Henry Lo and Janice Ng, two Simon Fraser University (SFU) students, developed a virtual reality (VR) farm game aimed at helping cancer patients take their mind off the pain while undergoing treatment.
A virtual reality farming game
The VR game, called Farmooo, is being developed in SFU’s Pain Studies Lab. Lo and Ng, students of SFU Surrey’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT), were inspired by games such as Pain Squad, Farmville and Gardening Mama in their creation of the tool. The pair took their inspiration and tailored it to meet the special needs of patients.
Farmooo, which will be tested at B.C. Children’s Hospital this spring, allows users to perform physical tasks in the farm through the use of simple hand movements. The game is targeted at young patients aged 12 to 18 and is projected on a screen that plays it at 70 frames per second to avoid dizziness.
Personal experiences led to game development
While a Grade 11 student at Surrey’s Fraser Heights Secondary School, Lo was diagnosed with lymphoma after he developed difficulties with walking and breathing. He needed immediate treatment, one of which was chemotherapy.
Lo says that he needed to be in the hospital for long periods and realized that it can be a long day for children. Ng also spent a lot of time in the hospital when she was younger due to ear ailments. Knowing how excruciating it is to undergo treatment, the pair want to develop games and software that will enable speedier medical procedures so patient discomfort – and that of their families – will be eliminated.
Relieving pain in younger patients
According to SIAT Professor Diane Gromala, the supervisor of Lo and Ng, the game is the latest in the effort of the SFU Pain Studies Lab to develop VR approaches to address issues related to healthcare.
Gromala adds that the team wanted to develop something that offered not only benefits but also provided meaningful values for the game and VR industry. Apart from helping with the Lab, Gromola also works with VR companies in Seattle and Stanford University, as well as designing VR games for children at Boston Children’s Hospital.
The research of the students found that a lot of pain research focused on adults rather than teenagers and the youth. Lo experienced that undergoing chemotherapy isn’t just painful, but it can also cause boredom as patients are confined to their bed. In addition, the discomfort of being in this situation is a lot more extreme in someone who might be younger.