Crowdsourcing Medical Data Through Gaming

Felix Morgan in The Austin Chronicle: “Video games have changed the way we play, but they also have the potential to change the way we research and solve problems, in fields such as health care and education. One game that’s made waves in medical research is Sea Hero Quest. This smartphone game has created a groundbreaking approach to data collection, leading to an earlier diagnosis of dementia. So far, 2.5 million people have played the game, providing scientists with years’ worth of data across borders and demographics.

By offering this game as a free mobile app, researchers are overcoming the ever-present problems of small sample sizes and time-consuming data gathering in empirical research. Sea Hero Quest was created by Glitchers, partnering with University College London, University of East Anglia, and Alzheimer’s Research. As players navigate mazes, shoot flares into baskets, and photograph sea creatures, they answer simple demographic questions and generate rich data sets.

“The idea of crowdsourced data-gathering games for research is a new and exciting method of obtaining data that would be prohibitively expensive otherwise,” says Paul Toprac, who along with his colleague Matt O’Hair, run the Simulation and Game Applications (SAGA) Lab at University of Texas Austin. Their team helps researchers across campus and in the private sector design, implement, and find funding for video game-based research.

O’Hair sees a lot of potential for Sea Hero Quest and other research-based games. “One of the greatest parts about the SAGA Lab is that we get to help researchers make strides in these kinds of fields,” he says.

The idea of using crowdsourcing for data collection is relatively new, but using gaming for research is something that has been well established. Last year at SXSW, Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, made a statement that video games were the key to understanding and treating dementia and related issues, which certainly seems possible based on the preliminary results from Sea Hero Quest. “We have had about 35 years of research using games as a medium,” Toprac says. “However, only recently have we used games as a tool for explicit data gathering.”…(More)”