From FSS: Citizen science emerges through gaming

Original post can be found here.

I think it’s fair to say that gaming has become a significant part of the human experience, from athletic events and board games to RPGs and video games. Anyone needing recent proof can look at the examples of Candy Crush Saga addiction and the uproar that ensued when the creator of Flappy Bird decided a few days back to remove the game from the market due to the pressures associated with running such a viral enterprise. At the same time, games aren’t just the subjects of obsession but a way to socialize with friends (and make new ones), spark imaginations, and even cure cancer.

Alright, so the last one was a bit of a stretch, but Cancer Research UK teamed up with developers from Facebook, Amazon, and Google to create “Play to Cure: Genes in Space,” which could lead to a cure later on. The free game, which is available on Apple and Android products, is based on mapping routes through space to gather the valuable Element Alpha. While players fly through space, shoot down dangerous asteroids, and upgrade their ships, they’re actually analyzing genetic data that can be later used for developing cancer treatments. The game itself was developed at a game jam last year, just like the one a few weekends ago but specific to the goal of creating a data-analyzing game for cancer research.


The professor I talked to for my Global Game Jam article is currently working on something similar that uses an adventure-style game to perform taxonomic classification. The line that stuck for me from him was that the goal is to create games that allow people to do something while they play, even scientific work, without realizing it.

Without throwing everyone under the proverbial bus, I think the reason why more citizen science hasn’t come to the forefront is because of a lack of interest in putting forth actual work; I have SETI running on my computer as a screensaver, so I’m contributing to their database, but I wouldn’t get all hyped up about number-crunching that data myself. However, if the scientific aspect is hidden in a fun format like Play to Cure and the taxonomic one, I think there could be a lot of potential.

What do you think? Would you be more (or less) apt to play a game knowing it has research built in? Is there even a place in science and video gaming for citizen science games like these?

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2 thoughts on “From FSS: Citizen science emerges through gaming

  1. Pingback: Technology, stress and empathy | John Brunett

  2. Cool post! I would definitely be more likely to play a game if I knew it contributed to research. It seems like a really good way to get people involved in science and contribute to research in a fun, approachable way.

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