Special Segments

Special Segment: Games for Good

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Most people play video games to unplug or mindlessly pass time on the train ride home. But now scientists are finding ways to put some of that play time to constructive use.

David Gerding runs a team at Chicago's Columbia College that is researching new ways to get value out of the way people play video games. Their latest project is Super Flick, a game designed for mobile phones or tablets where players sort images into categories by flicking them at corresponding buckets.

While the players sort the images , it's actually teaching the computer how to recognize the difference between the two on its own.

"We can provide a kind of artificial intelligence called machine learning and get the computers to start to recognize the patterns the same way that people do," said Gerding.

This new kind of research called gamification teaches computers to recognize patterns in game play and use them to solve math or science problems. Researchers could even use the pattern research to pick out who is most likely to be a good customer at a store or even profile terrorists.

"In play, there is knowledge that is imparted that we often overlook as being valuable," Maurice Rabb said. "And the goal of games for good is capturing that energy towards greater purposes."

Rabb and Roel Sanchez are designing Super Flick so researchers can adapt their game model to fit their studies.

"We can gain from their collective intelligence these massive computing power of people working together toward this goal that they're even unaware that they're doing," said Rabb. "They're doing it because it's fun, and we get the side effect of that behavior."

Recently, people playing a computer game developed at the University of Washington called Foldit helped decode an AIDs-related enzyme -- something scientists hadn't figured out through years of traditional research. It's all part of rethinking how collaboration through games can be put to good use.

"It's a natural evolution," said Joshua Tsui, who runs a video game studio called Robomodo in the West Loop.

While in the past they've typically designed more traditional video games, now they're using gamification to create child education games where kids can learn while having fun.

"It's not like we're trying to be sneaky about it and say 'oh you're doing something but we're not telling you what it is,' but it's really just making a fun game with a very specific purpose to it," said Tsui. "It just keeps growing and growing, and the future is really bright."

Super Flick should be available for game play by the end of summer.

If you want to check out a videogame for good, click here.

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