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Video game teaches relativity by slowing down the speed of light

Screen shot from A Slower Speed of Light
No, this isn't an Allman Brother's show. It's a screen shot from a video game called A Slower Speed of Light that helps teach the concept of relativity.YouTube via MIT Game Lab

To make the admittedly weird concept of relativity easier to understand, a team of developers has created a video game that slows down the speed of light.

Relativity is the theory that space and time are relative concepts rather than absolute concepts,  developed by Albert Einstein in 1905.

“People think that relativity is extremely weird,” Gerd Kortemeyer a visiting professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Game Lab, explains in the introductory video below to the game “A Slower Speed of Light”.

“And the reason for that is just that we do not grow up with it. And the deeper reason for that is that it only really becomes apparent when objects are moving very close to the speed of light. And in everyday life, we just don’t do that.”

The goal of the game is to collect 100 orbs, a rather simple task that’s reminiscent of the 1980s' Pac-Man. But as the player runs around collecting orbs, the screen takes on psychedelic hues akin to something seen playing on screens at an Allman Brothers concert.

The visual effects represent the slowing of light speed, or rather, an effect that brings the pace of a person walking around closer to the speed of light. As you and light move at similar velocities, the world becomes “increasingly relativistic,” Kortemeyer explains.

For example, the Doppler effect — the red and blue shifting of visible light and the shifting of infrared and ultraviolet light into the visible spectrum — becomes visibly apparent. This is reminiscent of how, in our world, the sound-wave version of the Doppler effect is apparent when an ambulance passes by.

Other effects include:

  • increasing brightness in the direction of travel, known as the searchlight effect; 
  • time dilation, which is differences in the perceived passage of time from the player and the outside world; 
  • Lorentz transformation — the warping of space at near light speeds; 
  • and the runtime effect, which is the ability to see objects as they were in the past due to the travel time of light.

All of these effects combined make collecting orbs a more difficult task. For those who want to make the game even more challenging, the Game Lab has made the code open source.

Visit MIT's Game Lab to download the game. It has been tested on computers running Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.7. 

— via Discovery News  

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology  series, watch the featured video below.