A video-game designed to study dementia has become the world’s largest research experiment of the disease.
Sea Hero Quest has been played by almost 2.5 million people and has generated over 63 years’ worth of data. Its first set of results were released at the Neuroscience 2016 conference.
The game is a seafaring adventure where players must navigate arctic rivers and sandy shores to save an old sailor’s lost memories. The game tests platers navigation and orientation skills through three tasks; navigating mazes, shooting flares and chasing creatures to capture photos of them.
Sea Hero Quest anonymously records the player’s sense of direction and navigational skills as they progress through various levels.
As loss of navigational skills is one of the first symptoms of dementia, Sea Hero Quest is able to collate players’ data to create a benchmark that can equate getting lost to either dementia and Alzheimer’s, or natural ageing.
The development team, Glitchers, is working together with a number of universities over the country. Researchers at University College London have harnessed data from flare levels, suggesting that sense of direction consistently declines after teenage years.
Accuracy fell year by year for players aged 19 to 75 from 74% to 46%. The data showed that men have a slightly better sense of direction than women and that Nordic nations performed better than other countries.
The team hope the research created through the game can help develop a way of diagnosing dementia in the earliest stages.