Protein folding games are entertainment programs designed to encourage players to participate in distributed protein folding experiments. Protein folding models how amino acid chains may function in the body, and simulations give scientists the ability to model new drugs and search for cures much quicker than they could in real-world experiments. By encouraging players worldwide to contribute computing power to the project, these games can speed up research.
Early crowdsourced protein folding programs had no games attached to them; they were simply programs users could download and run using idle PC time to test protein configurations. These were largely automatic, using pre-programmed algorithms to fold proteins and look for usable shapes.
Newer generations of protein folding games are more interactive, drawing users into the process in order to increase engagement as well as to take advantage of users' natural problem-solving skills. By explaining some of the rules of how proteins like to interact, the game teaches players to make logical connections between amino acid structures, reducing the amount of randomly-chosen configurations the system needs to try for each protein. The game Foldit, in particular, collects information on the strategies players use to connect proteins in an attempt to teach those intuitive skills to automated programs, speeding up the entire process.