A group of scientists has developed a new virtual reality game which is not for entertainment purpose but has a very serious and noble motive behind it. The game is termed as Sea Hero Quest VR and it is aimed to assist neuroscientists in developing a newer and more efficient test for detecting dementia.

Several minds have been involved in the creation of Sea Hero Quest VR. A UK based firm Glitchers collaborated with students from several British and Swiss colleges, and with several dementia charities to design this game. The game is freely available on the internet for download.

The conception of the game was financed by the renowned German mobile company Deutsche Telekom AG. The game is being launched on Tuesday and it uses Samsung’s VR headphones along with Facebook’s Oculus Rift.

As the game is being played by someone, a complete and comprehensive data of their complete actions, with each and every tiny detail, gets collected and saved on the servers of the mobile company under anonymity. The game also gives the players the option to provide the details about their demographic figures, like their age, whereabouts, and sexual category.

The game accumulates the data for research purposes. So, all the saved data is meant to be analyzed by the neuroscientists and psychologists for learning how a human brain functions and grows three-dimensional awareness in alien environments.

According to the researchers, a slight impairment in these abilities could be an initial indication of dementia. And the data records from the game can ultimately help in developing new tests that can spot this mental damage even earlier.

The Progression of Dementia

Right now, the number of people suffering from dementia has crossed the figure of 47 million. And this number is anticipated to rise aggressively over the next 30 years due to more people heading towards old age. According to WHO, the total number of dementia sufferers all across the globe will increase up to 130 million by the year 2050.

Another firm that partnered in this venture with Deutsche Telekom is the Alzheimer’s Research UK. According to the chief science officer of the firm, Mr. David Reynolds, the tests such as brain scans reveal that the whole disease course that leads to dementia truly begins 15-20 years prior to the emergence of any notable symptoms.

He said that the patients stay unaware of the changes going on in their brains because the ability of the brain to resist the damage and to find a way to still function properly keeps on increasing. This ability is so strong that even if a person starts feeling the symptoms, he’d ignore them by lying to himself and will get involved in compensating actions, for example, counting on navigation systems to get directions of a known path.

He added that the real motive behind the development of this game is to detect the disease 15-20 years earlier when it is in its initial phase.

Other Medical Uses of VR Technology

The medical uses of VR technology are not new and they are on a constant rise lately. VR technology is now progressively being used for therapeutic purposes for relieving the symptoms of post-traumatic stress and lasting pain.

And as per the creative director at Glitchers, a big number of neuroscientists are already making use of the VR technology in their laboratories for conducting several experiments. But, this game will enable the scientists to collect the data to a much greater extent.

A statement by Deutsche Telekom said that a total of 2 minutes play time in the Sea Hero Quest can collect the data worth of 5 hours’ lab research. So, it is really a big step forward.

Christoph Holscher, a cognitive researcher at the Swiss University, said that the allies, Deutsche Telekom and Glitchers had launched a mobile application version of the reality game back in November 2016. Thus far, the game has already collected the stats from 3million people, which is much more than what the researchers were predicting.

Before that, the largest ever attempt to collect such data comprised of only six hundred volunteers. The massive amount of data from the game has increased the ability of all the neuroscientists to start working towards efficient dispersal of navigation abilities in the people. According to Holscher, as soon as this starting point is created, the game might help in generating a test that could actually detect dementia.

Progress Up To Now

So far, the game has helped Holscher to discover that the connection between a person’s age and his navigation skills is much more powerful than the researchers ever believed. He said that the statistics from the phone version of this game showed that the navigating ability is at its highest when a person is 19 years old.

The ability gradually yet steadily starts dropping after that age and shows major impairment when people enter into their 40s. But Holscherbelieves, this decline might not be an age related thing but simply because the younger generation is much more proficient at making use of the latest technology.

Holscher is quite optimistic about the new VR game because it allows a person to look everywhere by literally moving his head, just as he would do in the real life. So, it can be really beneficial in this research.

As per Holscher, the older data from the mobile game also showed notable variance in the navigational approaches of men and women. According to data, the women are more inclined towards using their intellect and instinctive sense of direction for moving around. On the other hand, men are more inclined towards depending on landmarks and outer hints in the surroundings.

Researchers also discovered that out of all the people who played the game, the ones from Scandinavia showed the best navigation skills than any other area. The reasons, however, are yet to be known.

Deutsche Telekom said that their VR game has also enabled them to imitate numerous authentic lab-based experiments like the Morris Water Maze, which can help them in evaluating various essential skills that play a part in the brain’s navigation process.