Deutsche Telekom and Saatchis launch VR game to aid dementia research

Deutsche Telekom and Saatchi & Saatchi London have launched a VR game where players can help scientists fight dementia by playing the game. Sea Hero Quest VR aims to harness the power of VR gameplay to aid dementia research by helping to further advance scientists’ understanding of spatial navigation, and therefore understand one of the earliest symptoms of dementia.

The game has been developed to work with the Samsung Gear VR and up to 10 people can play the game, with individual profiles, on each device. The game was developed with independent game designers, Glitchers, in partnership with University College London, the University of East Anglia and Alzheimer’s Research UK.

The game is the second instalment in Deutsche Telekom’s #gameforgood initiative, following the launch of the mobile game Sea Hero Quest, last year. Sea Hero Quest VR offers scientists the opportunity to cross-validate the data collected via Sea Hero Quest mobile. The companies say that the data collected by the VR game is “15x more precise” than that from the mobile game, and that two minutes spent playing Sea Hero Quest VR collects the equivalent of five hours of lab-based research.

“Whilst Sea Hero Quest mobile gave us an unprecedented data set in terms of its scale, allowing us to gauge spatial navigation abilities at a population level, the VR game allows us to build on this by measuring subtle human behavioural reactions with much greater precision,” explains Dr. Hugo Spiers, of University College London. “With Sea Hero Quest VR we have also been able to replicate highly credible lab-based experiments such as the ‘Morris Water Maze’ that would not translate well to video or mobile game format. The intuitive nature of VR means that the study can be opened up to those who might not be able to grasp the function of the mobile game – some people with advanced dementia for example.”

Sea Hero Quest VR is made up of six challenges. In a clinical environment, it allows for a more immersive and intuitive diagnostic assessment of spatial navigation ability in people who may potentially develop dementia.
Michael Hornberger, Professor of Applied Dementia Research at the University of East Anglia, said: “Sea Hero Quest VR allows us to measure more intuitively when people are not sure of their bearings, for example by stopping and looking around. VR therefore has the potential to capture additional complementary data to Sea Hero Quest mobile.”

The 2016 Sea Hero Quest campaign became the world’s largest dementia study of its kind, collecting data from almost 3m people worldwide and generating the equivalent of over 12,000 years’ worth of research. From the results garnered, scientists were able to establish the first worldwide, cross-cultural global benchmark for human spatial navigation and formed the largest dementia study of its kind in history.

Preliminary findings from the analysis of the data set were presented at the Neuroscience 2016 conference in San Diego and the game is now being trialled for use within a clinical setting. Initial results show a fundamental difference in the navigational strategies of men and women. They also reveal that players from Nordic countries have particularly notable spatial navigation abilities and that on the whole, our spatial navigation ability declines after age 19.

Alzheimer’s Research UK director Tim Parry said: “Dementia is already one of the greatest health challenges we face and is predicted to affect over 130m people worldwide by 2050. Research holds real power for creating more accurate diagnostics and effective treatments that those living with dementia and their families really need. The reaction to Sea Hero Quest illustrates the public appetite to get involved in research and be part of ongoing efforts to tackle the condition. Deutsche Telekom’s ‘Sea Hero Quest’ project is just the kind of innovative cross sector partnership that we need to accelerate progress in this important area.”