09 May 2013

Gaming for science

Supporting cancer research is undoubtedly important, but playing computer puzzle games is undoubtedly more fun.  The makers of Foldit have literally managed to combine the two by building a game around the problem of deciphering protein structures, and then letting this scientific challenge loose on the world.

Fold-It takes crowdsourcing and educational gaming up a serious notch. Not only do budding scientists (or the armchair variety like myself) get to learn about what it takes to fold a protein, they get to be part of serious research and discovery.  In fact, it has already worked.

In 2011, FoldIt players deciphered the crystal structure of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus, marking the game's first major scientific discovery.  Overtime, players could conceivably make discoveries that contribute to treatments for AIDS, Alzheimer's, or to better biofuels.  No, mom, I really am saving the world.

Foldit is just one of many interesting jewels spawned at the University of Washington's Centre for Game Science, which "focuses on solving hard problems facing humanity today in a game based environment".  Now, that's what I'm talkin' about. They do this, primarily, by combining what computers do best with what humans do best (creative puzzle solving, for example, which is leveraged en masse with Foldit).   So go play their other games.  No guilt required.