“Obsessive gamers’ hours at the computer have now topped scientists’ efforts to improve a model enzyme, in the first crowdsourced redesign of a protein. The online game Foldit allows players to fiddle at folding proteins on their home computers in search of the best-scoring (lowest-energy) configurations. By posing a series of puzzles to Foldit players and then testing variations on the players’ best designs in the lab, researchers have created an enzyme with more than 18-fold higher activity than the original.” (link)
This particular use of gamers and crowd-sourcing is fascinating. However, I suspect it barely scratches the surface of what is possible. I wonder if online gaming crowds can be harnessed for other types of work in other fields?
Economics, for example. One of the problems of economics is the difficulty of simulating the actions of many intelligent actors. What are online gamers if not a ready supply of such “intelligent actors”? By setting up a series of multiplayer economics games and recording all the ensuing data, I wonder if you could learn something useful.
Or perhaps you could further education by creating a game in which educators compete to write the clearest tutorials. If integrated into a larger system (such as that being worked on by Khan Academy) you could not only rate tutorials in terms of student satisfaction but also in terms of actual student success on ensuing questions.
I am optimistic about the power of games and game design to increasingly help solve difficult problems.