You may have seen something similar to this headline on September 19th: “Gamers Solve Molecular Puzzle That Baffled Scientists“.
This was a case where scientists, stumped for over a DECADE while trying to understand the molecular structure of a protein-cutting enzyme found in the AIDS virus, enlisted the help of groups of gamers by creating an online game called “Foldit“, designed to discover the structure.
The result? The structure was figured out in 10 days by a winning team of gamers–involved in what is called citizen science — “a burgeoning field that enlists Internet users to look for alien planets, decipher ancient texts and do other scientific tasks that sheer computer power can’t accomplish as easily.”
Take another example, “Spent“. Spent is a game which simulates how life would be living on $9 an hour. Think you could do it? Go give it a try. It’s harder than you might think. It presents real life financial decisions and dilemmas like whether to buy dental or health insurance, whether to rent out your couch to a late-night partying friend who needs a place to crash, or whether you should pay an overdue bill. Not only do you learn what it is like, but you are taught financial lessons along the way.
It is no doubt that gaming has invaded almost every part of our life. But these examples show how USEFUL games can be in solving problems, creating understanding, and teaching life skills.
How far will this go? Will we be able to use games to figure out solutions for Social Security? Will a game utilizing a real life financial model, complete with tariffs, international trade agreements, and taxes be used to solve our nation’s debt crisis?
Who knows. But I’m excited to see what it can do.