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Revolutionary VR game to aid in dementia research

UEA scientists have helped Deutsche Telekom unveil the world’s first virtual reality (VR) game with which players can help scientists fight dementia.

Building on the highly successful mobile game ‘Sea Hero Quest’ launched in 2016, just two minutes spent playing Sea Hero Quest VR collects the equivalent of five hours of lab based research.

Sea Hero Quest went on to be downloaded nearly 3 million times (the largest previous study comprised of nearly 600 volunteers), generating the equivalent of over 12,000 years of lab-based research, establishing the first global benchmark for human spatial navigation and forming the largest dementia study of its kind.

The VR game presents scientists with the opportunity for cross validation of the data collected by the mobile game and scientists hope to build on the rich data set already collected by using the latest in virtual reality technologies to gain greater insight into human spatial navigation behaviours.

Last year, 10.8 million people worldwide used virtual reality and it is forecast that by 2021, there will be over 16 million users in the UK.

Michael Hornberger, Professor of Applied Dementia Research at the University of East Anglia commented “In a clinical environment, VR allows an even more immersive and intuitive diagnostic assessment of navigation ability in people who may potentially develop dementia. 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.”

Hans-Christian Schwingen, Chief Brand Officer at Deutsche Telekom, said: “Building on the success of the mobile game Sea Hero Quest which collected the data of almost 3 million players, we are very proud to continue to push the boundaries of traditional medical research, working alongside our trusted partners and leveraging our expertise in this area.”

With this game, Deutsche Telekom aims to harness the power of VR gameplay to advance dementia research. The game has been developed in collaboration with University College London, the University of East Anglia and Alzheimer’s Research UK. The game itself was developed jointly with independent game designers, Glitchers. The anonymous spatial navigation data collected is stored in a secure T-Systems server in Germany.

Dr. Hugo Spiers of University College London, who has been leading the analysis of the anonymous player data collected by Sea Hero Quest mobile, explains, “Whilst Sea Hero Quest mobile game gave us an unprecedented data set in terms of its scale, allowing us 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.

“With Sea Hero Quest VR we have also been able to replicate highly credible lab-based experiments such as the ‘Morris Water Maze’ (winner of the 2016 ‘Brain Prize’) 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.”

The legacy of Deutsche Telekom's ‘Sea Hero Quest’ is a key example of the company's commitment to technological innovation and its digital responsibility ethos.

“Of course, many researchers are already using VR based experiments within a lab-based setting” explained Maxwell Scott-Slade, Creative Director at Glitchers. “This is the first time, however, that experiments have been gamified and designed for the mass market consumer, allowing users to share scientifically valid data via the medium of engaging gameplay and extending their potential reach exponentially.”

Tim Parry, Director at Alzheimer’s Research UK says “Dementia is already one of the greatest health challenges we face and is predicted to affect over 130 million 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.”

The game has been developed to work with the Samsung Gear VR headset and will be available to download for free from the Oculus Store from 29th August. Sea Hero Quest mobile is still available to download for free via the App Store and Google Play.

 

Study medicine at UEA