Game Mechanics in Science: You're Soaking in Them

March 26, 2010

During a recent talk at the Spring 2010 American Chemical Society Meeting, I spoke about Chempedia and Chempedia Lab, and what makes them unique among chemical information systems. One aspect that seemed to get a lot of interest was the idea that the successful scientific information systems of the future would be designed around compelling game mechanics.

Game what?

Game mechanics are the underlying systems that drive games. This has nothing to do with audiovisual effects, explosions, or dice - but instead refers to those features of a system that make it seem more like a game and less like work.

Game mechanics have been around for thousands of years, and they're an essential part of holding societies together.

Everyone who has published (or read) a scientific paper has participated in one of the most productive game mechanics the world has ever created - the scientific publication system.

If you decide to watch the Mixergy interview with Amy Jo Kim (above), keep these features of the scientific publication system in mind:

  • Impact Factor
  • H-Index
  • Publication Count
  • Citation Count
  • Editorial Board Membership
  • Funding Agencies
  • Hiring and Tenure Committees

Useful as they have been, the game mechanics embedded within traditional scientific publication are now starting to do more harm than good. Fortunately, we can do something about this by creating information systems that satisfy the need for game mechanics in science, while promoting the free flow of information - at price that reflects the astonishing advances in information technology over the last 10 years.

To my knowledge, Chempedia and Chempedia Lab are the only chemical information systems to deliberately and extensively make use of game mechanics. But we hold no monopoly on this idea - there is virtually no end to what can be done with this simple concept.