Gamification of protein folding… humans outsourcing supercomputers

http://consideronline.org/2012/02/13/play-a-game-find-a-cure-for-alzheimers-disease/

Hey guys, last week, I wrote a blog on the Consider website about how gamification can play a role in creating novel protein crystal structures. This translates into “they can help cure diseases” in non-science English. As I explain in greater detail in the blog post, this is achieved by combining a large user base and getting them interested in a computer game which allows for protein folding simulation. This simulation is then used as folding algorithms on other better computers.

What this does is put gaming to ACTUAL use. That’s right, by playing a game, you could help a research group figure out the structure of their molecules of interest. This could eventually lead to more timely drug development and efficient cloud computing.

Check out the program here: http://fold.it

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Ambiance Up, Music Down

Click the play button below to listen while you read.

Listening to the sounds above may help aid synthesis of the following text (No video to watch).

I like immersion in games. In World of Warcraft, you were allowed to adjust audio sliders for music, ambiance, and combat/interface sounds. One of my favorite things to do would be to slide everything down except for the sounds of my character and the ambient sounds of the game world. It made the game feel much more satisfying as an emulation of reality (ignoring the fact that WoW’s art style is heavily stylized on purpose). There were wondrous environments to explore there, aided by the sounds of crickets, birds, tumbling wood, sand storms, or rainfall. One of my favorite parts of this was how it gave the game more emotion by removing noise, instead of adding it.

Life is often silent, and I can remember many occasions being alone in some thick forest, casting out the reel of my fishing line, and just listening to the hum of the developer’s vision. It’s art unlike any other. I think I could appreciate it in a big way because I also liked camping, hiking, and exploring. The game allowed you to experience that sense of exploration; most importantly, it still let a feeling of wonder fall on you, as though you were exploring it yourself.

There’s something to be said about the desire to make games more life-like. By making a playable environment with elements of reality, you’re essentially removing the physical or mental work that goes along with attaining those experiences while still providing the feelings of being there. Some games succeed at this more than others, usually with role-playing games capping the top of the list. Other times, fans have modified games that already contain elements of exploration in order to make the visual experience more pleasurable for the user.

Below are two such examples of fan-made realism (click the images for larger pictures). The left picture is from the Grand Theft Auto 4 (GTA4) realism mod (link). The picture on the right is for a realistic Minecraft mod (link).

GTA4 Realism Mod   Minecraft Realism Mod

These games, and others that try to further immerse the player, are quite different in their original intents. GTA4 is a triple-A title about a man involved in gangs, violence, and money in a fictional city based on New York. Minecraft is an indie-made pseudo-dungeon crawler about gathering resources and building up your environment. Both of these games excel in turning the environment into a living world where the user is able to connect with people, places, and emotions.

Turning up the ambiance isn’t the only way to experience a game in more depth. It just serves as a lesson in that direction. Turning down the music can often even detract (i.e. don’t take the title as law). Trying to connect more closely to a game is something I would suggest to everyone at least once. It’s similar to the way you can get lost in a good novel or start crying during a compelling movie. Yet, it’s so much more experiential due to the medium. Experiencing a world, virtual or otherwise, in a new way is a great way to see life from a different perspective and to reflect on what it is about reality or virtual worlds that truly resonates with you.

BioShock Infinite – Taking us back to 1912 (when it’s released, that is)

http://www.1up.com/previews/irrational-games-project-icarus-finally

A while ago, 1up.com featured an article previewing the next BioShock game, which hits shelves sometime next year. I don’t think I have ever looked as forward to a game’s release as much as I am with Infinite. I loved the first BioShock; I couldn’t turn the game off for an entire week. I mean, the game is legit from head to toe: the sheer beauty of the graphics, the interactive environments, the morality system and how it functioned with the game play, the music, the propaganda playing over the radio, the incredible story of Rapture; of course, I appreciated all of these things in an instant.

But out of all these things, what captivated me the most, by far, was the setting of the game. I loved that it was set in a 1960s alternate universe and how well the era is captured in the city. Absolutely everything from the music to the decor of each room reflected the 1950s/1960s. At this point in the gaming industry, I love how well developers are able to recreate historical eras for the gamer to explore (Red Dead Redemption anyone?). Seeing a movie or reading a book that is set in the past is one thing. Exploring that past in a video game is quite another.

And this is why I am looking forward so much to playing Infinite. I can’t wait to see how the culture of the 1900s is going to be reflected in the floating city of Columbia. I absolutely can’t wait to see how the sentiment of the era is going to pervade the story and setting. The US is almost 100 years removed from 1912. It is so easy to get caught up with current events, forgetting about the things that once swept the nation. What was cool about the first game was its ideals and how it would introduce social and economic philosophy that represented the era. And it sounds like Infinite will be the same way, but it will be more about the period this time instead of a person. Ken Levine, one of the masterminds behind the series, sums up what the experience should be like:

We wouldn’t recognize America in 1880. America was an agricultural backwater. It was agrarian. It was not really a player in the world stage. We’d gone through the Civil War, where 620,000 Americans died. Think about that. That’s like today, if six million Americans were killed in a war. This was not a country interested in imperialism. But by 1900… we weren’t a small agrarian country anymore. We weren’t producing wheat and cattle — we were producing radios, motion pictures, cars. We were producing way more than we could consume. And you know what we needed? We needed markets. And we looked to the East, we looked to Asia, and we saw a great open path to all of Asia for us, and that was the Philippines. It had just thrown off the Spanish, and there was a lot of conflict about, ‘should we annex the Philippines?’ President McKinley… at first didn’t want to. He had been through the Civil War…He had seen what happens in war. And he thought about it a long time, and finally he made his decision… that decision is glossed over… ignored in most U.S. history books: We did annex the Philippines. This is the world Columbia enters into: The time when we took the Philippines. Where we killed [around] 1 million Filipinos…

I can’t wait to appreciate a past era of my country. And I am grateful I will be able to do so through a video game.

Videogames in every aspect of life?

To be honest when I saw this video (http://www.todaysbigthing.com/2011/02/15) I thought it was hilarious that someone could take a videogame quite so literally. But it got me thinking, videogames are useful for practically EVERY type of learning, even outside the classroom.

For example when Eric Klopfer was speaking today about how mobile learning can  be applied to many aspects of biology, it got me thinking about taking these types of games outside the classroom as presented by Jerry Heneghan.

Specifically, it would be beneficial to play games similar to MarioKart (minus the shells) so that beginner students can get a taste of what it feels like to be behind the wheel and truly learn the rules of the road before hand. Would it really be so crazy to offer simulations or games for soon-to-be parents to learn how to properly take care of a new born? Or maybe even use a videogame to teach new athletes the rules and proper formations for certain sports?

With my interest in medicine, I think that the benefits found in learning through videogames may be easily applied to doctor/patient relationships. What if a patient could play a game enacting the surgery they are to undergo? Or play a game like the sims which teaches them how to appropriately practice recovery exercises? The former sounds a bit morbid, but it seems that information is power. Often times when a doctor is explaining a complicated procedure to a patient, it is easy for the patient to become lost in the charts, one dimensional diagrams and stats. In my own experience as a patient, all I could picture in my head when a surgery technique was being explained was the game of Operation. What if patients could be walked through the procedure via a game to see exactly what steps will be taken to help their ailment? Or even further, what if they could compare procedures to see which fits their preferences best (ie, invasive or not)?

Besides, wouldn’t it be great to have a game for EVERYTHING?

NASA’s MoonBase Alpha

In this week’s reading from Edge, it talks about a STEM-education-related game being developed for NASA. They also mention that part of the game, MoonBase, is available on Steam. I did a quick search and turns out it is!

http://store.steampowered.com/app/39000/?snr=1_4_4__13

I haven’t been able to download it yet (I rarely boot my MacBook Pro into Windows and the game isn’t available for Mac yet) but if you get a chance you should check it out and let us know how it is!

Flight Simulators

Thus far in class we have explored the notion that video games may facilitate learning better than traditional methods we have grown accustom to, such as traditional schools and online classrooms.  Time and again we refer to this notion of learning but what exactly do we mean by learning? Learning is a very broad and encompassing term that can include essentially everything from academics to self defense.  When we say that video games may better facilitate learning are we referring to all types of learning?  Can a video game teach a 6th grade student how to write a five paragraph essay as well as an accredited english teacher? Can a video game teach a solider military strategy as well as a decorated officer?  Clearly there are some elements of certain types of learning that make these subjects better suited to being taught through traditional methods as opposed to by a video game, but what exactly are these elements?  Are we able to segregate certain types of learning into categories  based on their inhereent characteristics and conclude that certain categories of learning are better suited to be taught by a videogame whereas other types of learning are better suited to be taught by a livinging person?  Take for instance a solider training to become a pilot.  Almost all aviation training programs utilize flight simulators, a type of video game, to teach aspiring pilots how to fly planes.  Although most of these training programs use a combination of simulation and actual flight experience, for regulatory and safety purposes, in order to train their students, which of these mediums is a more effective teaching tool?  This summer I was able to meet and speak with a few air force pilots at the intrepid museum in New York City and the topic of flight simulators came up.  Although the pilots I spoke with all went through programs that incorporated both flight simulation and real flight experience, the majority of their training was spent in flight simulators and these pilots made it seem as if they learned more in the simulators than they did from their actual flight experience and their flight instructors.  What are your thoughts on this idea that learning can be separated into categories and are their certain tasks, such as learning to fly a plane, that are better suited to being taught by a video game as opposed to an actual person?

The following is a link to Precision Flight Control INC which is one of the leading flight simulator and flight training devices manufactures on the market.  Precision Flight Controls INC has a wide customer base which includes hobbyists, educational institutions, private sector aviation, business aviation, military flight training and the aerospace industry in general.

http://www.flypfc.com/

A New and Improved Classroom

I just recently read an interesting article that discussed the effect that video games has had on students interest in certain topics. The article, “Let the Games Begin: Entertainment meets Education” written by Jenn Shreve, begins with an anecdote of a western civilization class in which many of the students had to repeat due to prior failure. This new class, however, students were coming in “armed with strategies to topple colonial dictators” and “kids who didn’t know Pompeii from Plymouth Rock were suddenly mapping out the borders of the early Roman Empire.” The teacher notes that the reason for this newfound interest and success is directly due to Sid Meier’s Civilization III, a best-seller in the computer game industry.

The article then dives into what we have already spoke about in class, that there are not many, if any at all, truly successful video games that can be used to direct a class. There are software programs available, but a majority of those programs are unsuccessful and are very costly.

How to approach this problem?

One way researchers decided to approach this issue was not to develop games for students to use in the classroom, but instead have those students design the games themselves. One might see this as an extreme tactic, saying “how can you ever expect a student to design their own game unless they have background in that field.” Interestingly enough, this method was used on a fourth grade math class. The students were provided with some basic design software, and were told to develop a program that would help solve fractions. What the students didn’t realize was that an underlying motive of this method was that multiple skills were being developed. Those students were not only learning about fractions, they were also developing their computer skills.

River City

This article continues on to talk about something called River City. What River City is is a “Multi-User Virtual Environment for Learning Scientific Inquiry and 21st Century Skills.” In other words, River City is a simulation, with a video game feel, that incorporates information from many prominent scientific resources.

Quite simply, River City is a town that has been plagued by illness. The way the simulation works is students are broken into teams and are sent to explore, interact, and create hypotheses as to why the illness has occurred. Each time the simulation is run, it is followed by a teacher led discussion and therefore students can analyze what they experienced in a more formal setting. Eventually, at the conclusion of the simulation, the groups will present their hypotheses to the class, of which there are multiple correct answers (similar to Scot Osterweil’s reward for effort).

In conclusion, this article emphasizes the necessity for video games in the classroom, but not as a complete substitution. Like River City, video games that are educational should supplement traditional teaching methods. An important aspect of these games, as we’ve discussed before is used to close the article:

“And if everyone has a little fun along the way, better yet.”

Sources:

http://www.edutopia.org/let-games-begin

http://muve.gse.harvard.edu/muvees2003/index.html

Tired of the same old planet? Give it a makeover!

From the good folks at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (don’t bother them when The Big Bang Theory is on) comes this: The Extreme Planet Makeover!

Is it a game? Not really, more of a simulation. But interesting nonetheless.

(Found at Boing Boing, this blogger’s favorite blog)

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