It's long been debated whether video gaming experiences can translate into positive impacts in the real world. Could video game experiments be our answer to man's next big stepping stone?
Two Sundays ago, Nature Structural & Molecular Biology published a paper reviewing a game called Foldit. The online game was able to map a protein-cutting enzyme from an AIDS-like virus believed to be found in rhesus monkeys. Until now, the task of mapping this molecular structure proved to be puzzling scientists for many years.
Another well-intentioned project with great potential but, unfortunately, never took hold was ending global poverty with video games. In 2008, widely recognized non-profit Heifer International briefly launched a game called Heifer Village: Nepal. Their goal was to educate players about the lives of Nepalese villagers struggling to live in abject poverty. The game's goal was simply to survive: overcome poverty and hunger on a day to day basis. Possibly the biggest controversy surrounding such developments is the dehumanization of third world nations and its people in these situations.
Yet, it remains too early to judge gamers' potential for pushing societal progress. A browser game titled Planet Hunters sends players searching through Kepler public data for potential planets, and now university researchers are saying that we may discover two new exoplanets very soon. The online gaming experiment essentially allows players to observe light emitted by stars and track specific moments in time where light curves fluctuate.
The developing team is then subsequently able to use this collected data in their search. Different from working with a small team of scientists noting observations on over 150,000 stars, this citizen-driven project achieves maximum efficiency. To encourage and reward participants discovering new planets, the team is also recognizing individuals through the Royal Astronomical Society every month.
Just about after a month from its release, users have already successfully discovered two new potential exoplanets. If sustained, this initiative could evolve into a major asset in demonstrating how citizen-driven models can positively contribute to professional work currently left only to specialists.