Game Review: Crossing into Science

Spending most of my free time at home during this challenging pandemic period meant that I needed to find things to do in order not to get bored to death.

One of the few things that I did was playing new video games, like many others. I chanced upon the Nintendo game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH), and got hooked on it. In this game, players have to design their own island and invite animal villagers to live on it. Basically, players get to fabricate a virtual fantasy life on an island. Who doesn’t want to create their own fantasy life amidst all the chaos around the world?

Besides the fantasy part of ACNH, the geeky part of me shrieks in awe when I realised how much of this game was based on Science. Let’s review some of those ‘sciencey’ bits!

Flower Breeding

One of the many goals that ACNH players hope to achieve is to have a flower garden with all the available colours of the various flower species. Now, the game doesn’t simply allow players to buy the seeds for all the flowers. Players will have to breed the flowers from their basic colours to get more complex colour combinations. Sounds easy? Not until you try it.

The flower breeding mechanism in this game is based partly off Mendelian inheritance. For those of you who are not familiar with this term, Mendelian inheritance is a type of biological passing of traits based on the findings of Gregor Mendel. Mendel was a monk who experimented on pea plants and found out that traits such as the pea plant’s flower colour and pod length are determined by the combination of dominant and recessive alleles of specific genes. Percentages of getting a particular offspring with different traits can, therefore, be deduced using tools like the Punnett Square.

And that’s what players in ACNH will have to do in order to have bragging rights on owning a complete flower garden: be a Gregor Mendel in the game.

Scientific Accuracy: 3/5

Relatively accurate in terms of percentages (25%, 50%, etc.) to get specific coloured flowers. However, parts of the in-game breeding mechanism might get a disapproving shake of the head from the followers of Mendel. In a few instances, there seemed to be more than two alleles at work to determine the final flower colour of the offspring – since flowers of the same colour but obtained differently in the game, can produce a whole different variety of offspring.

Fish Location

On their fantasy island in ACNH, players can also fish at ponds, rivers, cliff tops or out at sea. The fishes obtained can be sold for money (called “bells” in the game) or donated to a museum where they will be displayed, like in an aquarium. The locations where different fishes can be found are scientifically accurate as well. Fishes like stingrays, sharks, snappers, flounders can only be found out in the sea as they are marine fishes. Tetras, tilapias and pikes can be found along rivers while goldfishes and koi appear in ponds, in which both are freshwater habitats. This is true as most fishes are stenohaline, which means they cannot tolerate a significant change in water salinity. This is due to the osmoregulation mechanism that their bodies are already adapted to.

First things first, we need to understand what “osmoregulation” is. This term refers to the regulation of water potential between an organism and its surroundings so that the organism has the right balance of water and salt to be healthy and well, achieving optimal and constant osmotic pressure within the body. Marine fishes tend to lose water to their surroundings and gain salt. To cope with the high salinity, these fishes actively excrete salt out from their gills, as well as through their concentrated salty urine. Yes, fishes do pee! As for freshwater fishes, they tend to gain water from their surroundings. To cope with the low salinity, these fishes excrete highly diluted urine to get rid of excess water in their body.

There is, however, one interesting group of fishes that will only appear at the mouth of the river in ACNH. These fishes are salmons and sturgeons. Salmons and sturgeons are, what we describe as, anadromous fishes. In other words, they will migrate from the sea up into freshwater rivers to spawn. When the eggs hatch, the fry will grow and develop in the streams before migrating back into the sea to continue their development. When they are sexually mature, they will migrate up the streams, and the cycle continues.

Scientific Accuracy: 4/5

Very accurate in terms of how different fishes can be found in various locations of different water bodies. If there is a teeny weeny bit that needs to be scrutinised, the game still allows the release of fishes back into any water bodies freely regardless of the original habitat that they were caught from! R.I.P. to fishes that are stenohaline…

Overall Rating

Scientitific Accuracy: 4/5

Very accurate for a fantasy video game despite some small moments here and there.

Entertainment Value: 5/5

Players would not have over 500 hours of play time if they are not entertained by it. The main joy of this game is driven by the perfectionist in all of us, to constantly upgrade and beautify your island.

Never thought a video game will have these many elements of Science, right? Talk about playing and learning at the same time! Does that give everyone more reasons to play video games…be right back, I’m going to breed out that elusive blue rose for my garden.

Meanwhile, don our SCS jacket and feel like a Science Educator virtually!

Written by See Eng Sheng
Images and video grab from Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Video edits by Toh Bee Suan

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