A playful journey to healing and self-efficacy
Empowering paediatric patients through gamification
One in 500 newborns is born with infantile cerebral palsy (ICP), a severe motor disorder. The neurological condition can be alleviated by regular supervised muscle exercises, but these exercises are not very motivating because they are repetitive and make children feel dependent.
This is where MightyU comes in. As part of the BMBF-funded research-project, we have developed a serious game that children can use to perform their therapy exercises at home in a playful and self-effective way. MightyU is designed to help children and young people with ICP become more independent and participate in social life, while at the same time relieving the strain on relatives and carers.
User Research – The Be-All and End-All of Human-Centered Design
User research is an essential foundation for a successful user experience. In this project, the interaction with the target group was particularly important.
Our main motivation was to find out what excites children and what frustrates them. We wanted to understand what kind of games they prefer and which characters inspire them both visually and in terms of content. Getting to the bottom of these questions gave us a fascinating insight into the life of a child with ICP.
The unusual Player Type of ICP children
The first step in the development of our game was to determine the so-called player type of children. This led us to a surprising discovery: Most ICP children belong to the “philanthropist” group, which is very unusual for children.
Because they experience above-average levels of caring, they look for ways to be there for others. A game mechanic that focuses on competition, rankings or skill would be counterproductive here, as the children are already overburdened with challenges.
Our mission was clear: to create a game that would allow children to express their empathy and willingness to help in a virtual world.
A new empowered role for patients
Based on this insight, we came up with the idea of creating a game about raising and caring for a powerful creature. This approach offers a unique way to give children with ICP a sense of control and self-efficacy. By caring for a virtual creature, children can take responsibility and feel like caring caretakers. They see that their actions have a direct impact on the creature's well-being and gain a sense of control and influence, rewarded by the creature's growing affection and strength.
Our Senior 3D Design Engineer Freddy during first tests with an Arduino microcontroller.
The technology behind MightyU
Naturally, the game was designed to complement the children's therapeutic exercises. To play the game, the children do not use a conventional controller, but the device they already know from their therapy: A professional medical sensor that measures the patient's muscle contractions. For the game, we converted this sensor into a game controller.
The sensor sends a Bluetooth signal to an Arduino microcontroller with a Bluetooth LE module.
The Arduino converts the signal into commands to control a gamepad.
The microcontroller can simply be connected to the console via USB-C cable using an adapter.
The console interprets the setup as a conventional gamepad. The game uses the input as the X-axis value of the left stick.
A very special Project
With all the exciting issues we deal with in our work, it's projects like this that remind us why we love our job so much. Projects that get us close to people's lives. They show us that user research is more than just another tool in a tech company's toolbox - it's the foundation of our work.
Talking directly to the patients about their needs and finding the right solution has been very meaningful for us.