In the multiplayer space opera EVE online, a mini-game called Project discovery Also serves as a citizen science platform, studying the response of the human immune system to the novel coronavirus. Participants analyze the data through gameplay that helps researchers isolate specific patterns as predictors of disease severity.
The project is a collaboration with McGill University, the BC Cancer Research Center, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. To design the citizen science component, EVE online Developer CCP Games has worked with Massively Multiplayer Online Science (MMOS), a Swiss company that connects scientific research with games to create a seamless gaming experience. According to a spokesperson for CCP Games, 426,000 players are currently participating in the Covid-19 minigame and they have completed 1.8 million scan tasks since the project launched in June 2020.
In the highly competitive MMORPG space, obtaining and retaining players is a never-ending challenge. For citizen science projects, explains Bergur Finnbogason, creative director of EVE online, retaining players is essential. Unlike computer programs distributed as [email protected], which require mass computing power, projects like these require human input. And for that, you need players who come back to play again and again.
Despite declining numbers, EVE online remains popular as one of the oldest online multiplayer games – it predates World of Warcraft than a year and a half, and has been called “peerless”. Its huge universe, called New Eden, includes nearly 8,000 star systems. The gameplay is essentially DIY space opera, where players, called capsulers, embark on epic space missions that encompass exploration, mining, industry, and more. In addition, there is a lot of hacking, as well as unrestricted PvP and PvE battles. Between the struggle for cosmic wealth and fame, cappers may also take time to stimulate critical research processes on Earth through Project Discovery. In return, they’re rewarded with unique in-game gifts like exclusive clothing and facial augmentations, not to mention the honor of participating in real-world scientific breakthroughs.
In Project Discovery’s latest mission, players are helping scientists study the impact of Covid-19 on our immune system by analyzing the blood of infected individuals for markers of disease. “We basically built an interface with scientific servers… [through which] you can exchange the data [into the game]Finnbogason says. Players must find and mark clumps of cells in the blood of patients infected with Covid-19 using a tracing tool.
“A lot of times it’s very easy to see big and dense clusters,” he says, “but when things get really scarce, that’s where the money lies, in a way. »Several actors work on the same datasets to reach consensus on specific areas of interest. Once the datasets are sent back to the research lab and verified, a higher resolution cross section of the area is fed back into the game for players to review.
The process helps scientists identify areas they need to take a closer look at to understand infection in different populations and cell types. Player contribution, says David Ecker, production manager of EVE online, helps cut down on a ton of data processing tasks that scientists would otherwise have to do. Considering that there are far fewer scientists than gamers, he adds, “we can just ignore them for so many years of work, so they [only] view samples that our players have found interesting to watch.
Data submitted by Citizen Scientists will not only help researchers study SARS-CoV2 infections. It will also become training data for artificial intelligence systems so that these types of processes can be automated in the future. Trained AIs could help not only research on Covid-19, but other diseases as well.