Mobile game of the week: Specimen, A Game About Color


We generally take for granted that color is absolute, and that everybody who can see and who isn't colorblind sees the exact same thing. The sky is blue; it is a known fact. But is my blue sky the same as yours?

That whole dress color episode, while annoying, launched some fascinating social media conversation on how human eyes see color. iPhone game Specimen: A Game About Color is a new, awesome example of how tech tools can create both fun and science around the various spectra of our perception.

The vivid, candy-hued app offers you a tray of shiny, vibrant color blobs and gives you a supposedly-simple task: Pick the one that's the same color as the background. The game tests and scores your ability to perceive spectra across Alpha, Beta, Gamma and so on—via social media you can easily compare scores with your friends. And it is definitely not as easy as you expect it to be at first. I made it to the Gamma stages when I first felt righteously deceived, confidently mistaking some hue of yellow for one slightly greener. The more you look at it, the harder it seems to get.

There's a full story in the Creator's Project talking to creator Erica Gorochow about the development of Specimen (I used to have a column in Creator's Project)—the app combines visual design, science and game design principles to turn average players into furiously-willing, delighted research participants:

The fact that Specimen is free only helps its cause, and the data collected from its users will hopefully shed light on various color perception patterns in society at large. For example, "Is there any indication that the US sees color differently than China or Germany or Brazil? Is there any specific color dominance or weakness when you compare men and women?" Gorochow asks. "I'm doubtful that the app can reveal a dataset that's pristine enough to be conclusive, but I think with a certain volume of players, we might be able to find unexpected correlations."

The stage structure and the ability to earn power-ups that can eliminate false choices or buy you more time to pick makes Specimen really solid as a game. Hand it off to a friend and within minutes they'll be cursing in awe and disbelief, and then you can brag that you see more of the Delta spectrum than they do, or something.

Get Specimen: A Game About Color for free on the App Store here. It'll work on an iPhone but not a tablet.