July 08 2016

It's not just fun and games

Posted by Alexandra English

Games are no longer just for fun. In 2016, mobile gaming has taken a new turn. Firstly, developer Preloaded has teamed up with the Longitude Prize to produce Superbugs, an awareness-raising game in which players attempt to destroy deadly bacteria and keep antibiotics working for as long as possible. Superbugs was created with the intention of bringing the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to the forefront of public consciousness. Games are a great way of engaging people in issues that confront our society as in their very nature is repetition, thus reiterating the frightening problem of superbugs.


The World Health Organisation estimates that antibiotics add an average of 20 years to all our lives. Bacteria naturally evolve to resist some antibiotics, but our misuse and overuse of them has led to the accelerated emergence of drug-resistant strains. These strains have a propensity to spread quickly worldwide and can threaten our ability to treat common infections. The Longitude Prize is a £10 million global competition aiming to solve antibiotic resistance. Scientists from across the globe are urged to submit ideas for a test that will rule out the use of antibiotics when not necessary. However, while a test has not yet been established, ensuring the public are aware of the dangers of antibiotic resistance is paramount in inhibiting its persistence.

Superbugs is aimed at 11-16 year olds and is available for iOS and Android alike. The game aims to improve basic understanding of how bacteria mutate and become drug-resistant. It also emphasises that it is a change in human behaviour, such as finishing each course of antibiotics and not sharing prescriptions, which will stagnate the spread of superbugs.

Through educating the young on this very real health scare, it is hoped that they will be discouraged from making the same mistakes as their predecessors. Ukie (UK Interactive Entertainment) estimate that 99% of 8-15 year olds play some form of online game, making mobile gaming a great way to target young people. This time span leaves a huge opportunity to utilise technology to increase awareness of furtive issues, such as the rise of superbugs, through the combination of entertainment and education.

A second partnership of technology and science seen in the mobile gaming world is Sea Hero Quest. Alzheimer’s Research UK has teamed up with Deutsch Telecom and scientists from UCL and UEA to develop this revolutionary mobile game that will change the face of dementia research. The data produced by each player as they move through the game is saved and transmitted for analysis in an innovative method of crowd sourced data.

Sea Hero Quest

Spatial navigation is one of the first skills to deteriorate in people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. However, the way in which this deterioration takes place is not yet understood fully. The reason behind this is that not enough is known about how healthy people navigate, there is no benchmark. It can thus be difficult to differentiate between people with early onset dementia and those who simply have poor navigational skills.

Players of the game take on the persona of a sailor whose father is losing his memories of a life at sea. In order to help him remember his past, players must navigate waterways in search of pieces of his journal. At the start of each level, a map appears showing a number of buoys players must travel through. Once memorised, players must navigate through the virtual world and hit each buoy in the correct order.

What Sea Hero Quest will provide is spatial navigational data from a wide demographic of people. Ukie estimates that 57% of the UK population plays some form of video game, with 37% of these people playing on a smartphone or tablet. This therefore gives researchers a huge target audience from which to gain data. Playing the game for just two minutes is the equivalent of five hours of laboratory research. The data generated will enable scientists to create new methods of dementia diagnosis and management. To promote their project, those behind Sea Hero Quest have coined the hashtag #gameforgood.

Gaming Stats

Reviews for the game include many players enunciating that it felt nice to be part of something bigger and not just wasting their time with trivial games. The benefits are thus twofold: the public enjoys participating and being engaged with science and the researchers are supplied with invaluable data. This pioneering approach to research demonstrates the utility of digital innovation in science and proves that gameplay is not just for fun.

The development of games like Superbugs and Sea Hero Quest illustrates the ability of technology to inform, not only through expected platforms, but through any innovative channel. Where games were once considered a fun pastime, through pioneering digital advances they are now a huge benefit to the human race, whether that be on a personal or wider societal level.

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