Games and gamification in citizen science: Lessons from Citizen Cyberlab

Charlene Jennett, Anna Cox, L Kloetzer, D Schneider, E Li, Emily Collins, M Fritz, R Goujet, E Rusack, I Charalampidis
in "Gaming for Good" workshop at ECSA 2016, Conference abstract/presentation slides, Berlin, Germany


There is a growing interest in "gamifying" citizen science to make contributing more fun for volunteers. Drawing upon three case studies, we share lessons from our research in Citizen Cyberlab:

  1. In the educational game Hero.Coli (developed by UPD), the player controls a character and overcomes various obstacles with the help of synthetic biology principles. In our experiment we found that participants who rated the game higher for immersion scored higher on a synthetic biology quiz. In line with previous work, we suggest engagement and learning are related: the more a person is engaged, the more they learn, and the more they learn, the more engaged they become (Jennett et al., 2016).
  2. In the Virtual Atom Smasher project (developed by CERN), volunteers tune the parameters of physics simulations to get the best fit, and interact with additional content to win "science points". We interviewed users and found that many were physics students, they liked the game-like design and desired even more game features. This supports previous findings, suggesting gamified citizen science is most suitable for attracting Millennials (Bowser et al., 2013).
  3. In the GeoTag-X project (developed by UNITAR/UNOSAT), volunteers tag photos with information that is useful for humanitarian disaster response. On the community page there is a leaderboard showing who has contributed most. When we interviewed volunteers, we found that although some did find the leaderboard motivating, the biggest motivator was helping research. In line with previous work (Iacovides et al., 2013; Eveleigh et al., 2013), we suggest that game elements can help to sustain engagement; however the feedback that volunteers value most is project progress, e.g. did the science team find their contributions useful? Figuring out how to make project progress feedback more frequent, exploring game-like ways of presenting this information, are directions for future research.