I wrote this poster abstract up for an upcoming conference and thought it might be useful to share it here.  If it gets accepted, you can come see me (and my iPad stand) in person at USCD in September.  If not, well, you can read it here, play the games over there, and see me virtually anywhere.

genegames.org: High-throughput access to biological knowledge and reasoning through online games 

Games are emerging as a powerful organizational and motivational tactic throughout many areas of society.  Wherever people have a goal that they are having trouble reaching, be it getting their chores done [1], learning all the functions of Microsoft Visual studio [2], or finishing a 10K [3], many are finding success by posing the required tasks as elements of games.  Games can turn small units of work, that alone might seem boring, into fun steps taken towards a meaningful success.  In doing so, they can sometimes dramatically increase individuals’ chances of reaching their objectives.  The process of translating elements of non-game contexts (e.g. most traditional work, learning, exercise, etc.) into aspects of games is now known as ‘gamification’.

Gamification is now being used to meet a variety of scientific goals by serving as an effective way to organize and incentivise large-scale volunteer labor.  The protein-folding game Foldit was the first of a growing wave of applications of games in the context of biological research.  From this well-publicized [4] beginning in protein structure, we now have a variety of biological games about, for example, RNA structure design [5], multiple sequence alignment [6], and neural connectivity mapping [7].  In these games, players help advance scientific objectives by performing tasks that can not be completed successfully by computers alone.

At genegames.org we are exploring the use of games to access the knowledge and reasoning abilities of biologist players.  Through the gene annotation game ‘GenESP’, players can contribute their knowledge of gene function and disease relevance to a new kind of public gene annotation database.  In the ‘COMBO’ game, players help to identify biomarker gene sets that can be used to improve predictions of various complex human phenotypes.  The poster will provide details about the design of the games as well as preliminary results from ongoing experiments.  In addition, the game prototypes will run live during the conference allowing attendees to play and provide the developers with important feedback.

[1] http://www.chorewars.com/
[2] http://channel9.msdn.com/Blogs/C9team/Announcing-Visual-Studio-Achievements
[3] http://blog.triplepointpr.com/the-gamification-of-running
[4] http://genomebiology.com/2011/12/12/135
[5] http://eterna.cmu.edu/
[6] http://phylo.cs.mcgill.ca/
[7] https://eyewire.org/