Written by Craig Beddis

2 min read

Let’s use gaming to solve science

  • Gaming
  • Life Sciences

Every one one of us has probably dreamt about being a scientist at one stage or other - whether it’s flying to the moon, curing cancer, or saving North Atlantic right whales from the threat of extinction, we’ve all let our minds wander. Now the actual breakthrough discovery, or even being involved in groundbreaking science discoveries might seem far fetched for a lot of us, who’re are already well into our careers. Equally for those who are in school or beginning their relationship with science, not everyone can become a scientist. So, what if we could all still contribute to science in a meaningful way?

With gamification of science, we can all be involved in a really powerful way. The draw of playing a game, earning points and figuring out puzzles is now being employed to crowdsource scientific research. One such game that has proven to be popular was developed by the University of Washington, Center for Game Science, Department of Biochemistry. Foldit is a game where players solve puzzles to fold the best proteins, the designers describe it as a “a revolutionary crowdsourcing computer game enabling you to contribute to important scientific research”. Ultimately the game could help cure and prevent diseases. As we find out about how proteins fold and the shapes they hold, we can develop drugs to target them when they are damaged, or design new proteins to fight a disease.

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The developers from University of Washington are not alone. Cancer Research UK released Genes in Space back in 2014, in which players identify faults in real gene data - converting what would take hours of scientific research into minutes of game fun. There’s a whole host of these games like Phylos for genetic disease research, Eyewire to map the brain and Eterna to design medicine. With literally masses and masses of people playing video games every day, if we can crowdsource scientific research and solve complex problems using massive multiplayer games, we might see the end of some of this centuries most difficult to cure diseases.

We could also use these games in education to help complex problems have meaning for school pupils. Tthey could be involved in real science in real time rather than learning and regurgitating a syllabus. A class full of disengaged students may be more eager to learn if they know their involvement playing the game Foldit could help find a cure for a family disease. Likewise for children enjoying science and hoping to pursue the career path, these games are likely to ignite a deeper passion for them and allow them to feel like a valuable resource for the science community.

This could be an incredible new step in scientific discovery if multiplayer science could help us detect diseases and develop cures more quickly. What’s more interesting is if we match this new found knowledge with medical professionals who have improved motor skills such as surgeons, and with patients suffering severe symptoms: as the University of Arizona states, playing video games can be used to reach both remarkable results.