Gamification – WTF or FTW?

9 12 2011

You may recently have seen this article or the many articles like it, on how gamers solved a puzzle regarding the shape of an AIDS-related enzyme (above) that had stumped scientists for years. The enzyme is believed to be part of the transmission process of the AIDS virus (or a similar animal virus) – knowing the shape of the enzyme means scientists can work on how to block it, hence this may be an important part of the puzzle for finding an AIDS cure or vaccine.

It took the gamers less than ten days to solve the puzzle.

So how did this happen? The scientists knew what made up the protein, but they didn’t know how the pieces fitted together and what shape they formed, an important factor in the functioning of proteins. The scientists, we can assume, were equally motivated to solve the problem, highly educated in the ways of atoms and molecules. The scientists also had computers that could turn the puzzle over and over – and even the computers couldn’t solve the problem. How did gamers do what scientists and computers couldn’t?

The answer is basic human nature. What the scientists did was make the puzzle into a game. They knew it had to be fun. They attached a points-based reward system. They set up the game so that users could collaborate or build on each others’ work. And then they set it free!

The gamers, motivated by the challenge, the fun and the reward system, worked together and competed against one another. And of course, the human brain is better at solving spatial problems than computers.

So gaming – stereotypically seen as non-productive and somewhat addictive technology – turns out to have application in the “real” world. And of course a multi-syllabic word has been invented to describe this turning of boring or non-entertaining problems into games: gamification.

Gamification is increasingly finding more and more application in the real world. Wikipedia suggests the following list of uses, some productive, some less so:

– Employee training programs
– Education (repetition is good for learning, but currently many educational games are BORING!)
– Project management
– Financial services websites
– Healthcare and wellness

– scientific problems
– engineering problems

– loyalty programs
– online shopping experiences

Membership and recruiting
– attracting new memberships
– religious
– cult or terror organisations
– I believe the US Armed Forces already use games as a recruiting tool

Gamification has many potential uses, through harnessing our innate natures to seek entertainment and continue behaviours that result in reward. The only proviso is that the program / puzzle / game needs to be set up properly to achieve the aim. If the scientists hadn’t already known the molecules that made up the enzyme, and programmed in the ways that the molecules interacted with each other, into the program, the gamers would not have been able to come up with the meaningful result.

So scientists of the world can breathe a sigh of relief. Gamers are not taking over your jobs, they are just the latest tool in your tool belt. Your knowledge is still needed to ask the questions.

And without the right questions, you can’t get the right answer.


Reasons I should be allowed to eat what I want.

19 10 2011

photo credit: Magic Madzik

We are bombarded on a daily basis with messages about healthy eating – what we should eat, what we should eat more of, what we should eat less of, what we shouldn’t eat at all. A confusingly, sometimes these lists seem to coincide, so I am tole that coffee is bad for blood pressure, cancer etc, but apparently reduces the risk of stroke, heart attack and depression in women. Ditto for chocolate and red wine. Each new study seems to come out with another recommendation. I just can’t keep track of them all.

How does a sane person decide on a reasonable diet? I have decided to ignore all studies and go back to basics. Fruit and vegetables are good for you. Proteins are good for you. I don’t think there is any dispute about this. So here are the reasons I should be allowed to eat what I like:

1. sugar : sugar is made from sugar cane, which is a grass. Therefore it is a vegetable.
2. cheese : made from milk which contains calcium, proteins and various vitamins. Calcium is good for bones and teeth.
3. chocolate: chocolate is a real winner. Made from cocoa beans (a legume), milk (as above) and sugar (as above)
4. wine: made from grapes, a fruit, and yeast, a protein.
5. breads, crackers, biscuits and cakes : made from wheat (more grasses) and yeast (protein). Cakes and biscuits often have sugar and eggs in them as well – more good things!
6. coffee: yes, coffee. Made from coffee beans. More legumes! Plus, you may consume your coffee with sugar and milk, thereby adding another vegetable serve, calcium and protein.

These are really the staples of life – aren’t they? The new six food groups, instead of five? But in the interest of opening up other food options, I will add a few more.

7. Chips: made from potato – a vegetable. (This goes for crisps as well.) Chips with tomato sauce therefore count as both a vegetable and fruit serving. Finally – fruit and veg the children will eat without complaining!
8. Pizza: well it has been ewll known that pizza is the healthiest of all fast foods. Based on bread (grain / grass), tomato sauce (fruit), cheese (for the calcium and protein) then a variety of vegetables and fruits such as capsicum, onion, olives. And maybe some meat (more protein)
9. Hamburger: so along the same lines, hamburgers have bread, meat, vegetables such as lettuce and onion, fruit such as tomato and sometimes tomato sauce as well.
10. Butter: to round it out to ten, and because what would bread be without butter? and jam (a fruit)? Butter is made from the cream in milk, therefore it contains calcium, proteins and vitamins.

I’ve almost convinced myself!

DISCLAIMER : This should not be taken as serious medical or dietary advice. And PLEASE don’t let my doctor see this posting!

If you liked this post you might also like 12,000 steps, Chocolate and Red Wine and Reasons I should be exercising