Weekend Diversion: The First Relativistic Video Game!
by Ethan Siegel
Starts With A Bang
November 11, 2012
It might be hard to believe, but science tells us truths
about the Universe that we might never have intuited or
philosophized about if the Universe itself didn't reveal
them to us through investigation. Bap Kennedy alludes to
this in one of my favorite songs by him,
[moderator: please use the link above to listen
to the referenced song, the article also includes
screen shots of the game and other illustrations.]
and this is certainly true of Einstein's relativity,
which details just how the Universe behaves when we move
close to the speed of light. This is notoriously
difficult to visualize or gain an intuition about.
Lengths contract in the direction of motion, time
dilates, light red-and-blueshifts, things become oddly
bright-or-dim dependent on where they are relative to
your location and velocity.
In other words, things are very different from your
common experiences in the world, all according to the
simple straightforward laws set forth by Einstein's
theory of special relativity.
Some of the weird things are extremely counterintuitive;
moving from rest close to the speed of light causes an
object to appear farther away, while moving away from
the object causes it to appear closer! Because this only
has noticeable effects close to the speed of light, this
is really difficult to relate to, and is certainly
outside of our common experience.
But one remarkable project aims to change that, and does
such an awesome job that I had to share it with you.
Say hello to the MIT Game Lab's latest project: A Slower
Speed of Light, which allows you to collect orbs by
moving around through a collect-'em-style game. Only,
with each orb you collect, the speed of light slows
down. And that's where things get freaky.
The colors start to change, distances start to appear
counterintuitive, and, well, you're challenged to
develop an intuition for moving at relativistic speeds,
because the speed of light has slowed!
When you've successfully collected all 100 orbs, you're
rewarded with the red/blueshifts turned off, and you
merely observe the effects of the Lorentz
transformations, which are still incredibly freaky!
The game is difficult to control, particularly if you've
got a trackpad instead of a mouse (and don't even think
about playing it on a tablet/mobile device), but it's an
Download the PC or Mac version, or just check it out at
the MIT game lab here. It's a great download and an
excellent way to spend 20 minutes or so just messing
around; I'm glad I did! Hope you like it too, and have a
PC version - http://gamelab.mit.edu/eula/slower_eula_win.php
Mac version - http://gamelab.mit.edu/eula/slower_eula_mac.php
MIT Game Lab - http://gamelab.mit.edu/games/a-slower-speed-of-light/]
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