“Mordin’s psych profile warned of hyper behavior, but he is like a hamster on coffee. He’s going to be a very productive member of the team.”
Yeoman Kelly Chambers about the Salarian Scientist Mordin Solus in “Mass Effect 2”
Distracting me from the time until I had my thesis defense, I watched a walkthrough of “Mass Effect 2”. Due to the frequent cut scenes, it was like watching a very, very long movie. Stumbling over the Launch Trailer (see below) also got me thinking.
As an academician, I often work on solutions for problems that have rather small effects, and the topics are not that terribly important (lives do not depend on it, which is probably a good thing regarding the effect sizes ;-)). One thing where games have it very easy is setting goals that are clear cut and that really matter (in the world of the games): Defending the galaxy against a species that will wipe out all organic life is a crucial goal (in the world of the game). One that really matters. One where one could not say: “Well, we found a significant difference (p < .05) in the two conditions of information presentation, with a very small effect size (η² = 0.01).” It would be more like “Base conquered, enemy destroyed” or “Critical mission failure: Team killed. Humanity will be wiped out completely over then next few years.”.
So, yes, these scenarios (defending the galaxy against a clearly defined and terrible enemy) are artificial, but I wonder: How many of our problems are really worth solving? How much of our research really makes a difference? And how much of our time are we wasting on ivory tower discussion and solutions?
I don’t have an answer, but it got me thinking. And if you have an answer or a solution, I’d be glad to hear it.
Note: After writing this posting, I stumbled over a TEDTalk by Jane McGonigal that actually joins games and really important problems. While the speaker is not a scientists and I would be skeptical with some of her arguments, she makes some interesting points for further thought and discussion.