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Gaming Geekery Solving Some of the World’s Biggest Problems


Gaming has traditionally been associated with a fat guy stuck in his mother’s cellar until he’s 32. Over the years, gaming has become more sophisticated, though. It’s no longer exclusively the realm of the socially inept. We’ve seen gaming enter schools and universities, and we’ve seen the rollout of online gaming where people can socialise across the world.

Scientists have now dragged gaming into a world where it can contribute to solving some of the world’s biggest problems.

How does this happen, you ask?

Well, scientists release games and they take the results from players. They make science simple. For example, one game called Planet Hunters has helped to discover 40 planets that could potentially harbour life. All the gamers did was look around pictures of the night sky and attempt to find new worlds.

Yet the catch is all these planets were missed by the so-called professional astronomers. You need no qualifications to get started. All you need are a few hours to kill.

Another example of gamers solving problems is with the Foldit puzzle game. You’re presented with a series of coloured blocks. You have to push them around to create new combinations and score points. It’s a competitive game where a new problem is released every week.

You’re actually folding up proteins and making enzymes.

By doing this, a thirteen-year-old enzyme mutation in monkeys that causes a serious disease similar to aids was solved. The website Scientific American reported that this problem was resolved within three weeks of handing it over to gamers.

Again, they aren’t professionals. The chances are many of them were sitting in their pants while chewing on a slice of pizza. Hardly your traditional image of a scientist, is it?

Worlds Apart

You might think that combining gaming in science is strange and odd. They’re actually more closely related than you initially believe.

All games inherently rely on logic. If you delve into the code and the way games are made, everything is logical. Statements must be true and what happens on-screen all relies on the player’s choices. The player’s choice determines the path the software follows.

This is exactly what scientists do. They use logic and mathematics to solve problems. The only difference is they do it without the visual artistry gamers get to experience.

Technically, all those hours you spent trying to find Mew under the parked truck in Pokemon Yellow was scientific research.

Why Turn to Gamers?

The numbers speak for themselves. There are millions of gamers around the world. We spend about three billion hours gaming online, according to Jane Mcgonigal, a game designer and PhD holder. The scientific community could never hope to match these numbers.

To get to the level where you can research these major issues, you need to go through the entire education system and hold a PhD. It’s an arduous process that puts most people off.

Anyone can do science if they really want to, so the most logical solution is to turn to gamers. They’re the closest people related to science through their natural curiosity and (relatively) logic-based approaches.

The Trends

Gamers will continue to play more, and Dr Mcgonigal says this is a positive thing. She says that gamers should aim to rack up 21 billion hours online gaming per week to start making serious inroads into many of the world’s problems.

It’s an effective way of getting around the obstacles present in science today. These issues include:

  • Lack of research grants.
  • The cost of taking on major research projects.
  • Company bias. Most companies who sponsor studies only want certain results. If these results don’t appear, the study doesn’t see the light off day.

Gamers are unbiased, and often unknowing about the contributions they’re making. Whatever happens, gaming could become a lot more scientific in the next decade.

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About the author: Samuel James White

Samuel James White is a professional writer based in Leeds. Most of his life is spent tirelessly working away in his office completing various freelance writing projects. He also owns a small publishing company called Tranquillity Publishing, which is dedicated to helping young writers thrive. When he gets the chance he writes creatively; focusing particularly on animal and historical themes.

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