Gamers are great. I’m not just saying that because my fiance and I are gamers, I swear (riiiight). Gamers are great because of their dedication, persistence, and loyalty – and now, scientists are taking advantage of those qualities to get gamers to do science from home. EVE Online is a space-based MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing game) that, if you like World of Warcraft, No Man’s Sky, or doing your own taxes, you’ll really enjoy. My fiance tells me that it’s basically ‘multiplayer spreadsheets’ with trading, pirates, industry, and more. And part of that more is SCIENCE.
Swiss company Massively Multiplayer Online Science (MMOS) and students of Reykjavik University worked with CCP (the company behind EVE) to create a minigame where players help classify images for the Human Protein Atlas. The Human Protein Atlas is a project aiming to map out protein distribution throughout the human body; this would give scientists everywhere a greater understanding of how our bodies work normally, and what happens when they don’t function as planned.
The minigame is pretty simple in concept, though it shows just how close some scientific calls can be. The game gives you the image on the left with red stains for the cytoskeleton, blue for the nucleus, and green for the protein of interest. You can toggle on or off any of these colors to get a better look at different parts of the image. Then, you select the pattern of protein distribution and where you see it, using the hexagons on the right. There’s a nifty tutorial for everyone to get the hang of it, and you get in game rewards for participating – including The Sisters of Eve Combat Armour and Analysis Coat, and other items that you can then sell for in-game cash.
This is citizen science at it’s finest – harnessing the power of our collective free time to help complete truly massive scientific undertakings. The science adds yet another layer of game play for dedicated EVE players and in return uses the free labor, disguised as fun, to chip away at dense scientific projects. What’s more, there’s a decent bit of cellular biology involved in taking on this project – I would bet that players are learning a lot about the structures in a cell from playing this minigame and, to me, it seemed like it would make a fun review activity for high school biology classes.
If you can’t get enough of science and just need to do it from home, or if you think this project is visionary and you want to try it out, you can sign up for a free trial here. My fiance tells me that players who are dedicated to EVE (notably, himself) are able to make enough in-game money to not pay real dollars for their gaming experience, and that’s a win for everyone.