Sea Hero Quest isn’t a first-person shooter, a loot-driven role-playing game, or an open-world builder like Minecraft.
The premise of the game has you navigating mazes, and shooting and chasing creatures.
Sounds like your average, dime-a-dozen console game, doesn’t it?
Sea Hero Quest has different end-game content, however – it doubles as a tool for studying Alzheimer’s disease.
The game – downloadable in a virtual reality version – was designed to stimulate users’ brains through memory-based tasks and orientation skills, all while collecting information on research for dementia.
One of the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s is a loss of navigational skills. Having said that, data that compares the cognitive response times across all ages is near impossible to collect, which is what this game hopes to achieve.
The VR game – or, the “largest dementia study in history”, as some call it – was developed by Deutsche Telekom, Alzheimer’s Research UK, with scientists from University College London and the University of East Anglia.
Related: Early Signs of Dementia Checklist
There’s a mobile version that’s been out for a year now, with three million downloads across 193 countries.
According to the developer’s website, just two minutes of game time accrues the same amount of data as a scientist would collect in five hours via lab-based study.
Players have accumulated the equivalent of 63 years played to date, equating to 9,500 years worth of dementia research scientists will now sift through.
“That gave us an enormous amount of information and it really allowed us to understand how men and women of different ages navigate in the game,” David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, told AFP.
Working through the game’s quests demands the use of “different parts of your brain and different parts of your brain are used in different ways by different types of dementia — so it allows us to link what someone can do to what is going on in their brain,” Reynolds added.
Now, the addition of virtual reality will provide yet another layer of data.
“The headset technology is helping to track where the person is looking at all times, as well as where they’re going,” Lauren Presser, one of the game’s producers, told AFP.
“So, we get to know whether people are lost and how they behave in those situations… Every single one of those experiments is helping us gather data around spatial navigation.”
Almost 50 million people across the planet have been diagnosed with either dementia or Alzheimer’s, according to the latest statistics. Experts believe that number could escalate to 132 million by the year 2050.
Currently, there’s no cure for either disease. But, the game developers are hopeful that all the data could eventually lead to early detection of the conditions, and improved treatments for each.
Reynolds says that just playing the game in itself is a tool for prevention.
“We know keeping your brain fit and active, like keeping your body fit and active, is good and is helping to reduce your risk of dementia or slowing its progression down if you have it,” he said.
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