Games can be tricky. You have to have some amount of physical and mental dexterity to be good at them. Sometimes, they outright require you to memorize huge amounts of information about their worlds and how to play within them. It's no surprise then that games can sometimes help pinpoint mental deficiencies.
One team of researchers has created a new mobile game that can actually help detect early signs of dementia. The 3D game, called Sea Hero Quest, follows a man who journeys to find his dad's lost memories, which have been strewn across the world. The game forces players to memorize maps and be able to orientate themselves within its world.
While the game is still in the early stages of testing, everyone who plays can help contribute to the researchers' database. By testing players' cognitive function, the game can potentially indicate dementia. The hope is that the game would make it easier to diagnose some of the symptoms. Sea Hero Quest is not the first game to attempt to do this: there's another game called Project EVO that aims to diagnose conditions like Alzheimer's, autism, and ADHD based on gameplay analysis. Pfizer actually works with Akili, the company behind Project EVO, to use the game in diagnosing illnesses.
Lately, it seems like mental illness and illness in general have been major game topics. There's Depression Quest, the game that walks its player through life via a depressed person's eyes, and That Dragon Cancer, which puts the player in the shoes of two grieving parents who lose their child to cancer. But these are games. Where do we classify games that transcend apps and become diagnostic tools or even medical devices? The FDA legislates medical device apps but falls notoriously short when it comes to reviewing mental health apps, so there's no real oversight in this arena. Although many people write about the ways in which games help them cope with their mental illnesses, there's a lot of research that still needs to be done on the efficacy of these types of games as diagnostic tools and treatment methods.
Sea Hero Quest isn't making any promises, however. It doesn't aim to be a medical device or claim to treat mental illness. The game's primary purpose is to help scientists map the ways in which our minds navigate games spaces. It's like the Human Genome of the way we see the world, and that's still a goal worth celebrating.