When Researchers met Gamers

What if there were a way for actions taken in a video game to have real world consequences? When some people and organizations think of gaming-reality connections, thoughts lurch towards violent copycat acts (he learned that behavior from the game!), or decreased social interactions (those games are taking up all of her time). But some scientists are exploring ways for gamers to participate in their processes.

In short, we’re seeing the beginnings of crowd-sourced research.

It started with two European buddies: the Hungarian entrepreneur Atilla Szanter, and Bernard Revaz, a Swiss physics researcher. The two realized that gaming could edge humanity towards a more productive society if they could somehow convert seemingly inconsequential game interactions into meaningful real world action. And so was born Massively Multiplayer Online Science, a firm that matches game developers to scientists.

EVE Online presents itself as a perfect example. It’s a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) set in the farthest reaches of outer space, where hundreds of thousands of players connect and do battle on a terrifically expansive galactic scale. But now, gamers aren’t just dog fighting in sleek spacecraft— they’re assisting with the cataloging and encoding of (real) human proteins. This is possible via a game-within-a-game, where an otherwise unattractive activity is woven into the very fabric of the in-game universe. In the virtual world, players are performing a humanitarian service (and rewarded with virtual currency), but in real life, they are detecting patterns in biological cells. The data is given to researchers at the Human Protein Atlas, and makes an otherwise tiresome task among a select group of researchers engaging to a wider audience.

The process of making chore-like activities “fun” is not without its limits. Many of us learned as children that when we made “games” of cleaning our rooms or washing the dishes, we quickly tired of such mundane activity. However, as Simon Parker notes for The New Yorker, rote tasks are perfectly at home within the context of gaming. Often times, the biggest in-game achievements rely on a series of repetitive tasks that already rely on what feels like a laborious process. The term “grinding” refers to performing the same task over and over again for the sake of increasing a character’s abilities or strength. It’s not super-exciting, but the payoffs for players allows them to take on new worlds and challenges.

Further applications of this kind of crowd-sourced research remain to be seen, but it’s so far a pretty neat way to connect seemingly unrelated activities in the pursuit of a productive end goal.


Published by: Doug MacFaddin

Douglas Willis MacFaddin was born June 16, 1961 in the Miamisburg Hospital to Patricia Ann MacFaddin and Richard Willis MacFaddin. My mother’s maiden name is Morrison and she is the youngest of seven children who were raised in Lycippus, PA. My father was the second of four children and was a twin. He was raised in the town of Viola, DE. At the time of my birth, my father worked at the Mound Laboratories in Miamisburg, Ohio in research. Mound was an Atomic Energy Commission facility for nuclear weapon research during the Cold War. My mother made a home for our family. My father passed away in 1991 and my mother is currently living in Avon, CT. Doug MacFaddin is the oldest of five children (Doug, R. Stuart, Anne Marie, Megan and Mary (Heather)). I lived in Ohio for two years, spent the next seven years in Murrysville, PA (outside of Pittsburgh), moved to Little Silver, NJ and relocated my senior year in high school to Avon, CT. My four siblings currently live with their families in Avon, CT and are members of St. Ann’s Church. I attended Mother of Sorrows School in Murrysville, PA. In NJ, I attended Little Silver Point Road School, Markham Place School and Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) in Lincroft, NJ for three years. My senior year, I attended Avon High School and I then spent the next four years at Union College, Schenectady, NY. I received a BS in Industrial Economics and graduated in June 1983. While at Salomon Brothers, I was asked to attend a two-week seminar for Public Finance at the University of Michigan in 1986. In Little Silver, I was involved in Troop 126 where I achieved the rank of Life Scout and was both a Patrol Leader and a Senior Patrol Leader. I also was an alter boy at St. James Catholic Church and spent summers a the Ship Ahoy Beach Club in Seabright, NJ and caddying at the Rumson Country Club. At Christian Brothers Academy, I wrestled for the varsity squad for three years. I took second in the districts my junior year and went on to the regionals. I also ran on their cross country team freshman year and was part of the CBA Colt team that hasn’t lost a duel meet since 1973. My senior year at Avon, I won the wrestling States (S). I went on to wrestle at Union College and qualified for the Div III nationals twice (1981, 1982) and was co-captain both years. My senior year at Avon, CT, I also won the States (S) in pole vaulting. It was the first time Avon High School had a state champ in two sports in the same year. During my four years, I earned nine varsity letters between wrestling, track and football. In 1979, I was accepted into The National Honor & Merit Scholars Society. Upon graduating from Union College, I accepted a position at Salomon Brothers Inc in August 1983. I was an analyst in their Public Finance department at One New York Plaza. I lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn and spent the next four years working at Salomon Brothers. As a result of Black Monday, October 19, 1987 the Public Finance Department of Salomon Brothers was jettisoned to conserve capital. By November 1, 1987, I was working at Dean Witter Reynolds in the new Public Finance Department made up of many of my former Salomon Brother’s colleagues. The new Department was located on the 57th floor of 2 World Trade Center.

Categories Video GamesTags, , , Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s