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23.11.2021
How Game Mechanics Are Changing Science
In the off days from October 30 to November 7, the Russian society "Znanie" held a marathon, which in the mode of constant online broadcasting offered to spend time with benefit and learn a lot of new things from a variety of fields.

Mikhail Pimenov, director of educational programs development at the Faculty of Game Industry and Esports, took part in the marathon "At home with Knowledge," which was devoted to history, science, IT, medicine, the games industry, and other areas. The marathon included lectures, debates, and live broadcasts.

In the track "Game Technologies That Change Science," Mikhail talked about how Citizen Science is helping to collect big data with game mechanics, discover new planetary systems, and help fight cancer and Covid-19. Watch the full video here: https://vk.com/video-135454514_456240034

And we, in turn, publish a detailed transcript, with lots of interesting facts, including some that didn't make it on the air.
The idea that games can help scientific research already sounds like science fiction in itself, but if you think about it, science has gone hand in hand with games since the beginning. It was at universities that the first games appeared. The Spacewar was made at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) on the PDP-1 computer and displayed the image on an oscilloscope and, if you dig even further, you can go all the way back to 1947. At that time, Alan Turing wrote a program for playing chess. Since then, the game industry has changed a lot - game mechanics have evolved greatly, games have become more complex, more technologically advanced, and over time there have been those that began to be purposefully designed to help with research. As both the computing power of user PCs increased and as the web developed, Citizen Science projects emerged on the video game scene, with development continuing to this day.

There are now hundreds of such games. In addition, it is not uncommon for a project, having accomplished a certain task, to close or be reworked for new ones - most often in the fields of psychology, medicine, biology, physics, and space studies.
Project Discovery is a minigame that, in turn, is part of EVE Online, a popular online multiplayer game with a complex economy, numerous clans, and a space fleet that seeks to explore the uncharted expanses of the universe. Its audience's thirst for discovery was perfectly suited to the integration of game mechanics, the essence of which lies in the analysis of data with the help of special tracking tools. Through an excellent simulation of the research process, players helped scientists understand how the coronavirus affects the human immune system. Players simply draw polygons around different clusters of cells using the game's interface and thereby help study the information gathered about COVID-19.
EVE Online fans have saved doctors more than 330 years of work on mining information about the new disease, and it's already a big result, which is a significant aid in the study of the disease. A total of 327 thousand players took part in Project Discovery, and the project itself won the Webby Awards in the "People's Voice" category for active support in the fight against COVID-19 - the award, which is given annually to the best Internet projects.
Another example is Borderlands Science, a project from the research group The Microsetta Initiative, a community organization Massively Multiplayer Online Science, and McGill University in Canada. This project is a puzzle to line up identical blocks, which are actually organic compounds - nucleotides. The simple mechanics of solving the puzzles are designed to help identify gaps in the researchers' dataset and speed up research on the human gut microflora. For successful results, the game accrues in-game currency, which can be spent on cosmetic improvements in Borderlands 3. It is pleasant for the players, and there are already tangible results - in just a month the efforts of the community have been solved more than 36 million such puzzles.
Could such video game integrations be of interest on the game development side? Absolutely, but at the moment, this request comes more from the side of science. The video game industry is primarily about interactive entertainment, just like the music and movie industries. Now, it is a business of big corporations and conglomerates, where creativity is pushed aside by marketing plans, ROI, KPIs, and other scary words from the calculating world of orderly cash flows.

The spirit of risk-taking and bold ideas still smolder somewhere in the brave hearts of independent teams and developers, but their funding is much more difficult and, more often than not, much more modest. Grants and various subsidies from states and foundations can interest some and help others. For example, Project Discovery is funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research program.

While the space simulator EVE Online quite accurately creates a sense of flying to the far corners of the universe and the conquest of planetary systems, the project Planet Hunters, presented by a group of astronomers from the University of Warwick, allows discovering quite existing. Right on the site, users view images of data collected by NASA's Kepler space mission. All you have to do is simply sort through the images, tracking how a star's brightness changes over time. It may not be as dynamic as traveling through virtual space inside a popular game, but more than 100 new planetary systems have already been discovered by Planet Hunters volunteers, and the developers have already said on the project's official page that they are excited to find even more with TESS data.

There is another good example directly related to space exploration - Kerbal Space Program, a space game on PC developed and published by Squad. KSP belongs to the genre of true space simulators, and its developers cooperate on the path of aerospace, engineering, and science with NASA and SpaceX. Squad is now working with TeacherGaming and NASA to explore its educational applications, with the KerbalEdu project adapting the game for educational purposes and introducing it into dozens of schools.
As the name implies, Play to Cure: Genes in Space from Cancer Research UK is another game in the space setting, only this time it's not about exploring space itself and the objects associated with it, but about fighting cancer. In it, players map their routes as they fly through space, collecting a fictional substance (the so-called Alpha element) and use the in-game currency to improve their ship. Their actions help scientists identify patterns in the gigabytes of genetic information of thousands of tumors.
Genes in Space was a worldwide hit: the game was downloaded more than 400,000 times and was widely covered in the press. Thanks to the players, about 5,000,000 data fragments were collected and analyzed - the complete genomes of 1980 patients, the accuracy of each of which was verified 50 times.

The use of game mechanics makes the process a priori more interesting and allows for player involvement - passing levels, achievement systems, etc. For many, it's also a way to get involved, as well as an opportunity to contribute to what we now call nothing less than Citizen Science - users take fairly simple actions that have a direct impact on research. The developers purposely make the entry threshold low so that most people can quickly figure out such mechanics and quickly become part of the uncomplicated gameplay: by comparing images, highlighting a particular area, or flying through targets, players feel the significance of what they are doing. Their actions also make such explorations more accurate. The AI and neural networks then learn from their actions, approaching more accurate data in their results.

Players are a great help with big data processing, but the real revolution in computing power will come with the arrival of quantum computers. The fact is that a normal computer operates with only one state. A quantum computer... It has as many possible states as 2 to the power of how many qubits are in it. If it has 10 qubits, it is in 1024 states at the same time, and if it has only 300, it has 2 to the 300th power. Although it's hard to imagine, that number is already greater than the number of atoms in the entire universe. According to the roadmap for the development of its quantum computers, which IBM presented in 2020, by 2023, there will already be a QC with a 1,121-qubit processor. The company's long-term goal is to create a million-qubit quantum system. As of 2021, IBM has launched the first Q System One and, so far, it is the most powerful commercial quantum computer in Europe. It has a 27 qubit processor on board and is located in Germany.

In China, too, there is a consumer solution - QC, which is comparable in size to the home PC in 2021 presented the startup Shenzhen SpinQ Technology. It costs $5,000 per computer and was originally designed for schools and colleges. This QC so far has only two qubits that the system can operate.

For the rest, development is now underway on both cloud computing solutions and devices that can reach the mass market. It will most likely happen not so soon and not at a price that would be pleasing to the eye - most likely not before the early 2030s. We can only rely on the players here, too, to help bring that date as close to today as possible.
In this, research based on the Quantum Moves game just might come in handy. Physicists from Aarhus University have developed game mechanics, the essence of which again is nothing complicated - at the beginning of the level a liquid substance, which plays the role of an atom in the game, is in a recess located in some part of the screen. The player needs to create another similar cavity and move as much of the liquid substance as possible from the initial cavity by controlling it. In fact, this liquid is nothing but atoms, whose data is tracked in the course of the game.
There are as many opportunities to develop game projects or become part of the game industry as there have ever been. Even specialized education, which in the West has long been an understandable phenomenon and an accepted story in the academic system. This year Black Caviar Games launched Game Jam with the prize fund of about 1 million 300 thousand rubles, which also included educational grants from the Department of Game Industry and Esports and our students took part in its organization.

This is a good story that allows you to find like-minded people, try your hand at it, or take the first step toward building a professional career in the game industry. In connection with the global pandemic and lockdown, various online courses also received a strong boost - based on our practice, it is now obvious that the distance form of education has become in demand, and the platforms that are focused on it have made a solid leap.

Among the latest trends now continues to be the sphere of eSports. For example, this year, we launched a college within the faculty and showed an enrollment that exceeded all our expectations. The success of the development of both the sphere of profile education and achievements in eSports in the world are not left without attention at the highest levels, so the influx of investment and the emergence of new teams and companies are now just a matter of time. Even a greater development is Cloud-gaming - the ability to move the whole technical part to a remote server and leave only the screen, input device, and a connection to the Internet. This technology is already actively entering the mass market and can bring big breakthroughs in the segment of multiplayer games, as well as in the general technological level of gaming projects.

Anyone can now become part of citizen science projects and bring scientific achievements closer. To do so, it is enough to go to any of the portals at the links below and make your own contribution to new discoveries, the study of current problems, and technologies that will help make our world a better place.

https://www.cancerresearchuk.org
https://www.zooniverse.org/get-involved
https://www.scienceathome.org
The Russian society "Znanie" is a public non-profit organization that carries out educational work in the regions, forming intellectual content, organizing and conducting free lectures, as well as a variety of activities in the field of education, social support, and social protection of students and pupils of educational institutions and the elderly. Today, it is an organization that unites tens of thousands of representatives of the Russian intelligentsia.

Regional branches of the "Znanie" society operate in 85 subjects of the Russian Federation - republics, territories, and regions.