I never thought I would want my son Rex to teach me how to play a video game, but as they say … never say never. That day came this week.
We were heading up to the Northeast to drop him off at boarding school. While chatting, or rather going head to head about his need for a television in his dorm room, an email popped up in my Inbox about a video game for children with cancer. Called Re-Mission 2, this game is designed specifically for young cancer patients. I immediately called upon Rex to download and play it and then report back to me.
An hour later he had evaluated the game and pronounced it “pretty cool,” which is the equivalent of an A from his adolescent perspective.
The game was created by a nonprofit called HopeLab, founded in 2001 by Pam Omidyar, wife of the founder of eBay. HopeLab, in conjunction with other donors, underwrote the development of a number of games designed for adolescent and young adult cancer patients. These games are entertaining and therapeutic. They engage patients in a virtual fight against cancer cells to complement their real battle against the disease.
In Re-mission 2, evil cancer cells are threatening to build a tumor or break off and get into the bloodstream in order to set up shop in another part of the body. The heroic character, called the nanobot, fights against the nasty cells with chemotherapy, immune modulators and a host of treatments, which may or may not be familiar to the patients playing the game.
Research on Re-mission 2 indicates that the patients who play the game are compliant with treatment regimens and have improved attitudes about chemotherapy. More than likely their endorphins are stimulated by playing the game so they feel better, too. Studies demonstrating the way Re-mission 2 impacts young cancer patients’ behavior have been published in scientific journals.
My concerns about this video game may well be unfounded, but I will share them nonetheless. I am not a fan of the war analogy nor the concept of patients being in a fight against their cancer. All war games are violent, and this one is no different. I wish we could look at the destruction of cancer cells in a less violent context.
In war there are casualties, and for every winner there is a loser. The player might win the virtual war, but lose the real one. Is it any harder if their onscreen success does not translate to reality?
Despite these reservations, I do know that adolescents and young adults feel very comfortable with combat in video games and that level of comfort translates to a level of familiarity with this game as well. Certainly Rex confirmed that it is a game he could and would play as part of a treatment plan were he to find himself facing a cancer diagnosis.
The bottom line is that patients of any age who are invested in their care do better. If it takes a video game to capture their attention and get them involved then I’m in.
Before you know it there will be an app to connect patients in real time while they are getting their chemotherapy. How about calling it Infusogram?