In July, researchers asked the public for help in translating hundreds of thousands of ancient papyrus fragments in the Ancient Lives online project. On the Ancient Lives website, anyone can play a quick tutorial and then start identifying Greek characters in papyrus fragments.
Just a few days ago, gamers on the protein-folding game FoldIt solved a biological puzzle that had scientists completely baffled.
With the Internet and social media bringing large numbers of people together, there is a great opportunity for causes such as Ancient Lives and FoldIt. Games with a purpose, as these initiatives are sometimes called, harness the power of people to advance human knowledge. In return for lending our collective brainpower, we get the excitement of contributing to something meaningful and, ideally, we enjoy a fun game experience as well.
Have a free moment? Try one of these games with a purpose:
Zooniverse began in July 2007 with a single game and is now a collection of “citizen science” projects, including Ancient Lives. The site has a social aspect to keep you coming back for more. There are also several space exploration projects in their collection – will YOU find the next Super-Earth?
The games at gwap focus on Artificial Intelligence challenges such as computer vision and natural language processing. The results from the games are stored and used to make computers smarter.
In Phrase Detectives, you answer grammar questions to improve natural language processing for search engines. This site uses competition and prizes to encourage people to keep playing.
I’ve grouped these three games together based on similar game play and the common idea that the rules of nature are evaluating your performance.
Phylo: drag colored boxes left and right to vertically align like colors. Your score is based on the number of matches, mismatches, and gaps in the sequences. The purpose of the game is to help solve Multiple Sequence Alignment problems which can give clues to the source of genetic diseases.
FoldIt: fold proteins as compactly as possible. Keep hydrophilics and hydrophobics happy, and don’t let atoms collide. Deeper knowledge of protein structure and design will help understand and cure diseases.
EteRNA: match a provided RNA design by arranging nucleotides. Certain nucleotides stick to each other and that is when RNA will fold over on itself to create shapes. RNA is one of the building blocks of life and RNA design opens up exciting possibilities – from curing disease to creating powerful RNA-based machines and computers.
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Do you have a favorite game with a purpose? Please leave us a comment below.