Not quite my new favorite game
I've mentioned before how I recently came across a game called Progress Quest. In this game you do absolutely nothing after you create your character except watch the game run and watch your character, well, make progress. I recently came across a new game that I thought might be able to displace Progress Quest as my favorite game, but it turns out that I was mistaken. This game is Foldit.
In Foldit, you play games that involve folding proteins. Knowing the three-dimensional structure of a protein is apparently very important if you want to understand how the protein will work in the chemical reactions that biologists are interested in, but it's apparently not obvious from the chemical formula for a protein exactly what its structure will be.
There are sophisticated computer programs that will try to find the right structure for a protein, but it seems that these programs aren't quite as good as skilled people. To take advantage of this fact, a team of computer scientists and biologists made Foldit, a game that teaches you how to work out the right way in which a protein will fold. You learn the basic principles through a series of example problems and can then move on to working on bigger structures. This is apparently a valuable aid to research, and "Foldit players" were actually listed as co-authors of a recent biochemistry paper that was published in the journal Nature.
In any event, I thought that Foldit sounded interesting, downloaded and installed the game and tried the first few protein folding challenges. After the first several, I realized that I just don't have the right stuff to be a champion protein folder. I might not even be able to become a competent Foldit player. Fortunately, Progress Quest is still there (where my character Elrond Hubbard is now level 71.). It seems to be a game that's more aligned with my game-playing skills.
While trying Foldit I did wonder if if would be possible to create a similar graphical interface for a game in which the players are really doing cryptanalysis, but I didn't see an easy way to do that.