Gamers > Scientists

Many people have sent me this link about gamers doing scientists’ work for them, so I figured I better post it just to end the incoming barrage. But it’s hardly any surprise to anyone who has read TIA and been able to compare the intellectual difference between a minor game industry figure and a world-famous scientist.

Gamers have solved the structure of a retrovirus enzyme whose configuration had stumped scientists for more than a decade. The gamers achieved their discovery by playing Foldit, an online game that allows players to collaborate and compete in predicting the structure of protein molecules.

After scientists repeatedly failed to piece together the structure of a protein-cutting enzyme from an AIDS-like virus, they called in the Foldit players. The scientists challenged the gamers to produce an accurate model of the enzyme. They did it in only three weeks.

Ten years versus three weeks. Yeah, that sounds about right. In truth, there are few groups more different than gamers and scientists, especially if you’re talking about the most elite group of gamers known as the game designers. (There is no such thing as a game designer who isn’t a gamer, although it would surprise you how many other people in the game industry don’t play anything. There are unfortunately an awful lot of John Sculleys in the industry these days.) The major difference is not that game designers are smarter and wealthier than scientists, although that’s also true, but that game designers could not possibly care less about academic credentials whereas few scientists appear to care much about anything else, unless it is attaching their name to something someone else intends to publish in an scientific journal.

I once had a European head-hunter ask me how I could possibly have gone into game development when I didn’t have a degree in it… never mind that there weren’t any degrees or courses in it at the time and I still, to this day, have never met a single person in the industry who formally studied game design or development in college. More than a few of the most successful guys in the industry dropped out of college if they ever even went; not dropping out during my sophmore year to focus on selling my 16-channel, 44 KHz, stereo sound board is one of my few big regrets now.

By the way, I’m presently working with Markku on a new game design which is based on the boundless evil of cats and may be the first mobile game inspired by a Tanith Lee short story. I don’t know when we’ll have the first alpha available, but if you’re interested in being a tester and you’ve got an Android device, let me know.