allowing the opportunity to support massive seed growth in ways the wild plants cannot.

The life of a farm plant is one of luxuriousness and madness.
Both scenarios together can be easily completed within roughly 30-40 minutes, even assuming a few failures and restarts along the way. If you want to quickly experience the trials and travails of life as a plant, I recommend you give Extinct! a try. The model of plant life and reproduction depicted in the game may be simplified, but it is nonetheless accurate enough. And the contrast between the goals and conditions of being a wild plant versus a farmed plant provide great fodder for discussion if you're playing the game with kids or in a classroom. What are you waiting for? See if you are smarter than a plant!

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