New Documentary Shows How Video Games Help Soothe Children with Cancer

Cancer is a terrible monster to fight, and it has afflicted people across age groups — including the young. But a new documentary, based on a recent study, reveals a potential tool to combat the pain from cancer treatments, specifically among children. And that tool is video games.

Presented by the non-profit Juegaterapia Foundation, the documentary entitled La Quimio Jugando Se Pasa Volando demonstrates the results of the foundation’s study tackling the effects of video games on cancer-stricken children post-treatment. The documentary title loosely translates to “When You Play, Chemo Flies By,” which is also the foundation’s motto. 

It features interviews and testimonies by the children who have cancer, their parents, and the medical staff, Spain-based news outlet Xataka reports in Spanish. Musician Alejandro Sanz, who is also the foundation’s ambassador, is the documentary’s narrator. The documentary is available on Amazon Prime and Filmin.

How Video Games Ease the Pain of Children with Cancer, According to the Study

Juegaterapia Foundation conducted the study at the Hospital La Paz in Madrid, Spain. They recruited 20 participants, whose age range was between four and 17 years. According to the study, these patients had been getting cancer treatment and received extra medical care for pain from mucositis caused by chemotherapy. 

The study sought to determine the impact electronic video games had on the children’s pain level after chemotherapy. Two key indicators the study reports are:

  • The morphine dosage the participants needed
  • The parasympathetic tone of the patients after playing electronic video games
Watch the documentary trailer here.

The Study’s Findings

What the researchers found was nothing short of a marvel. There was an average decrease in morphine intake by 20%, which may reduce the patients’ likelihood of experiencing the drug’s side effects. And the parasympathetic tone of the patients increased by 14%. To explain what the parasympathetic tone indicates, Mario Alonso Puig, M.D., says the following:

Thanks to being fully wrapped up in the game, children activate their parasympathetic system. This second area of the vegetative nervous system has two functions: on the one hand, it favors social interaction; on the other, it helps to keep the internal balance of the organism, the homeostasis, which in turn reduces the wear of other body organs.

Mario Alonso Puig, M.D.

Additionally, the participants’ basal and incidental pain also decreased. The researchers asked the group to report how intensely they feel pain on a scale of one to ten. According to the study’s results, the basal pain — or discomfort experienced at rest — decreased by 33%. The incidental pain — or discomfort experienced during a specific activity — decreased by 30%.

These findings suggest health facilities can integrate video games in the “non-pharmacological therapeutical plan against cancer mucusitis,” says Francisco Reinoso-Barbero, M.D., who is the study’s co-author and the head of Children’s Hospital La Paz’s Pain Management Unit.

Perhaps Dr. Puig summarizes it best. “When a child is engrossed in a game they love, this whole process of generating disturbing thoughts, pain, and anxiety stops.”

Image credits to Unsplash

Similar Studies Showing the Benefits of Video Games in Cancer Treatment

The study Juegaterapia Foundation conducted is not the first to tackle video games’ benefits in treating cancer. Similar studies have also supported the theory children who play video games post-treatment experience positive changes.

In one study, researchers gathered 64 children with cancer between the ages of eight and 12 to see how their quality of life (QOL) improved with an interactive computer game. These children were undergoing chemotherapy. The researchers measured the children’s QOL through a questionnaire called Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory (PedsQL) 3.0 Cancer Module.

The children were separated into the intervention group and the control group. The intervention group played computer games, and the control group didn’t. After one month of conducting the study, researchers found a significantly higher QOL score among the intervention group members.

In another study, researchers recruited video game developers to build a mobile game integrating physical exercise called Empower Stars! using Unity, C#, and other technologies. The study says researchers tailored the mobile game for cancer-stricken children between the ages of seven and 14. 

One of the study’s premises is that there are not many video game-oriented studies combining physical exercise with personal empowerment among children with cancer. As a result, there was enthusiasm for this approach, something future video games might consider.

Image credits to Unsplash

The Link Between Video Games and Health

People have had this long-held belief that video games do more harm than good. In the past, the stereotypical notion of video games inciting violence among impressionable minds has even made rounds in the field of research. But newer studies have linked video games with an increase in a person’s mental health.

According to an article in the American Psychological Association (APA), easily accessible games with straightforward gameplay “can improve players’ moods, promote relaxation and ward off anxiety.” In the same article, APA notes 70% of game users play with other people. This can build a sense of community among players and even encourage cooperation.

Additionally, one review reports the following outcomes among over 1,400 studies integrating video games to determine whether they have improved people’s well-being:

  • Psychological therapy enhanced by 69%.
  • Pain distraction enhanced by 42%.
  • Physical treatment improved by 59%.

However, it is important to note that two-thirds of the studies the group collated had follow-up periods of less than 12 weeks. But the numbers nonetheless indicate the potential of video games to form part of various therapies.

So what’s the link between video games and improved health? An article published in 2014 shows the relationship between the two by using psychologist Martin Seligman’s model. In the model, the components of well-being include positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment (PERMA). And according to the researchers, the very nature and design of video games satisfy all the elements of Seligman’s well-being model

Video games have come a long way in terms of purpose and impact. When done with good intentions and in moderation, playing games can become a tool for positive change, something we would not have been able to imagine decades ago.

In Summary

A recently released documentary called La Quimio Jugando Se Pasa Volando (translation: When You Play, Chemo Flies By) shows the effects of video games on cancer-stricken children after undergoing treatment. 

Juegaterapia Foundation, with the help of Hospital La Paz, spearheaded the study. They also produced the documentary in an effort to integrate video games into therapeutic plans for those suffering from the effects of chemotherapy, especially mucusitis. The documentary is available on Amazon Prime and Filmin.

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