Zapping Cancer Through Video Games

Monday, July 29, 2013 - 2:34pm

Video games get a bad rap for enabling a couch-potato mentality. But for adolescent and young adult cancer patients, gaming could be just what the doctor ordered.

There’s nothing new about video games being used for non-entertainment purposes such as education or exercise. But researchers are acknowledging the addictive properties of gameplay and how these features may factor into medical research.

The University of Utah released a study examining the effects of frequent gaming on adolescents and young adults diagnosed with a long-term illness like cancer. Researchers found that certain video games activate positive emotions and improve demeanor when patients faced the daily challenges of an illness. Researchers also found improvements in treatment adherence, pain management and overall disease comprehension. Video games can be a useful tool to heal the body, mainly because the activity engages the mind and forces concentration. However, there are a few games in particular that have the potential to combat cancer.

The Games

“NutWarz” is a free, mobile game available for Android and Apple devices.

NutWarz

“NutWarz” is a free, mobile game available for Android and Apple devices. Created by a group of Canisius College students, “NutWarz” promotes testicular cancer awareness for the Check Yo Nutz Campaign.

After the launch of "Nutwarz," Brianna Blank, one of the “NutWarz” creators, began working on a new video game for adolescent cancer patients that uses a motion capture system similar to the Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360. To help young patients understand cancer treatment, players control good cells in the body to defeat and destroy cancer cells using typical cancer-fighting weapons. The game is still in the development stages and currently untitled, but Brianna hopes to launch before graduating from Canisius in May 2014. As a former RPCI patient — diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) at the age of 3 — Brianna wants to incorporate this new game into pediatric playrooms at Roswell Park. Now cancer free, she also gives back to the cancer community by volunteering as a photographer for Camp Good Days and Special Times, Inc.

Re-mission2 is a collection of six, free, online mini-games that mimic what patients go through during cancer therapy.

Re-mission2

“Re-mission2” is a collection of six, free, online mini-games that mimic what patients go through during cancer therapy. With the success of the original prototype, “re-mission,” nonprofit organization HopeLab launched “re-mission2.” The Flash-based games are designed to get teen and young-adult cancer patients involved in better understanding their condition and how the body benefits from often unpleasant treatments. The game puts the cancer patient inside their own body to shoot and destroy cancer cells using weapons like chemotherapy, cancer drugs and the immune system. The result, according to HopeLab’s research, is that patients take their medication diligently and have an interest in the mechanics of their own treatment, leading to a sense of empowerment and control in fighting the disease.

While these video games are not a treatment for cancer, they are an effective, psychological weapon that promotes healthy, cancer-fighting behavior.

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