Gaming for Science

This post is about science games. I don't necessarily want to encourage anyone to spend more time playing computer games (and these particular games do take a lot time) but... these games are for a good cause. If you're good, you can help in making scientific advances, whether you are a scientist or not. For example, through Foldit, non-scientist players have gotten their names into scientific articles. And of course, if you do study science, these games can also help you learn (about protein folding, neurons, DNA sequence alignment and RNA folding), playing is actually a good way of learning. If you get interested and want to try these games, it's best to start with just one game and try to advance in it before trying another one. I got introduced to Foldit last Autumn during a university course and liked it a lot. And I found out about the three other games through Foldit.  

Foldit

Goal of playing: Making a better protein folding than the computer would. 

You have to download the game. The tutorials will take some hours to complete. You don't need previous knowledge about protein folding because the tutorials will teach you. After the tutorials you can move on to the actual puzzles: beginner ones and the more demanding ones. When folding a protein, you see your score and your rank so you'll know if you're going wrong and can go back to an earlier phase.

Fold It protein folding game

Eyewire

 Goal of playing: Mapping brain neurons.

Web browser game. Kind of like a 3D coloring book. But you have to be really careful to stay inside the lines. No previous knowledge about nerve cells is needed. Besides the tutorials, you can find hints about neuron shapes etc. in the forums. After the tutorials, you will not see any score during a game because the correct solution is not known. Your quality-% will be updated later when the consensus map of those cubes is known after more people have completed the same cubes. 

Eyewire neuron mapping game

Phylo

Goal of playing: Make a better DNA multiple sequence alignment than the computer would.

Web browser game. There's a short tutorial to introduce you to sequence alignment and the rules of the game. Then you can go on to playing the easy games in the classic interface. After completing 20 of those, you can move on to the expert edition for larger alignments. You can also try to improve someone else's solution. If you want to, you can choose puzzles based on what type of disease they're related to. 
  Phylo sequence alignment game

EteRNA

Goal of playing: Design RNA sequences that will acquire certain folds.

Web browser game. Again, no previous knowledge about RNA pairing and folding necessary. The tutorials will teach you the basics and you can find more hints in the strategy guides. The easiest tutorials and games are fast to complete so this game is easier to start than Foldit or Eyewire. By completing enough tutorial games, you gain access to the RNA Lab. The idea of the RNA Lab is again to design RNA sequences that will acquire asked folds, but the solutions are not that simple. Some of the designs will be synthesized and tested to see if they in fact do fold correctly. 

EteRNA RNA folding game


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