Grace Ling Leads Cell-fie Team to Imagine Basic Biology in Game Environment

Exa Exosome, a character in the VR game Cell-fie. ©2018 Grace Ling/Cell-fie.

by Jenny Walsh

A few weeks ago, we were introduced to one of the most fascinating teams participating in the Imagine That! VR contest — the Cell-fie group! The Cell-fie team focuses on making biology fun through a simulation game that teaches the cellular makeup of an organism. The team behind the game consists of VR super stars Grace Ling ’19, Helen Newen ’18, Elizabeth Wu ’17, and Dr. Theresa Conefrey. I recently sat down with team leader Grace Ling to get the inside scoop on her work and her team, to learn more about her, the game, and her inspiration for creating the game.

Grace is a junior bioengineering major at SCU. She is quite involved on campus — a member of the cross country team, runs three instagram accounts and a lifestyle blog, and has helped conduct gene research studies at SCU. Cell-fie is a project that Grace has dreamed of working on for a while. The project lets Grace bring her passion for biology to young people in a new and exciting form: virtual reality.

Dena DNA. ©2018 Grace Ling/Cell-fie.

The Cell-fie team has developed major portions of the VR experience, including the look and feel of the Cell-fie world and many of its characters. They now are working on their 3D modeling skills and developing different possible pathways and plot lines for each character. The team has been able to create a better map for their game and define the different levels a player has the potential to reach.

In Cellfie, players create their own character that resembles themselves, then obtain abilities of different organelles and cells as they level up and complete quests. Early in the game the player picks a biology pathway to explore, such as how proteins are made. Players work through the game by fighting crime and body diseases, and gain more titles along the way. The higher level the player reaches, the bigger of an organelle she becomes. When she reaches the highest level, she becomes a full organism.

As Grace describes it, “my username is Grace and want the ability to code for proteins so I talk to Nella Nucleus. I follow Nella’s guidance and after proving [to] her my strength, I become Grace Nucleus.

“When I reach level 100 and decide to become a specific cell (let’s say that I chose neuron), I talk to Rony Neuron, defeat Alzheimer’s Alien, and now I become Grace Neuron.

Rony Neuron. ©2018 Grace Ling/Cell-fie.

“When I reach level 200, I can talk to the organism leaders and become an organism. If I decide to become a human, I start off as a baby and work my way to becoming an adult in my dream career. If I decide to become a unicorn, I will move to Rainbow Waterfalls and spend the rest of my life with my unicorn friends and be going on sparkly quests.”

With their characters and pathways solidified, the team is are now coding those elements and making it possible to view and play the game in 3D. For example, special molecules are DENA DNA and Exa Exosome. Organellar specialization characters include Klora Kloroplast, Mito Mitokondria, Nella Nucleus, Vess Vesicle, Ollie Vacuole, Lyz Lysosome, Soma Ribosome , and Luma Endoplasmic Reticulum. There also are characters for cellular specialization and organismal specialization.

For more information about the project, visit Grace’s blog at https://grace-ling.com. Follow us on Facebook (SCU Imaginarium) and Instagram (SCUImaginarium) to stay updated on the other Imaginarium teams!