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Raising Alzheimer’s Awareness with Video Games

Raising Alzheimer’s Awareness with Video Games

by STEPHANIE CARMICHAEL

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Sixty-five isn’t old–not when most of us hope to push into our eighties.

That’s why designer Gaz Bushell of developer Fayju and Dr. Jody Mason, a biochemist at the University of Essex in London, are turning to video games to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease.

The two talked to Stephanie Carmichael at Fast Co. CoCreate about creating an absorbing sci-fi game about of the serious, scientific subject.

Cascade, a tower-defense game they are developing due in June for the Android microconsole Ouya. The game explores the amyloid cascade hypothesis, a theory about why Alzheimer’s happens, through easy-to-understand concepts for the young generations that the disease will be hitting later in life. Players work alone or together in the same room to defend brain cells from the disease.

“If you say to people, ‘Play our game, it’s about Alzheimer’s disease,’ I think that could be quite off-putting, even if it’s a great game,” Mason told Carmichael. “We always said from the outset that we would try to make this game tasteful and sensitive and not try to be glib about the subject matter.”

When Mason cracked open biochemistry textbooks to explain the science–the core of the game–Bushell says he was like an “infant” with it. He started to visualize it in programming metaphors.

“It’s like a perfect metaphor for a planet that is generating something on its surface, which is then destroying itself, and your role in the game is to try to stop that from happening.”

Cascade mirrors not only the pathology of Alzheimer’s but also leading therapeutic strategies. Enzymes like “molecular scissors” cut the big amyloid precursor protein on the surface of brain cells, and the middle section that pops out sticks to itself and forms amyloid plaques–the same thing Alois Alzheimer saw down his microscope over 100 years ago.

“You can lock the scissors that come in and cut the big protein,” said Mason.

 



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