The Borderlands series has long offered its players a chaotic booty robbery from violent cel-shaded cartoons and intricately arranged shootings that make anything that is not a pleasant part of the cutting room floor. It’s like a game that is equivalent to a very large, very rich dessert – and what if, by eating dessert, you can also make the world better? Imagine.
Borderlands Publisher 3 2K and developer Gearbox Software raise the latest game in this series to new high ideals with experience in a new game called Borderlands Science, a crowdsourced citizen science project that will utilize the big player hit game base to conduct real scientific research. In this case that maps the intestinal microbiome – one of the most important interesting border in biology now. Scientists believe that microbes in the intestine can play a role in everything from autism to allergies, although many of the mechanics remain mysterious and difficult to study given the extent of microbes in the intestine and the limits of computational power.
For players, Borderlands Science appeared in the game as a retro arcade cabinet which will soon appear in Sanctuary III, the starship spaceship of the game. The mini game itself looks like a colorful Tetris experience and if players don’t read good print, they might not know that they are mapping microbes. Assuming that the normal ethos of the Gearbox is displayed here, it might also be fun and addictive, even though we haven’t tried it. And of course, players will not be expected to be involved with the project for the good of science alone. This mini game will offer players special prizes and Vault Hunter collections to collect – a smart and natural way to incentivize players in games that are all about chasing booty.
This effort is a partnership between researchers at McGill University, the Microsetta Initiative at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Massive Multiplayer Online Science (MMOS), a project that links video games with vital scientific research.
“We see Borderlands Science as an opportunity to use Borderlands 3’s enormous popularity to advance social good,” Gearbox Software founder Randy Pitchford said of the initiative, calling it “a new link between entertainment and health.”
Game-focused citizen science is emerging as an attractive way to pair the natural strengths of the gaming community – ongoing focus, patience for repetitive tasks, time-intensive commitments – with the needs of scientific researchers. Two prominent examples are Eyefire, which invites players to help map neural and brain networks Folding, where users solve puzzles to map the structure of complex proteins that are believed to have a role in diseases such as HIV and Alzheimer’s.
Apart from a few exceptions – like EVE Online players map the exoplanet– This citizen science game is usually browser-based, with more edu-science vibes than anything that resembles a flashy hit game that moves the industry. Borderlands Science bridges the gap, bringing citizen knowledge to the lucrative and bustling world of triple-A games. And if the model pioneered here goes well, this project can be a very good example for publishers and other developers who want to weave real scientific stuff into their future games.
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