People exert large amounts of problem-solving effort playing computer games. Simple image- and text-recognition tasks have been successfully 'crowd-sourced' through games, but it is not clear if more complex scientific problems can be solved with human-directed computing. Protein structure prediction is one such problem: locating the biologically relevant native conformation of a protein is a formidable computational challenge given the very large size of the search space. Here we describe Foldit, a multiplayer online game that engages non-scientists in solving hard prediction problems. Foldit players interact with protein structures using direct manipulation tools and user-friendly versions of algorithms from the Rosetta structure prediction methodology, while they compete and collaborate to optimize the computed energy. We show that top-ranked Foldit players excel at solving challenging structure refinement problems in which substantial backbone rearrangements are necessary to achieve the burial of hydrophobic residues. Players working collaboratively develop a rich assortment of new strategies and algorithms; unlike computational approaches, they explore not only the conformational space but also the space of possible search strategies. The integration of human visual problem-solving and strategy development capabilities with traditional computational algorithms through interactive multiplayer games is a powerful new approach to solving computationally-limited scientific problems.
Cooper, S., Khatib, F., Treuille, A., Barbero, J., Lee, J., Beenen, M., Leaver-Fay, A., Baker, D., Popović, Z., and Foldit players. Predicting protein structures with a multiplayer online game. Nature 466, 756-760 (2010). URL http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature09304
Incorporating the individual and collective problem solving skills of non-experts into the scientific discovery process could potentially accelerate the advancement of science. This paper discusses the design process used for Foldit, a multiplayer online biochemistry game that presents players with computationally difficult protein folding problems in the form of puzzles, allowing ordinary players to gain expertise and help solve these problems. The principle challenge of designing such scientific discovery games is harnessing the enormous collective problem-solving potential of the game playing population, who have not been previously introduced to the specific problem, or, often, the entire scientific discipline. To address this challenge, we took an iterative approach to designing the game, incorporating feedback from players and biochemical experts alike. Feedback was gathered both before and after releasing the game, to create the rules, interactions, and visualizations in Foldit that maximize contributions from game players. We present several examples of how this approach guided the game's design, and allowed us to improve both the quality of the gameplay and the application of player problem-solving.
Cooper, S., Treuille, A., Barbero, J., Leaver-Fay, A., Tuite, K., Khatib, F., Snyder, A. C., Beenen, M., Salesin, D., Baker, D., Popović, Z. and Foldit players. The challenge of designing scientific discovery games. In Proceedings of the Fifth international Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games, FDG 2010. URL http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1822348.1822354 [PDF]
As games grow in complexity, gameplay needs to provide players with powerful means of managing this complexity. One approach is to give automation tools to players. In this paper, we analyze an in-game automation tool, the Foldit cookbook, for the scientific discovery game Foldit. The cookbook allows players to write recipes that can automate their strategies. Through analysis of cookbook usage, we observe that players take advantage of social mechanisms in the game to share, run, and modify recipes. Further, players take advantage of both a simplied visual programming interface and a text-based scripting interface for creating recipes. This indicates that there is potential for using automation tools to disseminate expert knowledge, and that it is useful to provide support for multiple authoring styles, especially for games where the nal game goal is unbounded or hard to attain.
Cooper, S., Khatib, F., Makedon, I., Lu, H., Barbero, J., Baker, D., Fogarty, J., and Popović, Z. and Foldit players. Analysis of social gameplay macros in the Foldit cookbook. In Proceedings of the Sixth international Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games, FDG 2011. [PDF]