Online game players number millions from around the world. But besides the entertainment, are there benefits from online games? Game creators must stay a step ahead of the players if they are to keep their lead. It turns out that most creators are geniuses bringing to the screen games fashioned on real challenging issues in the world of science. Consider Adrien Treuille for instance. The Carnegie Mellon computer scientist is the key designer of the two online games: FOLDIT and EteRNA.
To solve the mysteries buried within these games, you must put in time, concentration, skill and labor. The intention of most games is to get players to solve complex riddles with scientific connotations. In a way, the puzzles help people get a taste of what scientists go through all the time in their jobs. For scientists, the fun lies in developing a game. They rely on gamers to help in research by solving the puzzles in the games. By working hard at a game, average players get involved in things like “protein folding” and “RNA synthesis.” Confessions of some scientists show that these games help in cracking some difficult puzzles in their work situations. This goes a long way in showing that even in science, all work and no play can make a dull routine for anybody. A little game playing can make all the difference. Emerging information indicates that online games by about half a million players have helped in the research of diseases such as HIV and AIDS.
In a discussion during the POPtech conference, Scientist Treuille said that one of the goals in making Foldit was “to make proteins toy-like. Something you want to play with, like a Lego or a Tinkertoy.” The aim is to make people learn more about proteins for their well-being. Treullie’s inventions are deliberately easy for the players, sometimes requiring what he calls “only wiggle and pull.” Incorporating this in the game programs makes fun out of the process of learning about these building blocks of the body. Likewise, by using a physical view of proteins, scientists can better visualize them. This is helpful in their quest to synthesize proteins. This can lead to the development of new ways to manage or even stop some diseases in their tracks.
During the POPtech conference, different scientists shared their views about gaming, learning and research. It turns out that through some of the games, gamers are actually involved in the business of modifying different facts about proteins. In the game Foldit for example, players are given points for making proteins using the lowest amount of energy. The gamers are therefore carrying out the actual research. As points are provided, the gamers are motivated to work harder. The game thus becomes part of the research and the research is part of the game.
For the uninitiated, computer games online or offline are things done by lazy people. But for one breed of scientists, this is one of the ways by which new ideas can be built. Ideas that can lead to solutions that will one day help people live better lives. So, the next time you sit down to play an online game, don’t feel guilty that you’re wasting time. Think of what the game can teach you. Can you come up with some kind of innovation?
Albert Gichimu is a freelance writer, editor and researcher based in Nairobi, Kenya. He writes on a wide range of subjects and contributes to DegreeJungle.com an online resources for colleges students.