Can Video Games Be Art, Be Ballet, or Be Science? FoldIt Protein Folding Games

Protein folding? Well, it’s a video game.

Since 2008, scientistsat the University of Washington’s Center for Game Science, in collaboration with the Department of Biochemistry have sought and got help from gamers to solve some very difficult biochemistry problems and to create new possible molecules to be tested for use as drugs etc. The FoldIt website posts such problems and invites video gamers to participate. Gamers do not need knowledge in biochemistry or any other science – just to come up with possible 3-D folding positions for protein molecules.

Why is that important?  We all know that we need protein in our food – because it constitutes 45% of our body and is the stuff bones and muscles are made of, not to mention our brain and our guts. But few are aware that proteins also control all our body processes, from memory to immune reactions to digestion and to disease—cancer to aging—we depend on all our protein molecules to function without missing a cue. How do they do it?

Proteins are molecules made up of long chains of amino acids, and they differ by having these twenty odd amino acids appear on the chain in different combinations – apparently limitless. Each protein molecule’s function is determined by its unique folding pattern into a three-dimensional configuration, controlled by the positions of amino acids on the chain. Proteins react with each other by ‘embracing’, that is, when a cavity in one fits the extrusion of another, like a lock and key—very specific—resulting in cancer or other diseases (or cures). There is also concurrent electrical attraction between the two to tighten the embrace, which can then be released later and the same reactions repeated over and over for zillions of times to ensure the proper workings of our daily life.

Thus the correct folding of proteins is critical. Misfolding has been associated with Alzheimer and Parkinson’s diseases, even cancer and aging. Proteins control the permeability of all membranes, and thus the proper absorption of nutrients in our intestines and electrolyte balances in our blood and body fluids and, our nerve conduction. Obviously, making proteins that fold in a particular way would be a great way to make drugs that will supplement any missing or misformed proteins.

Nevertheless, much as there are hot debates about whether video gaming is art, entertainment, or even ballet, (see links below) there’s no doubt that it can be part of science as a technology or actually a technique. But we certainly cannot call it science.

In the same vein – the interactivity and instant (likely unconscious) reactions in video games, with their 3-D visualization, could be techniques in making art, but in and of themselves games cannot be called art.



MoMA Enthusiastically Endorses Video Games As Art. Why? The author wonders why then MoMA does not show beautiful crafts like quilts or folk art, as art. 

Game Theory: Considering Video Games as Ballet — The author concludes that video games may be like ballet, but are not ballet, or art.       

Art vs. Entertainment — This is a video gamer’s curious argument that video gaming is art.  

Is Art Entertainment? Yes, Maybe — This is my previous post about art and entertainment.


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