Are You Game?

Practicing for citizen science games? Photo by Gamesingear via Wikimedia Commons.

So… and be honest now… have you gotten sucked into one of these games like Candy Crush, or Farmville, or Mafia Wars?

And have you ever felt maybe a little bit guilty about it afterward? Wished they weren’t quite so mindless and yet so darned addictive?

Not to worry. Not only are you not alone in this regard—estimates for 2013 suggested there would be 80.3 million social network users playing games at least once per month and another 125.9 million mobile phone gamers—but there's a way to put your video game habit to work for a good cause: citizen science.

The latest game to come out is called “Play to Cure: Genes in Space.” Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to collect a substance called “Element Alpha,” where the Alpha is actually genetic cancer data.

Unlike other citizen science games, which play like puzzles, this one plays a bit like a strategy game and a bit like a first person shooter. You first map your path through the Element Alpha field that you’re assigned by drawing lines through the densest areas, and then you actually fly through it with your space ship, blasting your way through asteroids. As you progress, you can upgrade your ship to level up, which allows you to pick up more Alpha, and on it goes.

What you’re really doing, of course, is helping researchers analyze large amounts of genetic data quickly. The information will then be used to develop new treatments for cancer.

The game is available for iOS through the iTunes app store or for Android at Google Play. The game is free, of course; if you want to learn more about how it was developed, there's a YouTube video available here. Have fun!

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Chandra Clarke is a Webby Honoree-winning blogger, a highly successful entrepreneur, and an author. Her book Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science is available at Amazon. You can reach her at chandraclarke [at] gmail dot com.