Haven’t we all thought that the precious minutes spent playing Plants vs Zombies for the third time could have been better spent doing something else? What if the time set aside playing Angry Birds waiting for the train each day could have contributed towards something worthwhile? Something that helped mankind? Well that something has happened.
Gamers have assisted scientists in solving a molecular puzzle related to a protein-cutting enzyme found in an AIDS-like virus found in rhesus monkeys. FoldIt is a collaborative online game established in 2008 with over 260,000 registered users. “The game is designed so that players can manipulate virtual molecular structures that look like multicolored, curled-up Tinkertoy sets. The virtual molecules follow the same chemical rules that are obeyed by real molecules. When someone playing the game comes up with a more elegant structure that reflects a lower energy state for the molecule, his or her score goes up. If the structure requires more energy to maintain, or if it doesn’t reflect real-life chemistry, then the score is lower.”
The monkey-virus enzyme was uploaded to FoldIt in the hope that gamers would be able to assist scientists. It was solved within ten days.
This kind of game demonstrates the potential of crowd sourcing solutions through the gaming community. Although it may have been some serious puzzle fans who solved this molecular puzzle its possible that casual gamers can also contribute. The challenge is for designers and programmers to develop games that (either explicitly or implicitly) solve real world problems by tapping into the vast and growing resource of casual gamers.