Human-based computation game

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A human-based computation game or game with a purpose (GWAP[1]) is a human-based computation technique of outsourcing steps within a computational process to humans in an entertaining way (gamification).[2][3]

Luis von Ahn first proposed the idea of "human algorithm games", or games with a purpose (GWAPs), in order to harness human time and energy for addressing problems that computers cannot yet tackle on their own. He believes that human intellect is an important resource and contribution to the enhancement of computer processing and human computer interaction. He argues that games constitute a general mechanism for using brainpower to solve open computational problems. In this technique, human brains are compared to processors in a distributed system, each performing a small task of a massive computation. However, humans require an incentive to become part of a collective computation. Online games are used as a means to encourage participation in the process.[3]

The tasks presented in these games are usually trivial for humans, but difficult for computers. These tasks include labeling images, transcribing ancient texts, common sense or human experience based activities, and more. Human-based computation games motivate people through entertainment rather than an interest in solving computation problems. This makes GWAPs more appealing to a larger audience. GWAPs can be used to help build the semantic web, annotate and classify collected data, crowdsource general knowledge, and improving other general computer processes.[3] GWAPs have a vast range of applications in variety of areas such as security, computer vision, Internet accessibility, adult content filtering, and Internet search.[2] In applications such as these, games with a purpose have lowered the cost of annotating data and increased the level of human participation.


The first human-based computation game or games with a purpose was created in 2004 by Luis von Ahn. The game was called ESP because players had to come up with labels for images and try to guess what labels a randomly designated partner was coming up with.[4] The game marked the first of many microtask games. Microtask games are games containing a simple task that can be solved quickly without the need of any credentials. More specifically, ESP was an output-agreement game. Games with a Purpose categorized as output-agreement games are microtask games where a pair of randomly assigned partners try to match output with each other given a shared input visible to both. In 2006 von Ahn introduced another microtask game called Peekaboom. This game extended upon ESP by having players associate a labels with a specific region of an image. Peekaboom demonstrated a new type of microtask game known as inversion-problem games. In inversion-problem games, two players are randomly paired together where one is assigned as the describer and the other as the guesser. The describer is given an input which the guesser must reproduce given hints from the describer. In Peekaboom, for example, the describer slowly reveals small sections of an image until the guesser correctly guesses the label provided to the describer.[5] In 2008 Edith L. M. Law created the game called TagATune. In this game, players label sound clips. TagATune contributed a new category of microtask games known as input-agreement games. In input-agreement games two randomly paired players are each given an input that is hidden from the other player. Player inputs will either match or be different. The goal of these games is for players to tag their input such that the other player can determine whether or not the two inputs match. In TagATune, players describe sound clips and guess if their partner's sound clip is the same as their own given their partner's tags.[6] Also in 2008, Foldit was introduced by Seth Cooper. Foldit was the first game with a purpose to be considered a macrotask game. Macrotask games contain complex problems usually left to experts to solve. In Foldit, player attempt to fold a three-dimensional representation of a protein. While this is a hard problem of computers to automate completely, it is not hard to score. Thus players are able to focus on their score to perform this complex task without much knowledge of biology.[7][8][9]



The Apetopia game helps determining perceived color differences. Players' choices are used to model better color metrics.[10] The Apetopia game, which was launched by University of Berlin, is designed to help scientists understand perceived color differences. Apetopia is an easy game, accessible to all the public which requires no special skills except manual dexterity that all the experts of this kind of game usually possess. The Apetopia game helps determine perceived color differences. Players choices are used to model better color metrics.[10] This game is intended to provide data on how the shades of color are perceived by people in order to model the best color parameters.


Artigo[11] is a Web platform currently offering six artwork annotation games as well as an artwork search engine in English, French, and German. Three of Artigo's games, the ARTigo game, ARTigo Taboo, and TagATag, are variations[12] of Luis von Ahn's ESP game (later Google Image Labeler). Three other games of the Artigo platform, Karido,[13] Artigo-Quiz, and Combino, have been conceived so as to complement the data collected by the three aforementioned ESP game variations.[14][15] Artigo's search engine relies on an original tensor latent semantic analysis.[15][16]

As of September 2013, Artigo had over 30,000 (pictures of) artworks mostly of Europe and of the "long 19th century", from the Promotheus Image Archive,[17] the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe, Germany, the University Museum of Contemporary Art, campus of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA. From 2008 through 2013, Artigo has collected over 7 million of tags (mostly in German), 180,000 players (about a tenth of whom are registered), and in average 150 players per day.[18]

Artigo is a joint research endeavor of art historians and computer scientists aiming at both, developing an art work search engine and data analysis in art history.

ESP game[edit]

Main article: ESP game

The first example was the ESP game, an effort in human computation originally conceived by Luis von Ahn of Carnegie Mellon University, which labels images. To make it an entertaining effort for humans, two players attempt to assign the same labels to an image. The game records the results of matches as image labels and the players enjoy the encounter because of the competitive and timed nature of it. To ensure that people do their best to accurately label the images, the game requires two people (chosen at random and unknown to each other), who have only the image in common, to choose the same word as an image label. This discourages vandalism because it would be self-defeating as a strategy. The ESP game is a human-based computation game developed to address the problem of creating difficult metadata. The idea behind the game is to use the computational power of humans to perform a task that computers cannot (originally, image recognition) by packaging the task as a game. It was originally conceived by Luis von Ahn of Carnegie Mellon University. Google bought a licence to create its own version of the game (Google Image Labeler) in 2006 in order to return better search results for its online images.[19] The license of the data acquired by Ahn's ESP Game, or the Google version, is not clear.[clarification needed] Google's version was shut down on 16 September 2011 as part of the Google Labs closure in September 2011.


Main article: EteRNA

EteRNA is a game in which players attempt to design RNA sequences that fold into a given configuration. The widely varied solutions from players, often non-biologists, are evaluated to improve computer models predicting RNA folding. Some designs are actually synthesized to evaluate the actual folding dynamics and directly compare with the computer models.


Eyewire is a game for finding the connectome of the retina.[20]


Main article: Foldit

Crowdsourcing has been gamified in games like Foldit, a game designed by the University of Washington, in which players compete to manipulate proteins into more efficient structures. A 2010 paper in science journal Nature credited Foldit's 57,000 players with providing useful results that matched or outperformed algorithmically computed solutions.[21]

Foldit, while also a GWAP, has a different type of method for tapping the collective human brain. This game challenges players to use their human intuition of 3-dimensional space to help with protein folding algorithms. Unlike the ESP game, which focuses on the results that humans are able to provide, Foldit is trying to understand how humans approach complicated 3 dimensional objects. By 'watching' how humans play the game, researchers hope to be able to improve their own computer programs. Instead of simply performing tasks that computers cannot do, this gwap is asking humans to help make current machine algorithms better.


JeuxDeMots[22] is a game aiming to build a large semantic network. People are asked to associate terms according to some instructions that are provided for a given word. The French version of the produced network contains so far more than 43 million relations between 800 000 lexical items. The project was developed by academics of the Laboratoire d'Informatique, de Robotique et de Microélectronique de Montpellier/Montpellier 2 University.


Nanocrafter is a game about assembling pieces of DNA into structures with functional properties, such as logic circuits, to solve problems.[23] Like Foldit, it is developed at the University of Washington.


OnToGalaxy is a game in which players help to acquire common sense knowledge about words. As implemented as a space shooter, OnToGalaxy in its design quite different from other human computation games.[24] The game was developed by Markus Krause at the University of Bremen.

Phrase Detectives[edit]

Phrase Detectives is an "annotation game" geared towards lovers of literature, grammar and language. It lets users indicate relationships between words and phrases to create a resource that is rich in linguistic information. Players are awarded with points for their contributions and are featured on a leader board.[25] It was developed by academics Jon Chamberlain, Massimo Poesio and Udo Kruschwitz at the University of Essex.


Main article: Phylo (video game)

The Phylo[26] allows gamers to contribute to the greater good by trying to decode the code for genetic diseases. While playing the game and aligning the colored squares, one is helping the scientific community get a step closer to solving the age-old problem of multiple sequence alignment. The problem of multiple sequence alignment is too big for computers to handle. The goal is to understand how and where the function of an organism is encoded in the DNA. The game explains that "a sequence alignment is a way of arranging the sequences of DNA, RNA or protein to identify regions of similarity".

Play to Cure: Genes in Space[edit]

Play to Cure™: Genes in Space is a mobile game that uses the collective force of players to analyse real genetic data to help with cancer research.[27]

Quantum Moves[edit]

Quantum Moves is a dexterity and spatial problem solving game, where players move slippery particles across quantum space. Players' solutions on various levels are used to program and fine tune a real quantum computer at Aarhus University.[28] The game was first developed as a graphical interface for quantum simulation and education in 2012. In 2013 it was released to the public in a user-friendly form, and has been continually updated throughout 2014.

Reverse The Odds[edit]

Reverse The Odds is a mobile based game which helps researchers learn about analyzing cancers. By incorporating data analysis into Reverse The Odds, researchers can get thousands of players to help them learn more about different cancers including head and neck, lung, and bladder cancer.[29]


In the browser-based game Smorball,[30] players are asked to type the words they see as quickly and accurately as possible to help their team to victory in the fictional sport of Smorball. The game presents players with phrases from scanned pages in the Biodiversity Heritage Library. After verification, the words players type are sent to the libraries that store the corresponding pages, allowing those pages to be searched and data mined and ultimately making historic literature more usable for institutions, scholars, educators, and the public. The game was developed by Tiltfactor Lab.

Train Robots[edit]

Train Robots is an annotation game similar to Phrase Detectives. Players are shown pairs of before/after images of a robot arm and blocks on a board, and asked to enter commands to instruct the robot to move from the first configuration to the second. The game collects natural language data for training linguistic and robotic processing systems.[31]

Wikidata Game[edit]

The Wikidata Game represents a gamification approach to let users help resolve questions regarding persons, images etc. and thus automatically edit the corresponding data items in Wikidata, the structured knowledge repository supporting Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons, the other Wikimedia projects, and more.[32][33]


ZombiLingo is a French game where players are asked to find the right head (a word or expression) to gain brains and become a more and more degraded zombie. While playing, they in fact annotate syntactic relations in French corpora.[34][35] It was designed and developed by researchers from LORIA and Université Paris-Sorbonne.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Posted by Luis von Ahn (2008-05-13). "GWAP Blog: May 2008". Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  2. ^ a b Luis von Ahn (June 2006). "Games With A Purpose" (PDF). IEEE Computer Magazine: 96–98. 
  3. ^ a b c Luis von Ahn and Laura Dabbish (August 2008). "Designing Games With A Purpose" (PDF). Communications of the ACM. 51 (8/08): 57. doi:10.1145/1378704.1378719. 
  4. ^ Von Ahn, L., & Dabbish, L. (2004, April). Labeling images with a computer game. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 319-326). ACM.
  5. ^ Von Ahn, L., Liu, R., & Blum, M. (2006, April). Peekaboom: a game for locating objects in images. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in computing systems (pp. 55-64). ACM.
  6. ^ Law, E. L., Von Ahn, L., Dannenberg, R. B., & Crawford, M. (2007, September). TagATune: A Game for Music and Sound Annotation. In ISMIR (Vol. 3, p. 2).
  7. ^ Khatib, F., Cooper, S., Tyka, M. D., Xu, K., Makedon, I., Popović, Z., ... & Players, F. (2011). Algorithm discovery by protein folding game players. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(47), 18949-18953.
  8. ^ Lafourcade, M., Joubert, A., & Le Brun, N. (2015). Games with a Purpose (GWAPS). John Wiley & Sons.
  9. ^ Von Ahn, L., & Dabbish, L. (2008). Designing games with a purpose. Communications of the ACM, 51(8), 58-67.
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^
  12. ^ François Bry and Christoph Wieser. Squaring and Scripting the ESP Game: Trimming a GWAP to Deep Semantics. Proc. of the International Conference on Serious Games Development and Applications (SGDA), Bremen, Germany, 26–29 September 2012
  13. ^ Steinmayr, Bartholomäus; Wieser, Christoph; Kneißl, Fabian; Bry, François. "Karido: A GWAP for Telling Artworks Apart" (PDF). Proc. of 16th International Conference on Computer Games (CGAMES2011), Louisville, KY, USA, 27th - 30th July, 2011. Retrieved 2 January 2016.  (Best Paper Award)
  14. ^ Christoph Wieser, François Bry, Alexandre Bérard, and Richard Lagrange. ARTigo: Building an Artwork Search Engine With Games and Higher-Order Latent Semantic Analysis. Proc. of Disco 2013, Workshop on Human Computation and Machine Learning in Games at the International Conference on Human Computation (HComp), Palm Springs, California, USA, 6th - 9th November, 2013.
  15. ^ a b Christoph Wieser. Building a Semantic Search Engine with Games and Crowdsourcing. Doctoral Thesis, Institute for Informatics, University of Munich, 2014
  16. ^ Philipp Shah, Christoph Wieser, and François Bry Parallel Higher-Order SVD for Tag-Recommendations. Proc. of the International Conference WWW/Internet 2012, Madrid, Spain, 18th-21st October, 2012
  17. ^
  18. ^ Artigo Blog (in German)
  19. ^ "Solving the web's image problem". bbc. 2008-05-14. Retrieved 2008-12-14.
  20. ^
  21. ^ John Markoff (10 August 2010). "In a Video Game, Tackling the Complexities of Protein Folding". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  22. ^ "JeuxDeMots – The game for collecting words". 2014-06-15. Retrieved 22 June 2014. 
  23. ^ "Science | Nanocrafter". Retrieved 2015-12-15. 
  24. ^ "OnToGalaxy". Retrieved 25 January 2012. 
  25. ^ "Phrase Detectives – The AnaWiki annotation game". 2011-09-09. Retrieved 22 September 2011. 
  26. ^ Grossman, Lisa (30 November 2010). "Computer Game Makes You a Genetic Scientist". Wired. Retrieved 2 January 2016. 
  27. ^ "Play to Cure: Genes in Space". Retrieved 26 June 2015. 
  28. ^ "Do Science at Home". Department of Physics and Astronom, Aarhus University. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ "Train Robots – Robot Commands Annotation Game". 2013-08-30. Retrieved 5 October 2013. 
  32. ^ Magnus Manske (20 May 2014). "The Game Is On". Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  33. ^ Gerard Meijssen (26 May 2014). "#Wikidata - the game". Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  34. ^ "ZombiLingo". 2015-03-21. Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  35. ^
  36. ^

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