July 01, 2008

Gamers ought to do SomethingWorthwhile

So I have a lot of friends who are gamers. They play games in their free time (which they have in abundance, much to my dismay) as a way to... avoid boredom, I suppose. Entertainment is an important "virtue" in today's commercialism-driven society.

Some of them play World of Warcraft. It's a role-playing game where you play a fantasy character like an elf, orc or minotaur and you run around and kill things, take their loot, get powerful gear and new nifty skills. It might sound like I'm disparaging this game, but I really like these sorts of games. I play D&D a lot. It operates on the same principles and I've often converted action sequences in movies directly into game terms.

Take the latest Indiana Jones movie for example. There's an action sequence where Indiana Jones hears a countdown after visiting a surreal little town only realize that he's in the epicenter of an atomic bomb test... and he has less than a minute to find a place to go. Hurriedly, he rushes around the house, jumps inside a lead-lined refridgerator and gets blasted like a piece of shrapnel away from the explosion. The fridge tumbles on the ground and he falls out. Climbing the hill, a huge mushroom cloud blooms up, silouetting him in the desert landscape. I was very excited by this totally impossible scene, because it makes total sense from a gaming perspective. If you throw a character into a deadly scenario, there's always a way out. Since he's a lucky sort of fellow, he made a reflex saving throw and he's got evasion so he took practically NO damage from this explosion!!!!!

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that RPGs are a way of sharing structured dreams/fantasies/stories with your friends, be it on TV, your computer or in the theater. SecondLife has found some surprising ways of being useful in Real Life:
People can have virtual conferences with each other.
Crippled patients can experience walking and enjoy easy mobility.
People can exercise as they traverse a virtual world.
People with anxiety disorders and social phobias can interact with others in a safe environment.


I know some people who like to play Pokemon. They know a bunch of random information about the statistics of Jigglypuff or Jujubee or whatever cutesy names are in the game. Each monster has a set of abilities that allow it to fight effectively against a certain foe. There are magazines dedicated to the constant updates to the card game that outline the latest strategies! People pay money to memorize random useless facts about imaginary foes battling each other?!?!?

Shoot, if people spent even a fraction of this effort learning something remotely useful during their entertainment, they'd be set! I propose that Microorganisms be introduced to the world of Pokemon. Instead of Pikachu, kids could learn about the Influenza virus and it's ability to have genetic drift and genetic shift-- requiring new flu shots every year and terrifying people with the possibility of a deadly new epidemic. Then they'd be learning about REAL monsters.


People sit around and play Solitaire or Minesweeper on their computers all day at work. Why not do something constructive with your mindless puzzle gaming?

Researchers at the University of Washington came up with the idea of combining protein folding scoring and gaming... and put together a puzzle game called FoldIt!

Medgadget shares a little story about the genesis of FoldIt:

Predicting the shapes that natural proteins will take is one of the preeminent
challenges in biology, and modeling even a small protein requires making
trillions of calculations. Over the last three years, volunteers around the
globe — now numbering about 200,000— have donated their computer down-time to
performing those calculations in a distributed network called Rosetta@home.... With the inherent fun of
competition, Salesin thought a multiplayer online game was the way to go.... One
match between teams from the University of California and the University of
Illinois aroused unexpected fervor and cheering among spectators. “30 or 40
people participated,” says Baker. “The competition was very
“Foldit” takes players through a series of practice levels designed
to teach the basics of protein folding, before turning them loose on real
proteins from nature. “Our main goal was to make sure that anyone could do it,
even if they didn't know what biochemistry or protein folding was,” says
Popovic. At the moment, the game only uses proteins whose three-dimensional
structures have been solved by researchers. But, says Popovic, “soon we'll be
introducing puzzles for which we don't know the solution.”

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