This console generation we’ve learned that games do not have to be a sedentary hobby. The Nintendo Wii is being used for everything from stroke rehab to helping athletes lose weight. Now a prototype game created by University of Utah students and faculty is helping young cancer patients keep their spirits up.
The game’s main character, Vance B. Strong, heads out for his vacation. Heroes never really get to go on vacation, of course, and he ends up having to save the town of Sandy Shore. Vance, an avatar for the cancer patient, becomes stronger as he defeats more enemies. In-game villains, who represent cancer, get smaller and weaker as the hero wins the day. The whole game is a metaphor for the kids getting stronger in the face of battling their illness. In one state, Vance builds a wall to protect the city. This represents building up one’s immune system to fight disease.
It’s a PlayStation 3 game that features no violence against living things because of the impressionable young audience. The only enemies Vance battles are robotic, so there’s never blood, gore or any physical damage applied to real people. Its PlayStation Move elements help keep patients active, always a challenge when they’re confined to a hospital bed for days or weeks at a time. The motion controls are light enough to be handled by any patient, whether standing, sitting or lying down.
Roger Altizer, director of game design and development at the University of Utah, told the Deseret News it allows the children to see themselves in a different way. When you’re a small child battling a horrible illness, it’s pretty easy to feel powerless. The game helps them see that they’re heroes, battling overwhelming odds and often winning. There’s no name for the prototype yet, and it has only been tested by a few patients. In that limited testing, the feedback has been positive. Beating cancer is no laughing matter but having a little fun while doing it can be therapeutic.