Gaming For Science Scores A Victory
Written by Kay Ewbank   
Friday, 19 August 2022

The guilty pleasure of playing a game when you're supposed to be working is one that is probably too well known, but the concept of gaming for science is allowing participants to play AND feel virtuous.

The idea is that people play a game and in doing so, carry out data analysis, advancing scientific research. Recent projects have investigated cancerous tumor identification and research into Alzheimer’s.


There are a number of companies turning research data analysis into a game to encourage public participation. If you think the idea sounds like it might be fun, SciStarter is an organization that helps people find volunteer opportunities that match topics they're curious or concerned about, and the SciStarter website has a collection of games that are all aimed at citizen science research in problem areas including malaria, tuberculosis and cancer.

One company specializing is this area is Balanced Media Technology. They couple machine-learning algorithms with human-guided interactions carried out through games. A recent Balanced game, Rocks & Runes, involves players shattering brightly-colored blocks in the pattern-matching game. The idea is that Eddie the time-bending Yeti loves shiny runestones, and you can boost the power of the magical runestones by destroying as many dull rocks as you can. When you collect runes in groups of three or more, you release their magic, and are given extended time to play. Behind the scenes, the data is used for cancer treatment research. The AI is used to make ineffective properties of known medical compounds appear less bright. Balanced says that by destroying the rocks, you’re boosting the overall projected effectiveness of new compounds and giving scientists the best opportunity to find new life-saving medicine in the fight against cancer.

In another recent game from the Human and Machine Intelligence Game Lab, Wiley Wizard, players fight ghosts in the arcade-style shooting game, but the players are actually identifying data from FDA-approved drug compounds to identify the combinations of medication that used together could help fight cancer.

Wiley Wizard illustrates the need for humans to work through the data. Chemotherapeutic co-medications for multi-drug resistant cancer are a potential way to increase the efficacy of chemothereputics. Because research into this area is relatively new, little data exists to identify good candidates from a cohort of existing drugs. Even with some eliminations/reductions, over 5 million potential co-medications need evaluation. The property analysis was broken into microtasks that are compatible for Human Computation Gaming (HCG) so players can manually look at two co-medication properties at a time. This was then converted into the Twin Stick Shooter HCG Wiley Wizard.



If you think the ideas sound interesting, check out the games on the SciStarter website. At least if you guiltily notice you've wasted the entire morning, you can feel a bit better by thinking you're helping vital scientific research.



More Information

SciStarter Website

Human and Machine Intelligence Game Lab

Balanced Media Technology

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