Saturday, September 17, 2011

WoW for science

I found this talk by Jane McGonigal on the benefits of gaming quite inspiring (see also a more recent one). She makes a convincing point that after having spent about 10,000 hours playing online games during their youth (almost as much as they spend in school) gamers have acquired mad skillz and it would be nice to see this potential realize itself in the real world. She refers to the game "World of Warcraft" (WoW) as the "ideal collaborative problem-solving environment" (4:30) and I immediately thought this kind of platform should be used for scientific research. This would basically turn research into video game. Note that this isn't a very long stretch since the feeling of research can be as exciting as that of video game.
I have to say though that I don't know the first thing about WoW, except that you have to "pwn the noobs" and become a "leet king" (1337). Apparently, you are being assigned a mission matching the abilities of your avatar (orcs, trolls, dwarfs, paladin, etc.),  and you collaborate with hundreds of other players to achieve an "epic win". You get frequent feedback on your performance and your level increases.

Now imagine that instead of having to kill a dragon or whatever, the players are given actual unsolved scientific problems. Pretty cool, hu?

In fact, similar platforms already exists, most notably Tim Gowers' Polymath project, and it's also interesting to recall that in their early days the internet and the world wide web were inextricably linked to scientific research. The arXiv is a brilliant example. This all comes together in Michael Nielsen's promotion of open science. [Btw, all those TeD talks are so insufferably optimistic and well-intentioned!]
Maybe another site worth mentioning would be the Open Problem Garden.

That's more like a collection of hyperlinks than a proper reflection, but I'll leave it at that for now.

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