Lately, my hobby has been to develop Quirkies Evolution, an iOS game to teach kids about evolution. This started last year as the 4th-grade science project of my daughter, Iris. She asked for advice about a project idea; she wanted it to be about coding and evolution, two subjects about which she has been learning recently. So we ended up designing Quirkies together, and she used the app to run some simulations and present results at her school’s science fair about how adaptive traits become more common in a population. Iris is actively involved in all aspects of the game, including some of the Swift programming (especially the geometry and core graphics), although I have done most of the coding as it is quite challenging to develop for iOS. It has been fun for me to learn iOS development, play with evolutionary algorithms (the subject of my undergraduate and PhD research), and get inspiration for some work projects.
Quirkies are creatures that evolve through natural selection, reproduction, recombination and mutation of genes. By selecting mates who get to reproduce, players simulate the environment in which the best quirkies survive. You can choose a trait that you would like the population to have. As you play the game, try to select quirkies with that trait. In each generation, the offspring inherit the genes from the parents. The trait that you picked will become common throughout the population. Your fitness score at the top of the main screen will improve, and you win the game with high enough fitness over generations. But quirkies might also be rejected by mates, experience harmful mutations, and risk death. Your quirkies will evolve new traits such as colors, nose, mouth, limbs, hair, and more by regulatory gene adaptations. You can explore it all through the family tree (showing how genes are inherited) and population view.
As you play, quirkies will entertain you with funny comments (even with speech), quiz your understanding of evolution, and make suggestions from hundreds of educational videos and podcasts. You earn badges through these activities. You can also earn survival points with mini-games: help your offspring feed, fight challengers, and find their parents. And don’t tell anyone, but if you get to the biolab, you can manipulate your quirkie’s genes.
Kids can name and save their favorite quirkies (they also get scientific species names), and share them with their friends. (Parents, no worries — your kid cannot post on social media without your permission.) Then they can get news updates when one of their quirkies has new siblings or offspring, and explore the families of their saved quirkies: their parents, siblings, mates, and offspring.
Quirkies Evolution is released through Indiana University and benefits from the scientific advice of Matt Hahn, one of my favorite evolutionary biologists. Iris and I are also grateful to many other friends who helped with their ideas and feedback, including Anushka, Jessica, Kira, Luca, Markus, Max, and many others.
How can you help? Glad you asked! Most importantly, download and install the game on your iPhone or iPad, and rate it (or even better review it) on the App Store. This way you can help others find it among millions of other apps. And of course, if you have kids, let them play with it. Ideal ages are 8-12 but even younger kids and adults can have fun. Iris and I hope you enjoy both the fun and the learning!