Put your gaming to use

3 min read

Why waste good tech

Ah, gaming – much derided and seen as a waste of time, money and energy. Yet, some games are actually changing the world and making some awesome strides in science. You can even be a part.

We already know games can be educational or helpful in society. Minecraft is used extensively for teaching city planning and even some forms of physics and other sciences. However, games can go beyond teaching science and let gamers be a part of the research.

The Guardian ran an article all about how gamers are solving some interesting scientific puzzles, and it seems like the mainstream media is finally accepting the power of gamers:

For all their virtual accomplishments, gamers aren’t feted for their real-world usefulness. But that perception might be about to change, thanks to a new wave of games that let players with little or no scientific knowledge tackle some of science’s biggest problems. And gamers are already proving their worth.

In 2011, people playing Foldit, an online puzzle game about protein folding, resolved the structure of an enzyme that causes an Aids-like disease in monkeys. Researchers had been working on the problem for 13 years. The gamers solved it in three weeks.

Wait, a problem that had been baffling scientists for over a decade could be solved in three weeks by gamers? Master Race!

Really though, it’s quite an interesting and simple system. The reality is that humans are far better at seeing patters and processing certain data than any computer. However, there are only so many scientists in any given field able to work on these questions. By working together with game developers, they can gain access to huge amounts of people – it’s like a productive form of Candy Crush.

Here are some examples of games that you can play if you want to get involved:

  • Foldit: A puzzle game about find the most compact solution that helps researchers understand more about proteins, helping scientists in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Cancer and Alzheimer’s
  • Phylo: A jazzy, colorful puzzle game that contributes to genetic disease research
  • Cropland Capture: Scan satellite images of the Earth and look for arable land to help create a global crop map.
  • Citizen Sort: a range of games which see you helping to classify photots of animals, plant and insect species (I hope no spiders!)
  • Planet Hunters: Using data from NASA’s Kepler space mission, find evidence of planets with a simple spot the difference game

Sure, some of the games are more interesting or more fun than others, but I love the idea of playing a game and finding real planets or actually helping to research DNA. I always knew gaming was useful and wonderful for me personally, but now you can use it to help with science, too. What strange and wonderful things will they come up with next?

Big thanks to Gehard ‘GlacieredPyro’ Davids for the tip.

Last Updated: January 27, 2014

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. You can read more of my words over at www.borngeek.co.za, or just follow me on all the social networks to get the true range of my sarcasm and wit.

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