VIRTUAL experiences don’t always have to be purely entertainment – they can be educational too.
While those of us of a certain age will remember things like Maths Blaster, today’s student wants something a bit higher-resolution, which also includes virtual experiences via computer or video.
The idea behind Kellogg’s Gut Bacteria Reef – available free on Steam or to watch as a 360-degree experience on YouTube – is that you can experience a voyage through the human digestive system, The Fantastic Voyage-style, in VR or 360 degree video.
The inspiration for the programme can be found in a report commissioned by Kellogg’s, entitled The Gut Bacteria Reef: A Look Into The Parallels Between The Gut and Coral Reefs and authored by Associate Professor David Bourne from James Cook University, Dr Gina Levy and Dr Ginni Mansberg.
The report itself makes a number of fascinating comparisons between the human digestive system – itself home to a wide range of microbes and its own ecosystem – and the world-famous Great Barrier Reef.
As the report itself notes, “Essentially the human gut and the Great Barrier Reef are just vast ecosystems that are supported by highly diverse and a mind-boggling abundance of microbes. Each ecosystem is dependent on these microbes being in balance and functioning in the right
way to ensure nutrients are used to support the overall function of the ecosystem. When things go wrong, often through stress, these functions can break down, species diversity can shift and species abundance can change.”
It’s an interesting way of looking at it and a good segue into the theme of the experience itself, which draws parallels between exploring the Great Barrier Reef in a submarine and exploring a human intestinal system in a submarine.
Of course, it’s one thing to read about it in a report and quite another to experience it via your computer (or phone, or tablet) – which is where Kellogg’s Gut Bacteria Reef comes in.
The five-minute long experience begins with your submarine being eaten by the patient and transported through the throat and stomach to the intestines while a narrator explains what is happening.
Once in the intestines, you’ll find out about some of the different bacteria that live there and what happens when the ecosystem there gets out of tune – and do your part to help fix it.
Being that the experience is sponsored by Kellogg’s there’s obviously some blatant product placement in the experience – notably when you load your fibre cannon with their brand of corn flakes, but that is to be expected since they did commission the study and the game in the first place.
Obvious product placement aside, the visuals are extremely impressive in VR – I tested it with an HTC Vive Pro 2 – and it really was fascinating floating around in an intestine getting a light understanding of what’s going on in there.
There’s not much ‘game’ here – there’s a sequence where you fire fibre at ‘good bacteria’ to help them with their work in the patient’s intestines – but it’s still an educational experience that at worst is something like a virtual them park ride, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Ultimately, it’s free, it’s educational, and it’s a cromulent (but very short) VR experience-slash-promotional-vehicle, so don’t expect the next Half-Life: Alyx, but if you’ve got some free time learning more about the human body is always a worthwhile way to spend it.