Introduction to Gaming Science

One of the traditions in most families during Christmas is playing games – board games, video games, quizzes etc. Although, the guidance issued for the current restrictions due the COVID-19 pandemic, advises against playing games indoors during this coming Christmas holidays; a single bubble family can play games and there is the option of virtual quizzes to keep families engaged and entertained during the festive season.

Beyond the Christmas season, playing games has been a form of entertainment, socialisation, education, and entertainment. The advent of the internet and smartphones has expanded greatly the different types of games available for the public. So, in addition to traditional card and board games, there is a growing market for game apps, computer and video games.

Game Console Image Courtesy: The Scientist Magazine

The practise of using games as an educational tool to teach various subjects in schools as long been embraced by teachers. Science education is not an exception. In a paper, Gaming science: the “Gamification” of scientific thinking, by Morris, et al. (2013), it was argued that, video games can be used to support scientific literacy, through content knowledge, process skills and understanding the nature of science. Although, their paper focused on video games; this can be extended to other types of games.

A day in the life of a science gaming entrepreneur

While studying for her PhD on new antibiotics to treat gut infections, Carla Brown held workshops to educate children about the responsible use of antibiotics. Feedback from her workshop led her to develop a competitive card game, “Bacteria Combat”, that teaches antibiotic resistance when playing the game. She successfully secured funding to turn the card game into a mobile app and has since launched a company called Game Doctor which focuses on developing science-based digital games for education and health care sectors.

One of the challenges in using games as a science communication tool is the need to establish collaboration between scientists and game designers. Although Carla Brown is a scientist and a passionate gamer, she designated herself as the science director of Game Doctor while collaborating with a team of freelancers in game design and marketing. She identified the need to strike a balance of co-operation between the scientists that has the scientific knowledge to be communicated and the game design engineers that have the technical knowledge to incorporate the two together and produce an effective game to communicate science.

“Gamify Your PhD”

In 2012, the Wellcome Trust organised an event, Gamify your PhD as an opportunity to bring collaboration between scientists and game designers with the aim of supporting the scientists to communicate their research with a wider scope for public engagement.

In her role as an observer at the “hackfest” event that brought six PhD scientists and game developers together, Vickie Curtis identified a major challenge in using games as a science communication tool is the balance between the amount of scientific knowledge to include in the game design and ensuring the game is entertaining to provide engagement. The winning entry was a “shoot-’em-up” game based on intestinal immunology and represented a struggle between “good” and “bad” bacteria (Curtis, 2013). It won because it was judged as having the greatest potential to strike a right balance of more scientific knowledge whilst providing an entertaining game.

The other aims of the event by Wellcome Trust was to develop games that will not just educate but also engage the players with scientific knowledge. According to Curtis, 2013, scientific games can also be used to inform public debate and facilitate discussion about ethical issues associated with research.

Although, there is need for further studies to determine the impact and effectiveness of scientific games, it can be safely argued that there are opportunities to be explored in using games to communicate science.

Some games have been able to achieve varying successes as a science communication tool. A notable example is Foldit.

Foldit was developed from partnership work between computer scientists and biochemist. It is an online game that aims to solve a real-world research problem, using the three-dimensional structures of proteins. The relative success of Foldit has given an opportunity for science-based games to be used as public engagement tools to communicate science with a wider audience.

There is a potential to explore the concept of gaming science further in the objective of increasing public engagement with science. That is an opportunity I am hoping to pursue with my concept of Wellbeing Games, a digital and board game concept to facilitate a healthy lifestyle.

Image Courtesy – Wellbeing Games by Adeyinka Oshin

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