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MIT Game Lab releases a speed-bending game about relativity

Physicists and game developers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Game Lab have launched a video game that teaches players about relativity by slowing down the speed of light.

A Slower Speed of Light explores the theory of relativity – developed by Albert Einstein in 1905 – by artificially slowing down the in-game speed of light, which creates a series of warped and distorted effects.

"The goal of the project was to make something familiar that was very unfamiliar," the game's designer and producer, Sonny Sidhu said in a video released by the MIT Game Lab. "The laws of relativity: what would they look like in a familiar setting?"

In A Slower Speed of Light, players are thrown in a familiar game environment where they are tasked with picking up 100 objects that are strewn all over the place. There are no obstacles blocking their path and on the surface it seems like a simple task. However, as the player picks up orbs, the speed of light is lowered, which creates an effect that brings the pace of the person walking around closer to the speed of light. This makes the game "increasingly relativistic," according to MIT Game Lab's visiting professor of physics, Gerd Kortemeyer.

Effects that players will notice include the Doppler effect, which is where the red and blue shifting of visible light comes into the visible spectrum. There's also the searchlight effect where brightness increases in the direction that is traveled, time dialation, the warping of space near light speeds and the ability to see objects as they were in the past due to the travel time of light.

These effects make it difficult to collect the objects.

The MIT Game Lab has made its code open source. Kortemeyer describes it as a "relativistic game engine" and he hopes people will build on it to make relativistic game experiences.

The game is now available for download and can run on computers using Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.7.