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'Survive! Mola mola!' is an addicting game about fish, but how accurate is it?

A screenshot from
A screenshot from "Survive! Mola mola," the video game that gets kids thinking about ocean ecosystems.
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In "Survive! Mola mola!" — a video game available on iOS and Android — the challenge is in the title: You play a fish whose mission is to eat and survive. Here's the game's trailer:


The game's protagonist is a Mola mola, or ocean sunfish. The game's object is to reach as much food as your fish can, growing bigger with every plankton,  sardine and scallop it eats. But the Mola mola's road to becoming the biggest fish in the sea is fraught with danger. At any moment, the fish could choke on a sardine bone or mistake a plastic bag for a jellyfish:

Or it could go on an adventure to gain even more weight and get caught by humans along the way:

It's kind of a dark game. The motto is "300 million of my own kind, all dead." 

But why use a Mola mola? KPCC's Environment Correspondent Molly Peterson asked the game's developers, Select Button, and got this reply from CEO Nakahata Koya:

Mola mola is my hero. Mola mola is the biggest fish but they are very much sensitive. There is a big contradiction in that they die so easily, even [though] they have got a big appearance. That really attracted me.

I thought that the feature and nurturing game are very compatible. So I made the mola a nurturing game.

There are so many ways the Mola mola can die in the game, it prompts the question: How's the science in it? Can an ocean sunfish really die by just jumping out of the water?

"Well, it probably doesn't happen very often," said Milton Love, a UC Santa Barbara marine biologist. "Some of the aspects of it, I was going, like, 'Wow! This actually looks like a baby planktonic Mola!'"

Love says the game gets a lot of parts correct: Mola mola do indeed eat a lot of plankton. And, as they do in the game, Mola mola can grow to gargantuan sizes — they usually end up weighing around 5,000 pounds.

"There was one in the Monterey Bay Aquarium that was a small one that was fed on, admittedly, an usually high protein diet of shrimp, and it gained a couple hundred pounds within a year," Love said.

Love added that while there's obviously unrealistic parts to the game, he's excited about its message.

"Anything that can teach people about the natural world and what really goes on in my mind [is a good thing]," he said. "And I was teasing about the game, but I think it's really a good idea."