Video Game Prescription Helps 12-Year-Old Beat Cancer

His treatment consisted of, among other things, chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant, and permission to play Re-Mission as often as possible.

Larry Greenemeier, Contributor

May 31, 2007

5 Min Read

When 12-year-old Taylor Carol was diagnosed a little more than a year ago with leukemia, his treatment consisted of, among other things, chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant, and a prescription to play the video game Re-Mission as often as possible.

Taylor was introduced to the game last June by child-life specialists working at Children's Hospital of Orange County in California, who demonstrated the game to the young patients on a laptop. It took him a little while to warm up to idea of playing a game that would force him to confront his condition. "For the first few months I didn't want to hear about it," Taylor told InformationWeek. "I was still in kind of shock."

Ultimately, his curiosity got the best of him. "After about my second round of chemo, I became more interested. I was feeling so gross, I wanted to know why this was happening," he says. "I really wanted to learn about my cancer, but I didn't want to do it by reading a text book."

Re-Mission became one of Taylor's most important resources for figuring out how cancer was affecting his body. "I learned that cancer cells reproduce so quickly," he says. "I thought maybe it would be two or three rounds of chemo, but it turns out it's a much longer fight. Fighting cancer is a lot harder than you think."

Developed by HopeLab, Re-Mission features a cancer-fighting nanobot named Roxxi who helps educate and entertain stricken teens. Through Roxxi's missions, Taylor learned about canker sores that are an inflammation of the soft tissue in the mouth and "stool jags" that occur during treatment that can puncture the lining of the colon and cause a bacterial infection.

Not surprisingly, Taylor embraced the concept of blasting the bacteria and cancer cells that were the cause of his pain. "I liked killing the things that made me so tired and all of the things that made me miss my friends," he says. Each level of Re-Mission offered him a chance to encounter a different cyberpatient suffering from a slightly different form of cancer. During his treatment last year, he played the game every day or every other day for about an hour, taking a break from it when the chemo made him too sick to play.

Taylor, who lives in Dana Point, Calif., is being home-schooled this year as his body recovers from both the disease and its treatment. His leukemia was brought on by something called the Philadelphia chromosome, which required a bone marrow transplant to purge the cancer from his body. He speaks about his experiences with a striking degree of knowledge and authority for someone so young. When asked why he wasn't able to go to school with his friends this year, sixth-grader responded, "It takes about a year to get your white blood cell count up."

Re-Mission will resonate best with kids who are going through what he's been through, Taylor says. Roxxi uses an arsenal of weapons, taking on lymphoma cells, mouth sores, and bacteria with the aid of a chemo and "bacto" blasters as well as antibiotic rockets. Taylor's favorite weapon is the chemo blaster because it cuts through Roxxi's opposition like a machine gun.

The shooter games on which Re-Mission is modeled have become notorious for their portrayal of violence to children. Still, Taylor's dad, Jim, says the game's benefits outweigh any possible emulation of aggressive behavior on the part of his son. "When your child gets into a life-threatening situation, your old concepts about what you do go out the window pretty quickly," says Jim, an IT-industry veteran who spent a decade at Digital Equipment Corp. before moving on to Motorola, and then co-founding PacketVideo. In fact, Jim was so interested in Re-Mission's potential to help his son that the father called HopeLab directly to replace the initial copy given to Taylor that didn't work properly. He adds, "No parent knows a lot about child oncology until they have to."

Taylor gives Re-Mission pretty good marks overall as a video game. He notes that the graphics were "good but not great" but that it's "pretty good" as a shooter game. And he's got the credentials to back up his critique, given that he's got a Wii and an Xbox 360 at home. His favorite games on those systems are Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz and Guitar Hero, respectively.

Taylor's been in remission since the middle of December. He still has regular doctor visits and takes a regimen of 40 pills per day, but he's got a lot to look forward to. With only a few more weeks of school left this year, he's anxious to spend more time with his friends. He's also planning to sing a song he wrote titled "True Courage" with the Seattle Symphony to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Seattle Children's Hospital (he's been taking voice lessons for the past two years). While he doesn't play Re-Mission as much as he used to, Taylor recommends the game to anyone who's suffering from cancer. He says, "It can help you feel better when you're in your lowest days."

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