Find a cure for cancer while waiting to board a plane. Help neuroscientists understand how the brain is wired on your bus journey home. Be part of the solution to global hunger as you lie in bed at night. It might sound crazy, but these ideas are all part of a new generation of online games being developed that are helping to solve real world problems.
The concept behind these games is simple; how can you make complicated subjects like bioinformatics accessible and exciting? It sounds like mission impossible, but the end result is often incredibly addictive. So delete Candy Crush from your phone, stop throwing birds at pigs and try out one of these five great games.
Fraxinus, which you can play on Facebook, is one of the most addictive of this new wave of brain games. Align leaves of different colours into combinations to get a high score. Battle your friends and the computer to help save Europe’s Ash trees from a deadly fungal disease.
Here’s an easy one; combine your love of the Serengeti with a photographers eye for animals. The aim is to help classify the thousands of animals that have been caught in the thousands of camera traps that have been placed all over Africa’s largest game reserves.
Win cool prizes and try and help people avoid starvation in this online google map adventure. Help identify cropland cover and look for areas where crops could be grown around the world. The more land you identify, the better your chances of coming away with one of the weekly prizes, which includes things like a new smartphone or tablet.
Phylo is a colourful puzzle solving game, where you have to match coloured blocks together, which was developed by McGill University. The puzzles start off simple and become increasingly difficult, as you help researchers combat genetic diseases and identifying mutated genes in DNA. Unfortunately the game is not intuitive and you should use the tutorial before attempting to play.
Another puzzle game, here your task is to turn a structure into a shape using a combination of elastic bands, shakes and wiggles. Like a 1980’s disco, the better the moves the higher the acclaim. As you twist and turn the puzzle, you’re helping researchers understand how proteins work, which is an essential part of finding a cure to cancer and viruses like HIV.*
*Foldit has real potential to help researchers, however in its current form this is going to have a very limited appeal and shouldn’t really include it on this list. On the other hand, any game that allows you to help find a cure for cancer I think should get as much exposure as possible.
If you’re a long term traveller, or even an office worker with a bit of time on your hands, you will quickly realise that these games have something great to offer. So next time you’re bored, or you have five minutes to spare, give one of these games a go. I promise you it’s more rewarding than tending imaginary farms and updating your Facebook status.