5 Video Games Taking on Cancer

Categories: Gaming, Parenting
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Play to Cure: Genes in Space
Sure, keeping kids' spirits up is important, but it's not like you can use an actual video game to achieve real scientific progress in the search for a cure, right? True, you can't actually mow down cancer cells with a tiny little space marine at this point, but you can help out the scientists fighting cancer the old-fashioned way by taking some of the grunt work out of their hands.

Play to Cure: Genes in Space takes the tedious task of recognizing faults in gene data and transforms it into a free mobile phone rail shooter. You're seeing a space ship blasting asteroids looking for the valuable Element Alpha, but what scientists are seeing on the other side is you combing through raw data (Which takes hours), looking for indicators that are being used to develop treatments. It's just another great example of science finding out that if they crowdsource their labwork as a game, the world's gamers are more than happy to pitch in, especially if it will help stop cancer or AIDS.

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Ben's Game
Get your tissues out, folks, because this one is going to be a gusher.

In 2004 the Make-a-Wish Foundation asked 9-year-old leukemia patient Ben Duskin of Nevada if they could take him on a Disney Cruise or something like that. Duskin, a lifelong video game fan, said that if they were offering he'd rather come up with a game that allowed him and others like him to show cancer what it was like to be on the other side of the pain laser.

Enter Eric Johnson, a LucasArts programmer that had worked on The Secret of Monkey Island. Once a week for six months Duskin and Johnson would meet and guide the progress of Ben's Game, which featured an electronic Ben on a skateboard blasting cancer cells and collecting shields to protect against side effects from treatment like nausea. Then they installed it for free in chemotherapy wards across the country because Duskin is an embarrassingly better person than most of us.

"I feel really good in my heart that lots of people are playing it," said Duskin in an interview with the Nevada Daily Mail in 2004. Download it here.

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That Dragon, Cancer
I hope you still have the tissue box...

Ryan and Amy Green had a son named Joel who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at just 12-months-old. He was given less than a year to live, but managed to make it four more years until he finally succumbed to the disease in March of 2014. His fight is over.

One of the things that kept the Greens going through their ordeal with their son was their aim to create an arthouse video game that express the pain and joy and heart and sorrow of their journey. That Dragon, Cancer doesn't feature lasers or rockets or even cute robotic crabs to fling out into the ocean. It's a living poem of one of the hardest things anyone will ever live through.

It is due out exclusively on the Ouya. While That Dragon, Cancer won't directly aid in staving off any more game overs from the dreaded disease, it can at least stand as a new type of witness to those who suffer from it. In a way, the courage to do so makes it the best game of all.


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3 comments
Jim Rassinier
Jim Rassinier

Great story, and something I hope this paper focuses on more often.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

Good article.  I had never heard of any of these.

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@FattyFatBastard  It was a really interesting topic to research, but that last one was brutal. It actually makes me glad I don't have a Ouya. I'm not sure I'm big enough to take that one on. 

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