Ever wondered what Pac-Man in real life would look like? Well, here’s your chance.

In collaboration with University College of Southeast Norway, filmmaker Adam Bartley captured a “real-life” version of the popular 80s video game—under a microscope. The neon game board is less than a millimeter across and uses competing single and multicellular organisms as prey and predator for characters.

What’s the goal? Professor Erik Andrew Johannessen wanted to see if obstacle-rich environments could produce different behaviors in organisms than traditional ones.

The petri dish may not be the most accurate for studies like this because natural surfaces aren’t nearly as smooth or open as artificial ones. Outside the lab, these organisms often traverse lots of naturally-occurring obstacles. And while a Pac-Man maze isn’t exactly natural, the researchers think it will help them better study their subjects—and be a little more fun too.

The video contains three organisms: The “Pac-Man” (or prey) are two unicellular species, euglena and ciliates. The “Ghosts” (or predators) are multicellular rotifers. Initially, the rotifers were hesitant to navigate the maze, much less chase prey. But by the second day, they began confidently moving through the maze and playing cat and mouse with the euglena and ciliates.

But why use Pac-Man to tell this story?

Bridging art and science allows us to share breakthroughs with wider audiences Bartley explains, “High-tech research is mostly too distant from the daily lives of most people, and therefore this practical application of research is very important to communicate to the public.”


Image credit: Adam Bartley/YouTube

Andrew operates as a media producer and archivist. Generating backups of critical cultural data, he has worked across various industries — entertainment, art, and technology — telling emerging stories via recording and distribution.

Follow Andrew J.: