If I were to tell you about a new virtual reality video game that featured a sea monster who loved to eat hot dogs, chances are you wouldn’t immediately link it to serious academic research. And yet, here we are.
Sea Hero Quest VR is a virtual reality game that is designed to test our ability to navigate–the deterioration of which also happens to be one of the first signs of dementia. Created in partnership among University College London, University of East Anglia, gaming design company Glitchers, Alzheimer’s Research UK, ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi London, and brand sponsor Deutsche Telekom, Sea Hero Quest is an expansion of the mobile game that launched last year.
The original mobile game, which won agency Saatchi London nine Cannes Lions, attracted one million downloads in its first two weeks, and three million players overall. The game collects anonymous data based on players behavior, which is then evaluated by neuroscientists. Glitchers co-founder Max Scott-Slade told the BBC that virtual reality should provide more detailed information because it can separate where players’ eyes are looking with which direction they’re steering the boat.
Christophe Hoelscher, chairman of cognitive science at ETH Zurich, also told the BBC, “No project ever has collected data from 3 million people of real interactions in this depth. That allows us to do a number of analyses that you would never be able to do with classical studies.”
For Alzheimer’s Research UK, the overall goal with the games is to help identify people with dementia much earlier than they previously could.