Whoever said playing too much video game could be harmful probably never saw this coming. Sea Hero Quest is a 3D game that is aiding dementia researchers to track and monitor any behavioral pattern that may suggest signs of dementia. The researchers at University College London are treating the game like a preliminary diagnostic test to map out the initial signs. They created the game where the players are required to navigate through a levels and that’s when the players will need certain skills which, are the first to be lost by people having dementia. The readings will be sent back to the researchers.
With the progress of the game, researchers are hopeful and claim that the game could generate heaps of useful information. Hilary Evans, chief executive at Alzheimer's Research UK said "We have never seen anything undertaken in dementia research at this scale before. Providing the research community with access to an open-source data set of this nature, at this scale, in such a short period of time is exactly the kind of innovation required to unlock the next breakthrough in dementia research."
The game was developed by charity, researchers from University College London (UCL), the University of East Anglia in collaboration with Deutche Telekom. The story is pretty simple for anyone to understand, the player needs to follow the sailor’s quest to re-visit his father’s memories and while on this journey, he will encounter mythical sea creatures to battle them. The paths taken by the players will generate global “heat maps”, showing the researchers while the players explore the 3D environment. The objective is to identify when someone’s spatial navigation skills are failing.
In an interview with BBC news, Dr Hugo Spiers, from UCL said "In my research team, I could only test about 200 people a year, and that's working hard. But last night I tested 200 people in one minute with this game”. Other researchers like Dr Hugo from UCL said the game could generate the information almost 150 times faster than lab-based experiments.
Nevertheless, players can choose to play anonymous if they wish or reveal their gender, age and location to the researchers via the registration process.
Dr Spiers believes that "This project provides an unprecedented chance to study how many thousands of people from different countries and cultures navigate space. It is a massive online citizen science experiment that will give us an idea of what is 'normal' through this game. If we tile that information together, we can get a sense of how dementia changes over a lifetime, and other demographic factors."
Regardless of how useful the game is in identifying people with signs of dementia, Dr Spiers emphasized how the game alone could not account for as a test for dementia.