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/ log / 15th Mar, 2011

A little bit more educational, please.

  1. Tue, 15th Mar 2011
  2. 0 Comment
  3. Virulent
  4. Game
  5. Biology
  6. Science
  7. Virulent
  8. educational
  9. Biochemistry
  10. eteRNA
  11. Foldit
<p>Screenshot from eteRNA</p>

Screenshot from eteRNA

eteRNA Logo

Sometimes I have the impression that I don’t have to search for information but that instead I am found by it. Reading the ZEIT one weekend morning I came across two articles that immediately caught my interest: An article about the video game FoldIt and an Interview with a gamer about the game eteRNA; Somehow a successor of FoldIt. Usually I read such articles about games in science or for educational purposes with interest, make a mental note and have a closer look later. But this time I had to play it at once. It was not just that it was a game to support science or that you were going to learn some scientific facts (Though in fact I was quite surprised about the idea that players could help science playing a game). But it rekindled one of my main interests during school time: Biology and biochemistry. I could still remember the four bases and that their pairing contributes to the DNA; That there is a process to generate RNA from a DNA, the role of ribosomes, the generation of proteins, etc. Not in a special interrelation any more. But I was quite surprised that these memories were still there.

From Overview to Details: Virulent & eteRNA

After having played an alpha? beta? version of Virulent! some time before, eteRNA could be a more detailed part in that game. Virulent! is a game where you have to steer the infection of a cell until you can use it to generate new raven viruses: The final step to spread the infection to other cells. Playing the game you already get in contact with terms like mRNA, rRNA, etc. But only on the cellular level. With eteRNA you dive into the details. Well, actually you only have to puzzle (No, not knowledge - bases). Just four bases: Adenine, cytosine, guanine and uracil. Nothing more. You are given a defined shape the RNA shall fold into, often with a limit of special pairings, etc. The folding depends on you using the right pairings at the right locations of the nucleotide chain. It sounds easy and actually my 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter was able to understand the basic rules and play the game quite successfully after having mastered the computer mouse (i.e. moving and clicking without looking at the mouse and understanding the relative positioning) and the first tutorials. But if you are not able to find the right pairings the RNA changes its form or will not fold at all.

The Lab

I made it quite fast to lab level as I never could resist to leave the next puzzle unsolved. And as you compete with other players about the most efficient way to solve the more sophisticated puzzles you are always encouraged to spend some more brains into an even better solution.

As a lab member you can participate in special tasks. It opens a new aspect of the game. The given shapes and the player solutions are not only simulated; They are synthesized to check how successful they fold in nature. In every round eight solutions are selected by the other players and the synthesized results are rated according to how well they match. All results are published. I guess, to develop a better understanding of the interrelations between simulation and nature. Here I cannot really shine with experiences yet, as I have not yet participated in a lab round. But I had to notice that after the first conventional RNA puzzles, I started to reactivate my former knowledge in this area of biology. I tried to find learning content but I had to search in external sources as eteRNA does not really provide much background information.

A little bit more educational, please.

Regarding this disappointment I was glad to follow a conversation in the game’s chat window one evening: A newbie questioned one of the top players concerning exactly such background information. Finally the expert player said (from the history of the conversation I guess with a sigh):

“Yes, they really could make this game a little bit more educational.”

After having read once too often how important it is not to put players off with too obvious educational aspects in a game this conclusion made my day.

 

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