The Quantum Alliance

This year has seen an explosion of games that let players get up close and personal with quantum mechanics. And not just for fun, but for science too!

In the theory of game design, there is the concept of the ‘Magic Circle’: the virtual world in which the game is played. Each has its own special rules and rituals, which separate the place of play from the rigours of real life.

Though these special gaming universes may have any laws they want, they often borrow from the laws of physics. Despite being tweaked for fun, there are nevertheless many similarities between Angry Birds and Aeronautics.

The magic circles of gaming allow us to explore worlds that would be impossible to access otherwise. One such world is that of quantum mechanics.

Though quantum interactions are the basic building block of everything we know, their effects become washed for big lumbering things like us. To get hands on with quantum mechanics we typically need a PhD and access to highly expensive equipment.

Games can provide us with a short cut. With games whose rules are inspired by the quantum world, we get a glimpse into the strange properties of atoms and molecules.

But more than that, quantum games can let you contribute to research!

Quantum computers, for example, are a thing that we know would be awesome. But inventing them takes more than one or two geniuses tinkering in their garden shed. It takes the hard work of a vast international team of scientists.

There are many problems still to be solved in the development of quantum computers. There are many techniques that still need to be honed. But they don’t all require horrendous amounts of maths. For some, the only skills needed are ones possesses by any player of Tetris, or anyone who likes the puzzles page in the newspaper.

So though 2016 has given us many problems, we can at least have fun solving some of them. Here’s a run down of a few ways you can help our research by playing games.

Science at Home

The Science at Home project is run at the University of Aarhus. Their flagship game is Quantum Moves. By getting a high score you can tell the experimental physicists at Aarhus how to do their experiments. And the efforts of players so far have succeeded in beating previously known methods, as you can see here.

As well as continuing the good work of Quantum Moves, there are now many other games to get involved in with Science at Home. And they aren’t just about physics any more. Science at Home has become a vast monster of gamified science that knows no bounds!

Decodoku

The Decodoku project is all about quantum error correction. Quantum computers need to be protected from noise, and cleaned up when errors happen. But the best way to do this is not always clear. By playing the games, you devise methods than can be explicitly used in real quantum computers.

Decodoku also champions the idea of making games to explore new physics. So if you are a game designer, you can check out resources on how to make games using some of the most fashionable particles in modern physics.

Decodoku is my project, so I have written quite a lot about it elsewhere. See here, for example. Or here if you have a bit more time.

MeQuanics

Computers solve complex problems by breaking them down into a series of manageable chunks. This is called compilation. Like most things, it can be done in a lazy way or a clever way. MeQuanics seeks the latter.

The clever way is better in theory. It would streamline the process to make sure that the program can be executed as efficiently as possible, using as few of the basic computational chunks as it can.

This is true for normal computers and quantum computers alike. But there is one important difference: each computational chunk costs about a billion times more for a quantum computer! So it become a billion times more important to compile as cleverly as we can.

The problem is, we don’t know how to do clever compilation. That’s where you come in. Compilation in a quantum computer isn’t some boring process of moving around 0s and 1s. It takes the form of 3D puzzles, which need to be manipulated to squash them as much as possible. By playing with the puzzles, you help to develop methods that will help knock a few millions off the price tag of a quantum computer.

The Quantum Game Jam

Playing games is great, but making them is pretty awesome too. This provides another way that the public can help us out. We can pitch our problems, and then game designers can make games to solve them.

This happens every year in the Quantum Game Jam, a global game making event whose headquarters are at the University of Turku. This year the jammers were asked help work out how to use a Bose-Einstein condensate in a quantum computer. Some of them did it with sheep. Now you can play with these quantum sheep, or any of the many other games made through the quantum game jams.

These aren’t the only quantum games out there. But they are pretty much the only ones that let you help build a quantum computer. Have fun!