Gamer Think Tank: The New Breed

Could we be looking the dawn of the gamer think tank? For decades, traditional think tank groups have been stuffed full of academics who along with their books and spreadsheets worked days, weeks and years to solve the world's problems. Recently, a collaborative group of 469 gamers (gamer think tank) won a contest against two trained crystallographers, 61 University of Michigan undergraduates using a computer modeling program in class, and two separate computer algorithms. You may wonder why this is important....

This particular contest discovered a new family of proteins that appear to be involved in preventing Alzheimer's disease.

The gamers were using a popular online game called Foldit to practice folding proteins. What are proteins? Most people think they are nutritional substances packed into power bars but actually they are the engines that exist in every cell of every living thing and they come in many different types.

Image Courtesy: Scott Horowitz

Scott Horowitz, who co-authored the paper produced by the study, says he plans to integrate Foldit into his classes. After seeing the fun and excitement that it injects into a difficult field like protein behaviors, he understands that the game will help make the subject easier to grasp.

Gamer Think Tank 2.0

Many adults have criticized the gaming culture as a waste of time and a brain drain. How many times have you heard or said: “Get off that computer and get a real job!” There are many aspects of the gaming culture that have exciting implications for our world. What kind of projects could a gamer think tank solve? Projects such as: finding new traffic designs, medical models, production and deployment schedules, the list is endless.

Just as gamers and the new crop of programmers are important for our future, people with balanced computer science backgrounds are also important. We are in need of hardware developers -- smartphones, laptops and server rooms don't just sprout out of the ground. Yes, programming is important but we are getting lopsided in the area of people who only know how to program in one or two languages. We need better rounded people to infuse into the market. Also, with a more balanced background a person can always shift with the fluctuating economy. They will always have a job.

So, look into a computer science program at your local vo-tech or college and keep gaming. If you aren't sure that you are cut out for computer science, you can always take our Basics of Computer Science courses and start building your knowledge base.

The study was led by the University of Michigan in collaboration with the University of Washington, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and Northeastern University. The findings appear in Nature Communications.


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