How Stanford Is Using Video Games To Answer Science's Hardest Questions

Ingmar Riedel-Kruse and Rhiju Das are researchers from Stanford University who like to play video games. But not just any kind of videogames. Not the ones that arm you with an assault rifle and pit you against hordes, and hordes of gun-wielding aliens or any other form of AI the game can make. Nor the ones that let you live out your superhero fantasies. Not to say that those games aren’t fun though, it’s just that the duo prefer games that are designed to contribute to solving the hardest questions we currently have in science.

And the two have certainly walked the talk, since both Das and Riedel-Kruse have developed their own scientific discovery games.

An associate professor of biochemistry, Das is the developer behind Eterna, which is an online puzzle game that see players designing their own molecules for medicines that are RNA-based. With over 200,00 players, the game currently has non-experts writing their own peer-reviewed manuscripts.

Riedel-Krus on the other hand, focuses more on educational games. In particular, he has created a number of biotic games, such as one where players can play soccer with light-seeking microbes or interact with a living cell.

Following this, the two have also started a collaborative game that turns skilled game play to laboratory success. “What excites me is trying to create next-generation scientific discovery games that include other experimental modalities,” Das said .

“There’s this paradigm of scientific discovery games and it may sound silly or far-fetched, but in the last 10 years it’s led to important scientific discoveries in several different disciplines,” Das said. “We want more people to play the games, more people to create these games, and more people to realize that this is a legitimate mode of discovery.”

According to the two, scientific discovery games that are mixed with true-to-life laboratory experiments can do a lot to help the current scientific space. The two elements can easily serve the dual purpose of making science accessible and more familiar to the masses while also gathering both information and ideas from a wide demographic.

“The amount of creativity out there is so much larger than what the traditional scientific community has on its own,” Riedel-Kruse said .

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