So videogames came up in the news again this week. Whenever this happens I feel like its my duty to defend videogames against calls to censor this threat to society which is corrupting youth, rotting our brains etc etc. My hands have been wrapped around a controller for most of my life, and I’ve been fending off complaints and ‘concerns’ about video games for almost as long as I can remember. But this time I don’t have to, because this time the news about videogames is good. Today we are in line to be the saviours of society rather than a threat to it. I’m happy to tell you that Sea Hero Quest really has made waves to stand out among the rest!
We’re talking about a videogame that aspires to be more than just a bit of fun or a timewasting app. A game set to be an essential tool in the early diagnosis of dementia – identifying it early enough for something to be done about it.
Launched on 6 May 2016, the game is called Sea Hero Quest and the developers of the game, Glitchers, are based in Dalston. What makes this free downloadable app so special comes down to one word: simplicity.
Sea Hero Quest is both simple and elegant; it’s designed so that absolutely anyone can play – unlike many videogames today which are almost impenetrable to the average person. The important thing to remember is the target audience, which would be users most likely not too familiar with the fundamentals of playing videogames. On this occasion a pleasing art style, simple controls and straightforward objectives have combined to produce something which has both integrity as a game and a further socially useful role beyond gaming.
Its gameplay is similar to other popular free to play videogames such as CandyCrush, with level progression coming down to short bite sized levels which can usually be completed in less than a few minutes. This definitely isn’t a negative, as it makes for pick up and play gameplay which doesn’t overwhelm the player with too much to do in one sitting. Content wise there are five increasingly difficult worlds to conquer, with about a dozen levels in each and range of interesting world themes such as a frozen arctic tundra to mystical yet spooky swamps.
The story takes a backseat to the three game types that most of the gameplay boils down to. The first and most common task is guiding your cute little boat around buoys in the correct order to win the stage. At the very start of the level you get to look at a map of where each buoy is located and what order you need to tag them in. This is turn tasks the player with remembering the general layout of the land and testing them to take the boat round the course in the correct order. This is a smart and important design choice, since people suffering from the early stages of dementia often experience a loss of direction and difficulty in remembering their surroundings.
The second, and less common, game type involves you guiding your boat to a specific location and firing a flare back to the location where you think you started from. Finally, the last game type is to snap a pic of a massive sea monster which you have to chase down. This involves frantically dodging left and right to avoid rocks which appear in front of you, catching up to the beast and taking a picture at the perfect moment. Whenever you complete a level the game sends your stats over to scientists studying dementia and a counter shows the contribution to dementia research made by you and everyone who has ever played the game.
Each level rewards you with a currency called stars, and the faster you are the more stars you collect in that level (up to three in total). These stars can then be spent on customising your dinky little starting boat and turning it into something much more personalised, from the colours of your boat to the flag you want to sail under. This common videogame system keeps players engaged by feeding them a steady stream of rewards. It’s a welcome addition in Sea Hero Quest since it certainly adds more substance to the whole package, making it feel like a real game rather than a research tool only masquerading as a game.
Personally I love the whole design, it oozes charm and the boat itself is probably my favourite aspect of the game, tugging at my love for everything to do with the open ocean (implanted all those years ago by The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker). The beautifully drawn world maps make it feel like you’re really making real progress and going on this odyssey to the ends of the earth. It all could’ve ended up as much more boring and clinical affair, but Glitchers took the time and effort to make it something equally unique and heart-warming.
I only encountered a few technical gripes, but it honestly could have simply been down to the tablet I was using the run the game.
The game is freely available on both IOS and Android. I think it’s important to ensure that Sea Hero Quest becomes recognised worldwide. Share it with your family and friends, because there is every possibility of helping to catch the early signs of dementia in someone you know and care about.
Without a doubt this proves that videogames have the ability to work side by side with medical professionals, and I’m definitely looking forward to whatever the next big breakthrough may be.
Follow Glitchers on Twitter and keep an eye out on their upcoming game Cone Wars: http://diary.conewars.com/
Check out more info on their site: http://www.seaheroquest.com/en/