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Evil Video Games Great At Detecting Early Dementia In People

from the not-all-bad dept

We cover a fair amount of video game news here, with much of it revolving around either intellectual property concerns or the common claims that video games are responsible for all the world’s ills. The latter posts can be separated into two categories: one in which the violence in games is blamed for violence in the real world and one in which those who do not enjoy the medium blaming games for producing young people who those same people decide are deficient in some way.

It’s enough to make you think there are really only two camps. One camp thinks video games are evil in all of the possible ways. The other camp thinks video games are great in all of the possible ways. But this isn’t how the real world works. Like any other artistic medium, some products are good, some are not. Some are wholesome or thought-provoking, while others are empty calories. Even the notion that video games are solely an artistic or entertainment medium is a false premise, as demonstrated by a recent use of gaming to help identify Alzheimer’s Disease before serious symptoms show up.

Sea Hero Quest was built as a way to identify people who might be at risk of Alzheimer’s but who aren’t yet suffering any major symptoms of the disease and according to a study recently published in the journal PNAS, it seems the game is effective. In Sea Hero Quest, which is a VR game, players have to navigate and control a virtual boat. They are given a map and shown checkpoints, then the map is taken away and players must navigate to these checkpoints in the game world without the map.

According to researchers, every two minutes spent playing the game is equal to five hours of lab-based research. Because Sea Hero Quest has been out for a few years and downloaded and played by over three million players they’ve collected the equivalent of 1,700 years of research data on Alzheimer’s.

As the technology grows, perhaps particularly VR technology, applications like this will likely only grow along with it. And, while the equivalence figures sure sound like marketing material, it’s also likely true that there is indeed an efficiency in using the game in this way versus traditional research methods. That kind of boon in gathering statistical information, not to mention the ability to use it to alert those who would potentially suffer from the disease en masse, is the kind of thing digital technology is built for.

The question becomes where those who decry the gaming industry would come down on this. I’m certain they would argue that these types of games used for these types of things are just fine. Except that we would never have gotten here if not for the gaming industry existing as a whole. That is the very reason that generalizing an entire medium, or an entire technology, as inherently bad is never a smart look. There will always be examples such as this, in which that “bad” tech is used for a noble purpose.

And the validity of the output in using this games appears to be fairly strong.

“We found that people with a high genetic risk, the APOE4 carriers, performed worse on spatial navigation tasks. They took less efficient routes to checkpoint goals,” said Professor Michael Hornberger, a member of the team.

Using data gathered from thousands of players who downloaded and played Sea Hero Quest, researchers were able to create a baseline that their test results could be compared to. In the future, the team hopes this data and the game will help identify people who need treatment for dementia before they begin suffering from some of the worse later stage symptoms.

At the very least, this should be an indicator to the “get off my lawn” crowd that it might be time to take a breath.

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Comments on “Evil Video Games Great At Detecting Early Dementia In People”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Video games have always had this "loser in his parent’s basement" association, and is routinely criticized as the domain of unaccomplished, incapable escapists. Except the largest demographic for time and money spent on games isn’t the stereotypical nerd. It’s middle-aged women with disposable income to blow on Candy Crush clones.

Pokemon Go is another widely reviled example where I live; who else but idiots with too much spare time to waste would run around chasing animated pixels and models? Except that the old people making most of the noise are also the biggest group of people into the game, precisely because it gives them a reason to socialize among themselves, outside their age-based peer groups, and actually be physically active.

I’ve believed for a while that the criticism thrown at games is focused squarely on the idea that games provide an avenue for non-productive escapism. Only someone who fails at real life would willingly trade their time for a virtual existence that loses all its meaning once the developers turn off the servers for good.

To which I respond: if a business fails to provide for its customers, they’re well within rights to haul ass and move to a competitor who does it better. If so many functioning adults are spending more time in the virtual realms of World of Warcraft instead of the world that critics of gaming like to champion so much, maybe the issue isn’t them?

Bobvious says:

Video games have helped the development of computer architecture

Perhaps you remember the apocryphal "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers,"? Certainly the type of computers being referred to there would not have ended up in people’s houses, but it was not long after 8-bit microprocessors became cheaply available that desirable applications were running on them, not the least of which are the graphics based ones, often modelled on the pinball and arcade machines that went before them.

While market leaders like Seymour Cray developed supercomputers cooled with liquid nitrogen showers, and fended off "productivity administrators" https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/116196.The_Supermen , small companies drove the designs now common in almost every home. Advances in video game technology paved the way for useful colour graphics in home computers, and the need to make multiple single-core CPUs work together has contributed to the body of knowledge that we have today.

Quite a lot of the technology USED by those whose speak of the "evils" of video games, has come about BECAUSE of video games. (Like a certain anonymous commenter here using their free speech to complain about the freedom of speech of others. Their words lack the flow of iambic pentameter, but they are usually framed in ironic schadenfreude. https://www.weeklystandard.com/stephen-miller/schadenfreude-for-beginners)

Just because some video-game-playing moron committed a crime is most usually down to correlation, not causation. While long-term exposure to virtual reality can reduce some people’s grasp of the real world, there are plenty of individuals who can engage in shoot’emup video games, but function as perfectly normal empathetic members of society. There will always be someone who misuses a technology, to the detriment of a section of society, but this does not always mean that the technology is to blame.

There is the potential for those who have suffered strokes to use video game technology to re-learn how to move, and to exercise muscles by providing a reward at their own pace, often in an environment where the "chase" overwhelms the actual or perceived difficulty in achieving that movement, see haptics https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haptic_technology.

Christenson says:

Who Knew???

That you could actually measure cognitive performance with a video game??? And a VR simulation, freed of enough distractions about it not being real, could test performance on real-world tasks??

And people could have fun with it too???

Those ought to be so obvious as not to require proof, lol

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