My experience as Foldit player

I start playing in may 2008 until October 2013. I am not a biologist and learned about the game in The Economist. I begin to play without thinking too much as an occupation of my fingers when I listen to music. I was more and more engaged on almost all the aspects of the game like writing recipes, helping on the chat, being a moderator and writing in the wiki.

Why do I play?

I played for the fun of the game. For me, the game was fun because it is not just trying many possibilities but trying to make a “good” shape of the protein. I discover the tools in playing with some help from the chat but mainly trying by myself. I liked more the early stages of the game like finding the global shape of the protein, for example to find the right order of the sheets. I play for the fun but also play for the scientific meaning. The real scientific results was made only by few players and I am not among them.

The scientific meaning

I have many questions on the scientific meaning of the game. Why do we almost always fold known proteins? What is the problem to find real challenges? The other universities of research centers don't want to share their secrets even in giving UW some tasks? Foldit is not enough developed for the current issues? Do the development of Foldit need so much replay of old puzzles? What are the results? Is Casp really useful?

Did I learn some science playing?

No but searching along the game for understanding and for the wiki (classification of the proteins).

Who play?

As I know, no study on Foldit players have been made until the first year It is misleading to say that Foldit have gained hundred of thousand of gamers, only a few hundred players play each puzzle. What I infer of the chat : Only kids from family of players play Foldit and only for a while. Foldit is not a game for kids. Kids who try could think they cannot play because they are not made for science, so, for me, showing Foldit to kids is a big mistake. a few teenagers play but players are more often over 40 years old than less than that age, many are more than 60 years old. Few players are biologists, some have some scientific knowledge related to chimie or physics, many are in information technologies, Players are from USA, Canada, UK, the Netherlands, France, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Poland and many other countries. Relatively few are from Spanish speaking countries, south of Europe, African or Asian countries.

Along the years, the game evolved.

The great direction is from a manual game to make imperfect proteins to a set a recipes to make perfect proteins. most and most energy is put on recipes. Some hand folding puzzles were added, most players hate them. A very small set of players seems to play almost only them. from global shape to refinement puzzles like electron density, to design ideal unnatural proteins instead of trying to solve actual problems, to work as a big team with sharing of strategy, recipes...

The tools like cut points follow this tendency of finding a perfect shape from each part of the protein.

The evolution of the game is a subject of debates between players, the most common are: Recipes: some players think that all the fun is on hand folding, and some other think that hand folding is a torture. In between, all the opinions exist. Learning: as folding protein is hard to learn, some players think that senior players should learn to the new ones. This view seems to be prevalent now with black belt videos but have not been discussed. Moderation of the chat.

Is Foldit players a group of friends? A club? A community?

Some players make friends in the game but as a general climate, there is as enmity as friendship between players.

Why we need moderators?

Most often, because there are students. Some other trolls may disturb the game, but the main disruption of the chat are poorly supervised classrooms.

Moderators are not the best players, have no monopoly on help or any obligation to help new players.

Their advice on the game are not better than any other players and they usually do not have the same opinion on any aspect of the game.

They do not organized the black belt videos.

Wiki and documentation

The wiki is not well organized. In many pages, there is a mix of description of the game, strategy, scientific information and general thought on the game. As a collective work, it is very difficult to rewrite it from the beginning on a better organization. The official Foldit site is a globally unorganized, most informations are lost after a while like descriptions of the tools and the types of puzzles. We have no reference guide on tools and type of puzzles, many aspects of the game are mysterious like filters, score.


Translating Foldit in French was a annoying useless job. I don't think the translations are used at least because there are many bugs. After consulting the main linguistic teams (Russian, French, German), the developers should choose between solve the bugs and make all the documentation in a chosen set of language or stop all the translation process. Many Spanish speakers cannot understand why they have a partially translated game with no other help.


The feedback on what we have done is too light and too late. Publications have been made on Foldit, available on Internet, with Foldit players credited and never commented on Foldit site like papers on WeFold. For most of the puzzles, even after the release of the native, we never have a feedback. Scientist chats need preparation like slides, graphics, rehearsal with non scientific to test the vocabulary. Scientists gave feedback on a puzzle played month ago only giving the number of the amino acids without a graphic, I played this puzzle but cannot understand anything.

I don't know if a general analysis of the result of the puzzle have be made. I see a global tendency of players to make a wall of straight sheets with perfect bonds for native more often imperfect sandwich of curved sheets.

Except for a paper some years ago, no analysis of the recipes was published. My opinion is that rebuild recipes could be better with more options on rebuild function like a rebuild that do not taking into account the structure. With all the players experts in coding, we could have more ideas with more knowledge about the tools.

Is Foldit a tool for education?

Foldit for non biologists to play without knowing biology or a tool for education? Foldit is made to hide the science behind a game. Currently, I don't think students learn anything doing all the tutorials. It seems that an adaptation of Foldit could be released for high school. So far, of the thousand of students trying the game as homework, I don't think one stay as a player. So far, I think I have lost too many time helping students to do their homework without any benefice for them and for the game.

My conclusion

I had great fun folding protein, I met interesting people and I have great pleasure to talk to them in the chat. I think I have play too much now.

As I like to discover by myself, to hand fold and the first steps of the game, most of the evolutions of the game make Foldit less fun for me.

I think the game will be better with better documentation, most feedback, more work on explaining why we fold and what are the results that on how we fold.

I will like to answer to any study about my experience of the game.

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