Crowdsourcing Games Focus of Study

Posted on: November 26, 2013

casey-odonnel3Crowdsourcing, a term first coined in June 2006 where large groups of people come together to help solve a common problem and which is responsible for the success of Wikipedia, has started to be used by biochemists to solve scientific problems. One Media and Informationfaculty member is now studying how biochemists are using this research tool.

Casey O'Donnell, Assistant Professor in the Media and Informationdepartment, received a two-year, $156,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to examine how collaborative games and puzzles are being used to solve problems in biochemistry and molecular genetics.

"The grant is really to try to unpack what is going on with crowdsourcing science and why games have been the focus," O'Donnell said.

Two crowdsourcing games, FoldIt and EteRNA, that simulate protein and RNA folding are the focus of O'Donnell's research. These games harness the knowledge of crowds to decipher the three-dimensional structure of a protein or a nucleic acid.

The primary goal of the research is to examine the socio-technical architecture of FoldIt and EteRNA to gain new knowledge about the processes of crowd knowledge and scientific discovery in networked computer-gaming platforms.

"This research is important because large numbers of players are collaborating to solve very complex problems through games. It isn't simple, but it is a very different kind of science and we need to understand the broader implications," O'Donnell said.

The results of the study have the potential to contribute to fields of communication, information studies and game studies in its theorizing about computer-mediated communication, the politics of platforms, and the role of gaming systems in biochemical research endeavors. The findings also may be used by game designers and scientists in the development and design of future crowd-science collaborative game platforms.

"By using games and players to solve scientific problems, we have shifted how science operates, and this research seeks to better understand the implications of those changes," O'Donnell said.

O'Donnell is working on the project with Hector Postigo, Associate Professor of Media Studies and Production at Temple University's School of Media and Communication.

"The research is primarily being conducted online and in person through a combination of virtual and traditional ethnographic methods. Participant observation, interviews and game play analysis are the primary data sources," O'Donnell said.

O'Donnell is associated with the Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab where innovative prototypes, techniques and complete games are designed for entertainment and learning. The GEL Lab's research is aimed at advancing the knowledge about social and individual effects of digital games. The lab, located within the College of Communication Arts & Sciences (CAS) Building, is comprised of game research and design faculty and students at MSU, primarily in CAS.

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