Genomic Games: Gene play

December 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

The amazing advances in behavioral genetics and personal genome analysis have taken most of us by surprise: you can purchase a profile of your personal DNA and even receive reports on your health-related risk factors – with a price less than a cheap smart phone. While there are still a number of serious problems and limitations in such tests and we have to be careful with any of their simplifying interpretations, they will surely improve and more is to come, fast.

A parallel technological and sw progress has occurred in the design and implementation of computer games, both entertaining and serious games. It is time for these two amazing, but only apparently distant developments to meet and make possible something wonderful. This is only a short conceptual note on combining game and gene technologies to achieve it:

Computer games where each game character has a specific personal genome, real, theoretical or imaginary! Such games would have immense entertaining and educational potential. The games could be used for running complex and even massive scientific simulations to study, for example, the impact of specific human genome features on human behaviors in specific game worlds and plays.

Such games could also shed light on the interaction of the individual genome with any of the virtual environments where they are played. And of course, time is a flexible variable in such games so that a number of growth, evolutionary, mutation, gene expression, and any other developmental factors can be modeled and studied. Anything that the gene and behavioral genetic scientists can imagine can be implemented as a computer game. Here are some further examples of this huge potential the gene games can offer for science and entertainment and why not also for personal self-knowledge and learning:

Imagine games where either the personal genome of the player or the genome of the characters, which the player controls have personalized genetic, hereditary or environmental background. The genome can be as realistic as is possible based on current research data or it can be just theoretical or imaginary. And of course, all other characters in the specific game world have their backgrounds as well. There would be a lot for new kind of operators to do in integrating science and game data, perhaps even offering open platforms for this.

The specified and implemented gene/environment/interaction factors affect the capabilities, tendencies, vulnerabilities or whatever personal characteristics of each gamer. However, because games can be massive, it becomes also possible to follow the consequences of certain gene pools or types of genome in any such large scale development – and in any game world. But of course, it is also possible to follow individual behaviors and its consequences of such genetically profiled individuals, real, theoretical or imaginary. We can test our own exaggerated genes, for example

Imagine further, that computer gamers join an open project like the Personal Genome Project (http://www.personalgenomes.org), where they offer their personal genome data for the scientists to study and follow them in any of their preferred or perhaps even specifically designed games. Only imagination sets the limits to this approach and we all know the huge global number of players today.

Why I write on this? Well, already for 2-3 years I have tried to get some individual game world people to get excited on this but has met very little genuine interest and fascination with what I’ve been truly excited about ever since 2010. But then just yesterday, I had a wonderful Xmas (very long) lunch with friends on the 11th Dec, invited by a friend, Ernst Grönblom and one of the people present happened to have a strong funding background in gene-related health businesses. His genuine excitement and encouraging attitude made me write this now and share it with my readers. I have not made a thorough literature analysis on this topic, so if this is nothing new, then I know that at least I’m in the same boat, sailing towards new horizons.

Below is an inspirational quotation from the Personal Genome Program (see the link above). Only “Games” are missing there.

“The answers to many fundamental questions about basic human biology, our experiences as individuals, and our history as a species will be illuminated by better access to large datasets that contain many human genomes tied to other forms of personal information, such as medical history and physical traits. Thus far, only a handful of individuals in the world have been extensively sequenced and studied. The PGP aims to change this by giving individuals a platform to share their genome, health and trait data.”

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