How is the data collected from the game?

To ensure the validity of the research methods within the game, the Glitchers developed advanced spatial navigational tracking tools, including a specially developed algorithm to collect and relay continuous anonymised snapshots of data back to the secure data centre.

As this data was required to be relayed over cellular connections, the Glitchers needed to ensure the impact was light on users, while the transfer remained robust.

The App securely transfers anonymous data collected from the game, on game play results and not specific user details, which equates to less than the equivalent of posting 1 Instagram photo.

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How was the game designed?

The Sea Hero Quest App was designed collaboratively by the Glitchers team and scientists from around the world. As players make their way through mazes of islands and icebergs, every second of gameplay is translated into scientific data that enables experts to study this area of our brains.

Translating traditional research experiments into engaging gaming experiences for a mass audience required massive shifts in traditional game design process and thinking. To ensure the most valid data set possible, typical gaming mechanics such as ‘collecting’, ‘lives’ and ‘level-ups’ were replaced with engagement strategies such as ‘level progression’, ‘personal bests’ and ‘complete with friends’.

Understanding how the data would be analysed by scientists and processed by machine learning algorithms was key to building tools that created complete and relevant data in level design. This method significantly decreased the time usually spent by scientists designing these experiments for similar studies

For further information on the Games company behind Sea Hero Quest, please visit this page: GLITCHERS

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What has been discovered from the initial data collected?

Based on the collected data, first findings proved that spatial navigation capabilities begin to decline from age 19+ and that there are fundamental differences in the special navigation strategies between men and women. Men performed better than women, but the gender gap narrowed in countries with greater gender equality.

A country’s GDP also had a significant bearing with Nordic countries among the highest performing along with those in North America, Australia, and New Zealand.

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How does Sea Hero Quest contribute to Alzheimer’s research?

Spatial navigation deficits are common in the early stages of symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding how these symptoms manifest and develop has been limited by a lack of reliable data on how navigational abilities change in healthy aging. Sea Hero Quest has provided scientists with data that would have taken traditional dementia research 176 centuries to collect.

This powerful data set from people of all ages and backgrounds around the world is now being used to help create a global benchmark for spatial navigation and improve diagnostic approaches to early disease detection.

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How can you use Sea Hero Quest for your research?

Although the free consumer version was removed from app stores when the original project concluded, Sea Hero Quest has proven to be an invaluable tool for answering further questions in dementia research and other fields.

ARUK have once again partnered with game developers GLITCHERS, University College London, the University of East Anglia, and web developers BoldLight to develop a bespoke version of the game for researchers to create and fully manage prospective studies, as well as access data in real time from an existing study.

The new version of the app will be available for players with a participant code, generated by the Sea Hero Quest system according to the criteria and requirements of a specific project. Researchers will be able to invite a targeted group of participants to play Sea Hero Quest and generate data about their spatial navigation capabilities. For more information about setting up your own cohort and study, please visit: Wiki – Sea Hero Quest (

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What is Sea Hero Quest?

Sea Hero Quest is a multi-platform adventure game (available for Apple and Android phones and tablets) designed specifically to help advance the understanding of spatial navigation, and therefore understand one of the first symptoms of dementia.

It is a multi-award-winning citizen science project originally led by Deutsche Telecom, alongside GLITCHERS, UCL, UEA and Alzheimer’s Research UK.

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Who can confirm compliance with GDPR?

A specific policy statement concerning support for and compliance with the Data Protection Act 2018, incorporating the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) can be found in the following document available online: ARUK- Research Team Privacy Notice

The ARUK Privacy policy can also be found on this page:

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Who will have access to the data outside of UCL?

Data is not shared with third parties and the only other access is through BoldLight employees (ARUK’s partner web agency who built the online portal for Sea Hero Quest).

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How useful is spatial cognition as a measure?

Spatial cognition helps provide a general measure of cognitive ability that draws on multiple domains, for example perception, memory and executive functions. This is helpful for relating it to other measures – which something more specialised would not do, for example, purely vocabulary.

The game and the data it collects is a non-verbal measure, so it can be contrasted appropriately with other measures such as language attainment. In addition, spatial cognition is known to be highly diverse in the population, leading to a greater chance of detecting effects with any correlational analysis.

It is also a useful measure when comparing the data to animal studies, since this is main measure used in these studies and tests, for example spatial memory tasks. Thus, cognition provides some links to neuroscience as a discipline. We have also shown our measure of spatial cognition has good real-world validity (Please see Coutrot et al., 2019 PLoS one), and can predict real world behaviour.

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Who can I contact if I am a Researcher and having issues setting up a project on the ARUK website?

Guidance on how to use the Researcher edition can be found on the ARUK Wiki page: Wiki – Sea Hero Quest (

If you are still experiencing any technical or access issues when setting up your research project, or with the app itself, you can contact for assistance. You can also contact an administrator directly using the online form: Contact an administrator – Sea Hero Quest (

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Is any data collected used commercially?

Access to the portal is granted for non-commercial purposes only. Access to the data outside of UCL is restricted to BoldLight employees (ARUK’s partner web agency who built the online portal for SHQ).

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Where will data be stored when Researchers are using the SHQ Portal?

Data is stored in the ARUK web server (Bytemark) and is accessible via a WordPress login with 2 factor authentication. This is accessible only to authorised ARUK staff.

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Can you provide more details on data Security?

The current system assumes researchers have their own GPDR and storage for data on a project. ARUK collects the data to a secure server and this is then downloaded and stored under the team’s ethics. 

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What is the usability of data available? Do you need specialist knowledge of using coordinate of trajectory data? Or are more simple metrics producible?

The ‘x’ and ‘y’ coordinates recorded are converted into a ‘distance travelled metric’. This has been used in current studies and has been very intuitive. Because we have data for 4 million people we can use this to profile people exactly for where they fall in the distribution. We are developing more sophisticated measures, but the distance works well as a measure. We have the scripts for analysis and it would be done in minutes for 10000 files.

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How can I access existing published data?

We now have a data portal which Researchers can use to access the data from the global full set, of nearly 4 million people. To gain access, please visit our dedicated Sea Hero Quest Research page (..coming soon) for details, or email

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What to do if I am having issues ‘steering’ in the game?

We find the best way to manoeuvre the boat is to move it forward and then adjust its direction. To go forward, put your thumb (or your index finger works just as well) and swipe upwards towards the top of the phone. Then put your thumb or finger back on the boat and gently swipe sideways to steer in that direction. If you find yourself stuck against the shore, continually swipe in one direction to spin the boat back in the direction you want to you.

If you’d like more help on usability of the game, please do email

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How will I know how to play the game?

We tried to ensure the game is as accessible as possible to all. After you’ve downloaded the app (for free from the Android or Apple app stores), the opening level of the game acts as a tutorial to help you understand how to control your boat and the principles of the game.

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Who can I contact if I am having issues playing the game?

If you’re experiencing a bug, we can report any issues. You can contact

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Can I play the game if I have been diagnosed with dementia?

Sea Hero Quest has been developed for anyone and everyone to play as it is designed to help us understand navigational abilities at a mass scale, or “population” level. Although not designed specifically for people with dementia, it does not mean they can’t or shouldn’t play if they are able and want to have a go.

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Is the test suitable for all users?

If some participants finding navigating hard and don’t like the idea of being tested, it is worth pointing out that a) they are probably the most helpful as we learn most from them and b) after a period of play the game has an arrow to point the way, so you can still complete the test with no sense of direction at all. You do not need prior knowledge of video games or apps to play.

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How do I download the App?

You can download the app from the App Store or Google Play Store. Search “Sea Hero Quest” and download the app to your mobile phone or tablet.

Alternatively, you can use the following links:

You will need to input a participation code or ID. Please email if you are currently not participating in a research study but would like to play the game and receive a code.

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How useful is spatial cognition as a measure in relation to other disciplines?

Spatial cognition would be a measure that makes sense for skills across all cultures, so useful for consideration in the field of Anthropology and Geography.

The links between spatial skills and STEM are now well documented, so for those interested in Education this measure is important to consider. For example we have a manuscript under review at Nature Human Behaviour where we report that the UK legislation change to more years in education can be shown (discontinuity regression) to have a causal impact on raising navigation ability.

The link between spatial skills and STEM also has long-term economic interest. This also has economic implications (particularly as spatial skills are very trainable) and so could feed into education policy recommendations. For example, engineering contributes 21.4% to the UK economic annual turnover, yet over £1.5billion losses are reported annually due to STEM skills shortages.

For economists’ spatial cognition as a measure may be useful since we have the broadest amount of data we are aware of from any cognitive test (covering 195 countries, 67 in detail). This means we have been able to compare economic differences. We found that performance of a population could be strongly predicted by GDP and the gap between men and women predicted by the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index (Please see Coutrot et al. 2018).

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What has SHQ achieved?

Since its launch, Sea Hero Quest has been played for a combined total of over 117 years by 4.3 million people around the world, providing scientists with data that would have taken traditional dementia research 176 centuries to collect.

The App was BAFTA nominated and after launch it was so popular on the Apple store it was the number 1 downloaded game in the world. Spanning Mobile and Virtual Reality, Sea Hero Quest created the largest study on spatial navigation capabilities in history.

It was named “App of the week” by BT. It won nine Cannes Lions at the 2016 International Festival of Creativity. By February 2017, the game had been downloaded 2.7 million times. 

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