Over the years, millions of video gamers have made real, lasting changes to the world. And by "the world,” we mean Hyrule. But as video games become more advanced (and despite the fact that entire schools are lost in the Fortnite storm) scientists increasingly harness the power of video games and the boundless energy of players for the greater good of real people. And that’s all before taking into account that robbing banks in GTA actually makes gamers less likely to commit real life crimes.
Pretty soon, colleges will be more interested in your KDR than whether you volunteer, because they’ll be the same thing. Until that happens, here are a few ways your no-scope skills can help save the planet. Pro tip: Send this article to your mom.
Scientists Are Using Gamers To Find Cures For Diseases
Despite the fact that your iPhone is probably one update from turning sentient and murdering you in your sleep, there are still a few things that humans can do better than computers: we're still significantly better at spatial reasoning. Also, we're better at gaming like insomniac Terminators.
An international team of scientists recently discovered the value of obsessive gamers after hitting a wall on their anti-viral research. Even after more than a decade of computer advancements, researchers had made virtually no progress on discovering a way to cure the AIDS-like virus they were working on. If they could determine the molecular structure of a particular protein-cutting enzyme, they should theoretically be able to design drugs that would inhibit the virus’ spread.
The problem is that there are millions of conceivable combinations the bonds between the enzyme’s atoms could twist into, and computers just aren’t that great at sorting through all the possibilities. Attempts by the researchers to create scale models using popsicles sticks and cotton balls had also proved fruitless. So in a last ditch attempt, the team converted the problem into a game and dangled it out there for the internet to play.
The loot boxes are disgusting.
The researchers modified one of their protein-folding computer programs into a game called Foldit, whereby players received points based on how efficient their structural designs of the molecule were. Molecular structure is so precise that only the most efficient, lowest-energy configuration can be correct. So the more efficient gamers’ designs, the closer they were to the answer. It’s not exactly a Halo LAN party, but it certainly sounds like more fun than whatever expense report users were probably supposed to be typing up in the real world.
The crazy thing is that their gambit worked. After more than 10 grueling years of scientists beating their heads against their desktops, internet nerds solved the problem in less than 10 days. And while that particular virus mostly just affected sick monkeys, it has opened the door to possibly curing much more dangerous, human-based diseases such as AIDS or The Emoji Movie.
The UN Taps Minecraft To Redevelop Poor Public Spaces
When redeveloping a poorer community, the United Nations Human Settlements Program believes public spaces to be critically important. Without a centralized area accessible by everybody, a city won’t function correctly. Basically, a public space allows for social interaction, improved safety, greater business opportunities, and hopefully somewhere interesting enough to lure gamers outside every once in awhile.
But designing these spaces in cities that never intended to have them can be extremely tricky. Sometimes it can be difficult to manage the confusing layouts, and at other times it’s difficult just to manage the expectations of the residents. For example, when designing a public space for a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, UN workers needed to somehow build a new access road to the marketplace, but they couldn’t come up with a way to do so without infringing upon the soccer field where the local youth hung out. Initially, this seemed architecturally impossible, until the workers remembered the greatest architectural tool ever conceived: Minecraft.
WAIT! At least finish the article before you go pig-punching.
The UN reached out to Mojang (the makers of Minecraft and the reason you haven’t seen your cousin in five years), to help them design these public spaces. Together they came up with a system called Block-By-Block, whereby designers recreate the space that needs revamping in Minecraft, and then they transfer the design over to a workshop where anybody can tweak it, walk around in it, and eventually approve a design by a community of users. Once that’s completed, the Minecraft map is handed off to an architect who turns the project into a reality.
Although you might expect this to mean that several slums in Kenya are now filled with towering, low-fidelity castles, the designs are actually incredibly solid. Some of the work they’ve done is downright elegant, like the Lotus Garden redesign in Mumbai, India.
Screw the snarky caption -- that is awesome.
It’s hard to imagine that beautiful garden coming from a bunch of kids playing Minecraft, but that’s the power of a well-designed game. Now we kind of want to use Block-By-Block to crowdsource a whimsical moon base lair.
VR Is Being Used To Relive Important News Events
German writer Erich Maria Remarque once said something to the effect of, “The death of one man is a just death, the death of two million is a statistic.” What he meant was that while it’s easy to commiserate with the suffering of a single human, large-scale catastrophes are so incomprehensible -- and for many Westerners, so far away -- that they’re difficult empathize with at all.
We live in a world where updates on the civil war in Syria arrive just as quickly as local deep dives into the different pies available at Mrs. Gorsky’s annual bake sale. When atrocities occur half a world away, it’s hard to feel almost anything about it at all, no matter how shocking. That’s where Immersive Journalism comes in.
Immersive Journalism is a website dedicated to bringing important news stories from all over the world right into your living room. Using video game virtual reality technology, creators have replicated events such as being in Syria during a rocket attack or amidst the starving homeless in Los Angeles. When the technology was revealed back in 2012, audiences were apparently visibly affected by actually “standing” in the middle of important events. Suddenly, for them, it wasn’t so removed or distant anymore.
Since that time, VR technology is increasingly utilized by several large-scale newsrooms like NY Times, CNN, and The Guardian. The average dude sitting at home, covered in spray cheese probably doesn’t have access to hyper-realistic virtual reality technology yet, but it’s coming.
And think about how valuable this could be. How differently might we think about solitary confinement if we could actually experience what it’s like first-hand? Would our opinion on wars change if we were able to visit the front lines? Would all the world’s sadness evaporate if we could all just ride on a model train through a massive train set? That’s the kind of news we need more of in the world!
Of course, now designers are worried about the possibility of creating fake virtual reality news, but hopefully at some point we’ll get better at sifting through what’s real and what isn’t. And as soon as we can do that, we’ll be able to dodge bullets and finally defeat the machines.
Tetris Can Help Thwart Your Addictions
At times our addictions can feel overwhelmingly powerful. It doesn’t matter if it’s something as simple as coffee or as complex as heroin, addictions are difficult to overcome. Nowadays there are more options than ever to help kick bad habits, but sometimes addictions strike when you least expect them to. What do you do when you’re just hanging out and watching your friends’ kids hunt for Easter eggs and suddenly overcome by the realization that you need to ingest 30 pounds of chocolate in the next five minutes? There’s no chocoholics meeting in the world that can solve that problem quickly enough.
It all comes down to how we experience addiction. For most of us, the things we desperately crave tend to pop up in our minds as visualizations. We don’t just abstractly think, “Oh, I’d enjoy a cold, tasty keg of Coors Lite right about now.” We full-on imagine ourselves swimming naked in a pool of low-carb beer while Smash Mouth eggs us on with their throaty party jams. Once it’s cemented in our minds that, “Yeah, I am an all-star. Let’s go play,” there’s little that can be done to stop us. Well, except for a rousing game of Tetris, of course.
"Suck it, opium!"
In more pressing cases, the addict is overtaken by feelings and urges, rather than mental images. It's not a want -- it's a need. The thing is, those feelings can sometimes be thwarted by another visual treat. You probably don’t think that three minutes of sliding colored blocks into neat rows would in any way compare to indulging in a raucous sexual encounter, but actually ... it kind of does. We’re not saying we’ve done those two things back to back, but we aren't saying we haven’t either.
Researchers wrote in the journal of Addictive Behaviors that just a few minutes of Tetris on average reduced cravings by close to one-fifth. That may not sound like a whole lot on the surface ("You mean I can only drink four-fifths of a keg?"), but researchers believe that even just that little bit can be the boost people need to get over the hump and reject their baser impulses. In fact, other studies are showing Tetris can be useful in blocking painful post-traumatic memories and aiding cognitive development.
The publishers of the study were also quick to point out that it didn’t have to be Tetris per se, it could be any visually stimulating game such as Candy Crush. Of course then you’re fighting an addiction with an addiction and potentially spending hundreds of dollars in the name of self-improvement, which seems like a wash.
A Game Is Helping “Solve” How Kids Deal With Depression (And It’s Better Than Normal Treatment)
Researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand recently released a game called SPARX to help children deal with depression. What’s awesome about the game is that it isn’t just some therapy session masquerading as a game. Kids aren’t playing a “choose your own adventure” experience where all they do is talk to people like the world’s most boring Telltale game. Kids choose a fantasy avatar and journey through the game’s seven provinces, fighting enemies and solving puzzles.
As an added benefit, everybody in the game talks like a bit character on Flight of the Conchords. If the game mechanics themselves don’t cheer you up, guiding a chipper Kiwi elf through a magical fantasy land can pull just about anybody out of a funk for at least awhile.
Imagine World of Warcraft, except NOT depressing and full of buttholes.
Each area deals with different facets of defeating depression like “finding hope” and “dealing with emotions.” An example of how this might play out, gamers in the first world are charged with blowing away attacking GNATs (Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts) that fly toward the character and yell insults at them like, “You’re a loser” or “Your leaderboard ranking is subpar.” Each level takes around 30-40 minutes to complete, and therapists spread the levels out over the course of three to seven weeks.
Although SPARX isn’t going to make anybody forget Shadow of Mordor anytime soon, initial findings have found the game to be just as effective if not more effective than traditional face-to-face therapy with a counsellor or a clinical psychologist. In fact, 43.7% of the kids playing SPARX were able to overcome their depression, while just 26.4% of the kids talking to stuffy adults in lab coats did. That is surprisingly effective and as a good a reason as any to give up on writing this article and go punch some dragons.
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