12 July 2012

Game to help get dementia message across

Colchester Campus

Scientists at the Essex have joined forces with a leading gaming designer to create a novel new game app which will be exciting, yet informative about research into combating Alzheimer’s Disease.

With the number of dementia sufferers set to double every 25 years, the youngsters of today will be the carers of tomorrow. The team behind this latest collaboration are hoping this game will help get the message across to a younger audience about the future impact of Alzheimer’s, but in a subtle way.

Dr Jody Mason, co-director of the Essex Research into Ageing Unit (ERA) at the Essex, said: “The interactive nature of the game will make learning enjoyable without the player feeling lectured. We want the game to be entertaining, but which just also happens to inform the player about Alzheimer’s Disease, not the other way round.”

Dr Mason is collaborating with digital artist and games developer Gareth Bushell, Director of independent game company Fayju.com and the man behind internationally-successful games Dune Rider, A monster ate my homework and Fayju Ball. The game is hoped to target a mass audience of casual gamers. The project is being funded by a Wellcome Trust People Award.

Alzheimer’s is an age-related disease that by 2050 will affect one in three people in the UK as a sufferer, carer, or a relative. About 65 per cent of the 820,000 people in the UK with dementia have Alzheimer’s, costing the economy about £23 billion per year − more than the cost of heart disease and cancer combined.

As Dr Mason explained, the aim of the game is to encourage empathy, engagement and understanding, while highlighting the desperate need for a cure for Alzheimer’s. “But we need to get the balance of the game right by getting the educational side across with a light touch so it does not put people off playing the game,” he stressed.

“Since Alzheimer’s Disease is an age-related disease, and life expectancy is increasing, it is imperative that we educate the general public, particularly the young. We believe that casual gaming for mobile platforms is a widely accessible and excellent way of engaging millions of people in understanding the severity of this disease and its implications.”

Mr Bushell, whose AppStore games have been downloaded more than eight million times, added: “The game will sensitively and tastefully deal with the pathology of Alzheimer’s at the molecular level and will feature absorbing and competitive game play designed to attract users, while highlighting therapeutic intervention approaches being taken.”

The game will follow a casual real-time-strategy format, where users will use a variety of approaches to stop a sticky protein from congregating in the brain. Mr Bushell is also a key contributor of not-for-profit digital art group Squidsoup.org, where he exhibits at numerous festivals, seminars and galleries around the world. An installation is planned to follow the games release.

The team will initially launch the game via Apple’s AppStore, with Android and other platforms planned at a later date.


Note to Editors

For more information please contact the University of Essex Communications Office on 01206 872400 or e-mail comms@essex.ac.uk.

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. www.wellcome.ac.uk.

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