Ever imagined that your gaming addiction might help cure cancer? A new generation of computer games have been introduced that deal with citizen science. Citizen science games like Phylo, Foldit and Galaxy Zoo are called serious games, since they carry a serious goal: Providing scientific knowledge through play. This can help with research in topics from life-threatening diseases to decoding ancient manuscripts.
The game Phylo, for example, enables players to play with nucleotides of DNA which are represented by colored blocks. By moving them, the player’s goal is to align snippets of DNA from two different species (e.g. recent and previous ancestors). Players' input is necessary because the human brain can sort patterns more efficiently than computers (for now). The result from playing provides data about the most likely alignment. This solves the problem of having multiple alignment options, which algorithms do provide. This data is used by biological scientists to define which elements of genome are expressed as a specific characteristic, such as green eyes. This gives them a more specific direction in solving genetic disorders like diabetes or cancer.
A change is coming as gamers that play serious games turn into serious gamers. Although citizen science games are not the most attractive games for the common gamer to play at the moment, they still have great value. Over time these games will evolve, so one day you might be asked to win the battle for Middle Earth or clear enemies from dungeons to contribute to society’s safety. Future gamers be prepared: Duty calls!