Gamers,1. AIDS protein, 0.
|September 20, 2011||Posted by Sophy Bot under Gamification, Science news|
It took a decade of struggling with the structure of an enzyme produced by an AIDS-like virus before scientists threw the problem to the online gamers. It took the gamers only three weeks to solve it.
Produced by the University of Washington in 2008, Foldit is an online video game where players compete to unfold chains of amino acids. When the enzyme from the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV) was added to the game, players were quickly able to produce a valid protein shape that researchers then verified as correct. The results were published in the Nature Structural & Molecular Biology journal, marking the first time that gamers and scientific researchers were acknowledged as co-authors. And while this may be the first time gamers have solved a long-lived scientific problem, it will hardly be the last.
The word “gamification” has recently made its way into popular media through blogs, conferences and word of mouth. Even the United States Navy has recruited gamers in a real-world hunt for Somali pirates. At its core, gamification asks a simple question: why can’t work be fun / interesting? By using the reward and puzzle concepts inherent in gaming to solve real-world problems, gamification plays on the strengths of a generation raised on PlayStations and Xboxes, taking advantage of skills previously assumed to be useless. Even video game playing surgeons have been found to be more precise than their non gamer colleagues.
All of this begs a very real question: just how many more world problems can we conquer by turning them into games and throwing them to the masses? It may not currently be worth the investment for many issues, but as technology continues its meteoric rise and the practice of “serious gaming” becomes increasingly legitimized, there’s little doubt that we’ll be seeing more gamers make their way into scientific publications not as research subjects, but as full-fledged collaborators. Game on.
Photo credit: Marco Arment