Sea Hero Quest, a game for smart phones and tablet computers, has become the largest dementia study in history. So far it has been played by over 2.4 million people and has generated the equivalent of 9,400 years of worth of lab research.
The game was designed and made collaboratively by Alzheimer’s Research UK, Deutsche Telekom and game designers Glitchers. The player takes control of a small boat which has to navigate treacherous waters to collect items over 75 levels. The game tests the player’s spacial navigation ability by recording how long it takes them to complete the different quests. Spatial navigation is one of the first abilities affected by dementia, so measuring it is a good way to spot the early signs of the disease. All the data from all the games played around the world is collected and analysed by dementia experts. It has already led to some early diagnoses.
Dr Hugo Spiers, of University College London, was quoted in The Guardian, saying: “This is the only study of its kind, on this scale, to date. Its accuracy greatly exceeds that of all previous research in this area. The findings the game is yielding have enormous potential to support vital developments in dementia research. The ability to diagnose dementia at early stages, well before patients exhibit any signs of general memory loss, would be a milestone.”
Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK also told The Guardian: “The early data that has very quickly been generated by Sea Hero Quest should inspire other corporations to consider what assets they might bring to research into dementia or any of our most seemingly intractable medical conditions.”
Sea Hero Quest is free to download and play. It is available on both Android and iOS devices. I’ve played it, it’s great fun.