Pokemon + Phylogeny = Phylomon

Attention all art/science web-collaborative types! Dave Ng has just formally announced the Phylomon Project. Here's the hook: a paper published in 2000 determined that an 8 year old could identify and characterize 120 different Pokemon characters, but when it comes to animals in their own backyard, kids have no clue.

There's nothing wrong with kids having rich fantasy worlds - far from it. But why not give them the chance to discover that real biology is also incredibly cool - not to mention complex, beautiful, and for many kids, right outside their back door? Maybe I'm showing my age, but I got excited about biology by digging under logs, catching insects, frogs and snakes, and looking them up in books. Old-fashioned? Yeah. But it was still a great way to become a biologist.

The Phylomon Project is inviting the graphic design, gamer, and science education communities on board, first to create a series of playing cards that depict real animals, second, to design compelling games to use them, and third, to try them out with kids. Skeptical? You're not the only one. But as Dave says,

we're well aware of the cautionary comments about the utility of such things. However. it is one of the luxuries of web projects, in that while the resources sunk in are relatively minor, the results can be quite amazing if the Gods of the Web are happy with what is going on.

So, since most of us agree we need new, innovative approaches to science education, why not try it? Head over to the Phylomon Project, its Facebook Group, and/or its flickr site to contribute thoughts, art, and ideas.

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It's a nice idea, but I think it's a big mistake to concentrate on the artwork before the gameplay. Kids aren't collecting Pokémon cards the way they'd collect sports cards: there's a rather well thought-out game involved as an incentive for people to revise the information each card details, and trade and tailor their decks as part of their strategy. The current site even admits that artwork is secondary to gameplay, so it's mysterious that it asks people to submit artwork of arbitrary animals before the gameplay mechanics have been devised, or a list of desired animals drawn up. Unless the gameplay will work almost exactly like Top Trumps, in which case it's already been done and, sadly, isn't interesting enough to captivate its audience the way the Pokémon card system does.

Well, a bunch of my 7th graders were hooked by the art style of Evolvem's, so it may work.

By Dinosaur Teacher (not verified) on 13 Jan 2010 #permalink

Funny- I remember reading about how the creator of Pokemon was inspired by nature, mainly the wide variety of insects he saw.

Huh. I was actually expecting someone had thought up a way to use cladistic analysis to create a phylogeny for Pokemon characters...


I agree with the first commenter, but I'd like to add that if anyone can print out these cards, how is the relative scarcity of certain species represented? Kids are not going to appreciate the value of these cards if anyone can print them out at home. Part of the reason I collected baseball cards was because some of them were rare, and I appreciated their scarcity.

Everyone has biology in their backyard. And in the back of the fridge, the kitchen floor, the cracks in the sidewalk in front of the house . . . We need to be careful not to over-value the exotic. Those same kids who named pokemen characters were pretty decent at identifying animals that lived in rain forests on the other side of the globe too.