Fun and Games


Scientists work on a problem for years and years. They can’t find a solution. The problem is embedded into a game and turned over to online gamers. Result: problem solved in three weeks:

Online gamers have achieved a feat beyond the realm of Second Life or Dungeons and Dragons: they have deciphered the structure of an enzyme of an AIDS-like virus that had thwarted scientists for a decade.

The exploit is published on Sunday in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, where — exceptionally in scientific publishing — both gamers and researchers are honoured as co-authors.

Their target was a monomeric protease enzyme, a cutting agent in the complex molecular tailoring of retroviruses, a family that includes HIV.

Figuring out the structure of proteins is vital for understanding the causes of many diseases and developing drugs to block them.

I’ve said it before: there is a lot more to games than fun and games. We are born problem-solvers and risk-takers. Games provide compelling and fun environments for carrying out these innate functions. Games make a social and entertainment activity out of that which we are driven to do anyway.

Yes, there is a ton of hype about “gamification” as a buzzword or marketing ploy. But we’re just scratching the surface of the real-world problems that can be addressed through game play. The next few years are going to be very interesting.

1 Comment

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