Play Sea Hero Quest and help scientists understand dementia

Scientists and game developers have teamed up to create a game that contributes to Alzheimer’s research.

According to Deutsche Telekom, “Dementia destroys your memories so they can no longer be shared with the ones you love.” Through the company, Scientists at University College London, the University of East Anglia and Alzheimer’s Research and Glitchers game developers have come together to create a game to help scientists fight dementia.

Dementia is a rapidly growing global health issue that affects another person every three seconds. Scientists have been working incredibly hard to understand it, in order to eventually reach a point where they can prevent and cure it. However, the data needed is difficult to come by, hindering any progress. Not only is gathering data a lengthy process but also, the data pool is very limited.

Considering the amount of time people spend gaming, scientists and game designers developed a way to extract data and add a constructive quality to this primarily entertaining pastime.  According to the Sea Hero Quest’s webpage, “By playing Sea Hero Quest for two minutes you generate the same amount of data that scientists would take five hours to collect in similar, lab-based research.”

The game itself is made of 3 core tasks. Navigating mazes of icebergs, marshes, and rocks, as well as between checkpoints, can help scientists measure typical decision-making and navigation abilities. Aiming flares test the player’s ability to find their way back and gauge orientation. Hunting down sea creatures to capture photographs of them is added purely for fun.

Blurring some of the maps in the game not only increases difficulty, but also allows scientists the opportunity to see how well players can navigate using a blurred map or a clear one. The Sea Hero Quest page adds, “From the penguins to the mammoth hidden in the ice, every element of the game was carefully crafted to be as fun and exciting as it is scientifically valid.”

All the information gathered from an individual who plays the game is sent anonymously to scientists. The information is inspected against a heat map dedicated to navigational decision-making. This data then contributes toward creating a standard of the normal functioning of these skills. Since the loss of navigational skills is an early sign of dementia, they will be able to test whether any experiences of it in patients are in fact due to dementia, or simply natural causes.

Scientists expect the game to continuously contribute to their research even at later stages, through multiple adaptations.