Most of us would probably like to be citizen scientists, but we’re too busy — and yet we sink billions of hours into social gaming. So some savvy researchers are harnessing our love of gaming, to help advance the goals of science, using thousands of brains to sort through data. Here are eight games you can play… for science.
The idea of using games to conduct research is not new. One of the oldest research-oriented games, Foldit, has been online since 2008 — and has generated real, tangible results in the field of protein folding that could have applications in creating treatments for AIDS, cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease. The success of Foldit has spurred the development of a handful of other research-driven games.
It’s actually surprising how few games have been developed — in comparison to the reams of academic publications on the idea, and the encouraging results from existing projects. You have to wonder where the bottleneck in production is occurring. Are scientists and game developers not linking up? Is the funding not there? Is using games for research stigmatized? Maybe we are just now getting to the point of having mature, social gaming platforms and the associated buy-in by researchers and the public. One good sign is that more universities are adding programs and curricula that marry science and gaming. This — along with two new games slated for release this year, Brain Flight and GeneRun — bring hope that games for scientific research might be picking up traction.
But while we’re waiting for the next wave of games that blend science, technology and culture, here are some games you can play now to help advance scientific research. The projects in this list contain some identifiable element of gameplay, and don’t include other crowd-sourced projects like Planet Hunters — which might be interesting, but aren’t necessarily games.
Pictured: The Robot Graveyard on Forgotten Island