is a fascinating application of gamification that allows people to “solve puzzles for science”.  The website provides a protein-folding game that challenges players to help solve one of the “hardest problems in biology today” – figuring out the optimal structures for folding the myriad of proteins we have in our bodies.  Apparently, even super-computers have difficulty performing this task.  So, the University of Washington Center for Game Science turned this complex problem into a fun puzzle for people to solve in the comfort of their own homes.  This is a great example of a problem-solving activity that has the potential to be highly enjoyable in and of itself, but needed the right design and delivery mechanism to engage large numbers of people.


And the game is designed well.  Folding three-dimensional protein structures may sound like a herculean intellectual task, but by creating a game with simple rules and actions, immediate scoring and messages to inform players about the strength of each folding move, tools and resources players can acquire to enhance game-play, and progressive levels of difficulty – from dead simple to wildly complex – anyone, quite literally, can enjoy  And like many good gamified systems, incorporates a healthy level of competition through leader-boards as well as contests.

Mostly, however, we’re impressed with because it’s effective at accomplishing its objective: to obtain large amounts of data about possible protein structures without significant investment in computing power.  The more people who play, the more data are generated for research. This is a critical point, as any application of gamification should not only engage people in an activity, but do so in a way that produces the intended result.

For more about the game science behind, watch the video of Zoran Popovic’s TED talk: