Science Kombat, an upcoming newsgame created by Fred Di Giacomo Rocha and Otavio Cohen from Brazil’s Superinteressante science and culture magazine, aims to teach players about some of history’s greatest minds not by handing them a dry quiz, but by having a select group of notable scientists beat the crap out of each other in one-on-one fights. It’s education by way of the WWE, hearkening to playground debates of who-would-win versus battles more than classroom lectures, and the result is a game that aims to be both educational and yet also features Albert Einstein shooting people with lasers.
In the style of games like Street Fighter, each character in Science Kombat has several basic punches and kicks, yes, but also a specific set of over-the-top special moves, which is where Science Kombat gets creative. “The idea of the game is to make a link between the ‘powers’ of each character and his or her discoveries and inventions,” writes the game’s animator, São Paulo-based Diego Sanches, over on his website. This means that beyond fisticuffs, Isaac Newton will be dropping apples on people’s heads, Pythagoras will deliver flying kicks in the shape of a right triangle, and Stephen Hawking will be summoning black holes. The hope is that the more players use these moves, the more familiar they will get with what each of the scientists featured in the game is known for, in the same way that most people with even a passing familiarity with videogames know what Street Fighter’s fireball-like hadouken is.
It’s a neat way to leave players with a basic understanding of scientific discovery throughout human history, but if there’s any concern to be had with Science Kombat as of yet, it’s in the somewhat limited scope of who it’s chosen to honor. So far, seven of the game’s eight total player characters have already been announced, six of whom are male and all of whom are white. This leaves out contributions from notable scientists of color, such as 11th century Chinese scientist Shen Kuo, who was the first person to describe the magnetic compass as well as the first to discover the concept of true North. It also underrepresents the achievements of women, meaning that innovators like Ada Lovelace, widely considered to be the world’s first computer programmer, go unrecognized. The result is an unfortunate implication that scientific progress has been largely limited to Western men, which perhaps runs counter to the game’s educational goals.
That said, the more action-based approach to education seen here looks like a blast, capturing the imaginative power of games in a way that titles like the more trivia-heavy Mario is Missing never could.