Bioinformatics, game development and citizen science: connecting the dots

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de Leon Pereira, Rogerio
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Despite the increasing power of computers, there are still complex problems that can benefit from human abilities such as cognition, reasoning, creativity, and problem-solving. These tasks can be broken down into smaller components that humans can solve individually on crowdsourcing platforms, which is a process usually described as human computation. Similarly, citizen science, a form of human computation, invites individuals, known as citizen scientists, to actively participate in scientific research. It is also possible to incorporate gamification elements or turn the tasks into puzzles that can be solved within a video game. This thesis explores using a citizen science game, GeSort, to solve the genome sorting problem. The goal of sorting genomes is to find the smallest set of evolutionary events capable of transforming one genome into another. GeSort represents the sequences of genes of the genomes being compared as series of colored shapes. This allows players to see patterns of matches and mismatches and then use a sequence of operations such as duplications, deletions and inversions to transform one genome into the other. Through the analysis of GeSort, this thesis aims to propose different guidelines and tools to help the citizen science community build improved games and applications. We started our research by evaluating the effects of including educational content in a citizen science game. Next, we developed FORGE, a framework for organizing rewards in gamified environments. Finally, we analyzed data collected through GeSort matches played over a year. Our results suggest that educational content in a citizen science game can increase players' engagement, retention and performance. The use of FORGE can speed up the implementation of a reward system, saving development time and financial resources. Analysis of the data collected through GeSort showed, among other things, that some visual patterns could confuse players, which allowed us to formulate guidelines for designing puzzles in citizen science games. The insights gained from this research can inform the development of future citizen science initiatives, ensuring a more meaningful and impactful collaboration between players and the scientific community.
Citizen science games, Human computing games, Games with a purpose, Educational content, Engagement, Retention, Performance, Genome sorting problem, Player strategies, Puzzle difficulty, Dynamic difficulty adjustment, Gamification framework, Reward management system