Helping young cancer patients cope: Re-Mission video game

Todd Vandenbark

logo for Hope LabAs reported in the iMedicalApps blog, the non-profit organization HopeLab has created a video game with the goal of helping young people cope with the daily regimen required to fight cancer. Re-Mission features a nanobot (microscopic robot) named Roxxi that “travels through the bodies of patients with different kinds of cancer and battles the disease itself as well as treatment side effects” (from iMedicalApps).

The challenges faced by young people with various forms of cancer are difficult, to say the least: taking a variety of medications such as antibiotics, antiemetics, stool softeners, plus eating healthy when peers and the culture surrounding them are enjoying copious amounts of junk food. Roxxi the nanobot powers-up by following a real-life cancer regimen, and then she sets off to battle cancer.

Does this virtual-ly active role in battling cancer translate into increased motivation and empowerment for the young person playing it? According to a 2008 randomized control trial published in the journal Pediatrics, this video game intervention “significantly improved treatment adherence and indicators of cancer-related self-efficacy and knowledge in adolescents and young adults who were undergoing cancer therapy.”

For those who enjoy them, video games provide hours of satisfying play and escape from day-to-day challenges. A recent study examining the brain activity of patients who played this game provides a glimmer of how it translates into better adherence to the regimen necessary to battle cancer. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging technology to observe the reward circuits in their brains, 57 patients were assigned to either play or watch the Re-Mission video game. The result, as reported in a press release:

“Active involvement in video game play sparks positive motivation in a way that watching and hearing information does not,” said Steve Cole, Ph.D., Vice President of Research and Development at HopeLab, professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, and co-author of the article. “All participants in the study received the same information. It was the active participation in gameplay that made the big difference in motivation. This study helps refine our ‘recipe for success’ in harnessing the power of play in the service of health.”

screenshot of Re-Mission gameMany libraries have embraced gaming as a way to connect to patrons. Imagine a library with a collection of video games with the artistry of the biggest sellers that promoted healthy living, and help young people cope with life’s challenges. Such an image gives this librarian hope that we might begin reversing the epidemics of obesity and other preventable diseases in this country.

Have you or someone you know played Re-Mission? What other health-inspiring video games would you like to see? Tell us about it!