Using the Hivemind of Gamers to Advance Science

Revisiting how video games affect the world, I was brought back to the use of video games by scientists to generate data and data analysis. One of my first personal encounters was Project Discovery in EVE Online.

Developed and published by CCP Games, EVE Online is a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). CCP Games worked in collaboration with Massively Multiplayer Online Science (MMOS), Reykjavik University, and various other real-life universities to create a series of minigames called Project Discovery. The series introduces real-life science data problems for gamers to look at and say “what this looks like”.

In 2016, I personally got to play Phase One of Project Discovery, Project Discovery: Human Protein Atlas, which was created in collaboration with the Human Protein Atlas (PA). It was basically an identification game where you are given images of cells and you are asked to identify what organelle (i.e. the organs of cells) was dyed green in the image.

In 2017, EVE Online worked in collaboration with the University of Geneva to create Phase Two of Project Discovery: Exoplanets. One of the ways astrophysicists identify the existence of planets outside of our Solar System (i.e. “exoplanets”) is that by measuring the luminosity of stars over time. If when and the luminosity dips, that’s a sign that an exoplanet has gotten in the way of the star’s light. EVE Online players are given luminosity graphs to identify the presence of an exoplanet at a given time.

Most recently this summer, Phase Three of Project Discover, Project Discovery: Flow Cytometry, was created in collaboration with many medical research institutions including Canada’s own BC Cancer Foundation and McGill University. This project was created for advancing research on the COVID-19 virus. Cells passed through and analyzed by a flow cytometer produces a graph and cells of the same type tend to stay together on the graph; players are asked to distinguish groups of cells from each other by putting boundaries between groups of cells on the graph.

Beyond just Project Discovery, EVE Online has been a hot subject for observation and analysis by economists because all of its players are on the same server (except for Chinese players) and its economy is almost completely player-driven safe for a few basic items like very basic ships and ammunition. I wanted to share this with the class because I think it’s very interesting and projects such as these show how video games can be more than “mere entertainment”.