What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Fraxinus is a puzzle game played on Facebook with ties to real-world conservation efforts to save the European ash tree (Latin name Fraxinus excelsior) from dieback, a deadly disease caused by the Chalara fungus. Kids learn the basics of genetics as they sort actual strands of DNA in collaboration with scientists at leading institutions including the Sainsbury Lab, the Genome Analysis Centre, and the John Innes Centre.
What kids can learn
- meeting challenges together
Engagement, Approach, Support
Kids are motivated because their efforts could help scientists make a real-world breakthrough. Friendly competition among friends also helps keep kids engaged.
Puzzles are all variations on the same theme, meaning there isn't a clear sense of progress or advancement to be gained by completing them.
A tutorial explains how to play and can be viewed again at any time. The game tracks how many levels have been attempted and completed.
What's it about?
FRAXINUS uses real genetic codes from the ash trees and the Chalara fungus, which are depicted as horizontal strands of colored leaves. The player's job is to compare the strands of actual DNA (below) to the draft genome created in the lab (on top) and arrange the patterns so they match as closely as possible. Players can rearrange the DNA sequences by removing colors and sliding strands to the left or the right. The closer the match, the higher the score. If the target score is reached for that strand, players can "claim" it for their collections. The purpose of this exercise, beyond puzzle-solving entertainment, is to help scientists identify genetic clues about why certain ash trees seem resistant to the fungus.
Is it any good?
In Fraxinus, kids are helping to sort actual DNA strands under the premise that humans' pattern-recognition skills are potentially more accurate and insightful than computer algorithms. Playing Fraxinus could actually lead to a real-life scientific breakthrough that saves trees, and that thought is very empowering. It's also why players might be more likely to forgive the rather one-dimensional gameplay and lack of a clear sense of progress from one challenge to the next. Fraxinus is a one-trick pony without the mainstream appeal of puzzle blockbusters like Bejeweled or Peggle, but it's still worth a look as an ingenious example of how the talents of puzzle-game fans can be tapped to solve real-world puzzles.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Discuss whether the game feels more exciting because players are helping a real-world cause.
Enjoy learning about local trees and plants. Are any of them threatened like the ash tree?
Aside from pattern recognition, what things can humans often do better than computers?