Fraxinus

Game review by
Erin Bell, Common Sense Media
Fraxinus Game Poster Image
Facebook genetic puzzle game helps real-world science.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Educational Value

Kids learn about biology, genetics, trees, and pattern recognition as they manipulate stylized depictions of actual DNA strands to solve puzzles. Kids learn how scientists can analyze the DNA of the ash trees and fungus to discover clues about why certain trees are more resistant to disease. In Fraxinus kids learn about genetics as they participate in real-world scientific research.

Positive Messages

The game carries an empowering message. Players use their skills to discern patterns in actual DNA strands that could lead to a scientific discovery that saves thousands of ash trees.

Positive Role Models & Representations

There aren't any characters, but players are encouraged to feel like their actions serve a positive real-world purpose. By playing, they become positive role models.

Ease of Play

Controls are simple but can be a little finicky.

Violence
Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What 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.

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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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • 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?

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