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Deutsche Telekom’s Sea Hero Quest is no ordinary mobile game. It’s also a research tool, gathering data that helps scientists in the fight to understand dementia. This unique project won this year’s Meffy winner for Innovation in mHealth…

Dementia is on the rise. It is one of the most challenging medical issues of the era. Scientists have little understanding of where dementia comes from, how to stop it, or even how to detect its earliest signs.

And even though dementia affects 47.5 million people, research around it is limited. For every six research scientists looking into cancer there, is just one researching dementia.

Deutsche Telekom decided to respond to the issue is an unexpected way: it developed a video game. Sea Hero Quest is great to play, but it also has a scientific mission.

Scientists collect data on the choices players make to understand better how the brain works. They hope the data will help them develop benchmarks for spatial navigation that could help detect dementia much earlier.

Sea-HeroOf course, none of this would be possible if Sea Hero Quest was merely a worthy gesture. Happily, it’s been a hit with gamers. Sea Hero Quest centres on a simple but powerful tale of a son trying to save his father’s memories. It takes the player on a sea journey, collecting lost pieces of an ocean journal. Players need to find and photograph weird and wonderful sea creatures.

In two weeks downloads hit 1m, and the average ratings on Google Play was 4.8 out of five. Today it has 2.6m active players (the largest previous study into dementia involved 599 participants).

This success meant more data for the dementia scientists. In fact, they estimate that two minutes spent playing Sea Hero Quest equates to five hours of conventional research. So if 100,000 people play for two minutes each it can generate the equivalent of more than 50 years of conventional research.

Sarah Gottschling, International Account manager at Mediacom collected the Meffy and said: “People love to share moments that matter with their friends and family, and dementia is a threat to people’s ability to remember these moments. We wanted to boost awareness of the issue and join the fight against it.

“Our solution was to combine entertainment with science (to) collect the data researchers need. What we’ve done would have taken 10,000 years with conventional research.”

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