Gearbox launches minigame to help citizen scientists research illnesses

Gearbox’s game for citizen scientists helped researchers unravel the data better than computers could.  It won in the ‘CSR Campaign of the Year’ category at Ragan’s 2021 CSR & Diversity Awards.

There are trillions of microbes in the human gut, associated with a variety of diseases. Mapping these microbes will help scientists better understand them and treat associated illnesses. However, computers struggle to map the gut and create reliable data. Humans are far better suited to finding and correcting errors.

To assist in the effort, Gearbox Entertainment teamed up with researchers at McGill University, Massively Multiplayer Online Science (MMOS), and The Microsetta Initiative at UC San Diego School of Medicine to launch Borderlands Science—a citizen science minigame within Borderlands 3.

Within three months the project reached more than 1 million participants, who solved a total of 50 million puzzle solutions. Their output ranged between 10,000 and 15,000 hours of work per day—more than 10 times the level of engagement of past mapping projects. Players’ efforts saved medical researchers hundreds of thousands of hours in training computers to do the same.

The Gearbox team developed an in-game arcade cabinet, complete with an ‘80s theme and suite of rewards for completing research tasks. To put a polished, broad-base appeal to the campaign, Gearbox also engaged “Big Bang Theory” star Mayim Bialik, who lent her voice to the project, the launch trailer and ongoing public relations efforts.

To engage Borderlands 3 players, Gearbox developed a messaging framework that appealed to people’s desire to contribute to the greater good. The messaging strategy was particularly influential when Borderlands Science launched in early April 2020—during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The social media conversation surrounding the launch of Borderlands Science reached more than 80 million people. In May, posts about milestone updates reached more than 10 million people, and in September, renewed social media efforts to publicize the initiative reached more than 8 million people.

Major video game trade outlets, including Gamesradar, VGR and PCInvasion, all covered the launch of Borderlands Science. National news outlets including Forbes and The Washington Post featured Borderlands Science in pieces on the future of video games.

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