This image is not from the game itself, but is one of the many images inspiring the game’s designers.

An interview with game developers Stefan Hoffman and Robert Schraut in which they explain the ideas behind the MyPal game. 

The core component of the MyPal Child study is a video game which can be played on a phone or tablet. It is what game developers call a “serious game”: a game designed for a purpose other than pure entertainment.

At the heart of the game is an electronic Patient Reported Outcome (ePRO) questionnaire through which the child can regularly report changes in their symptoms and condition. The questionnaire will be broken up into single questions, which will be dispersed throughout the game.

We spoke to the MyPal game developers, Stefan Hoffmann and Robert Schraut of Promotion Software (one of the MyPal partners) and asked them to explain the thinking that lay behind the game.

What are the aims of the MyPal video game?

The purpose of the game is motivate the children to regularly use the app (up to three times a day) by making answering the questions entertaining and enjoyable.

With such regular reporting, symptoms and changes can be monitored much more precisely than could ever be possible with paper questionnaires.

What is the concept of the game, and how will it work?

The game itself will be a “runner game”, where the player’s avatar is a diver exploring a beautiful, alien underwater world, visiting corals, caves, tunnels and ancient civilisations, and finding beautiful things for their collections.

The focus of the game will be on the underwater world, the marine life and the remnants of ancient civilizations, not the Sci-Fi aspect of an alien planet. With that in mind, the visual style of the game is bright and colourful, with coral reefs and rainbow fish helping create an enthralling and appealing world.

Not from the game itself, but another one of the many images inspiring the game’s designers.

As a side storyline, there will be an infestation of this underwater world ecosystem, but the divers will treat this problem with science: there is no fighting.

As in a classic runner game with jumping and ducking (e.g. Temple Run) the player will collect points, but unlike classic runner games, which can go on and on, there will be a clear end to each game session. This is in order to control playtime and reporting.

We don’t want the children to play all day, which is why we designed a game so that it can be played for a couple of minutes every few hours, but which isn’t a constant attention magnet.

What are the advantages of using gamification to complete an electronic Patient Reported Outcome (ePRO)?

Integrating the reporting into a game changes the perception and focus of the user. By entertaining the user during the task, the regular reporting of symptoms is no longer seen as an annoying, burdensome duty. At the same time, the player must focus on the gameplay and so has no time to brood over their condition.

Finally, by using well-proven game mechanics, we can encourage a long-term commitment to playing the game. This means that rather than just playing for the first week and then stopping, the child will want to continue playing over a much longer period of time.

In our case this is done by using collectibles, which must be collected over time and can then be assembled into bigger 3D models of fantastic artifacts, like statues or dinosaur skeletons

What are the differences with this game compared with other similar projects you have worked on?

Compared to Boosters, the game we developed for the iManageCancer project, we chose a completely different approach. The biggest difference is that with the MyPal game, there is a very clear, concrete benefit to the user because the doctor is provided with valuable and detailed information about their symptoms. In iManageCancer this wasn’t the case.

In MyPal also there’s no fighting and there’s no way to lose at all.

We made this key change in response to what parents had said, and to get away from the idea of cancer as a battle.

What are the major obstacles/challenges you face with developing the game?

The biggest challenge is to build a game that is both fun to play for a short while each day, but also compelling to play day after day, over a long period of time.

Our main approach here is to create a simple, quick-paced and entertaining casual game, but one where the collectibles that can be found each day are limited. This will prevent the child wanting to play for a long period each day, and therefore also make the game more acceptable to parents.

At the same time, as I mentioned, we will encourage a long-term commitment to wanting to play the game regularly by using the collectibles, collected over time, to make bigger and more fantastic creations.

Can you see the concept for the game having wider uses and applications?

To gamify a questionnaire to get better and more detailed results is something that we expect to work well. If proven successful, we could think of variations for all kinds of paediatric problems.

Still, the design of the app isn’t generic: it’s tailored for the palliative needs of MyPal’s children participants.

Stefan Hoffman

Stefan Hoffman

Head of Studio, Promotion Software GmbH, Berlin, Germany

Robert Schraut

Robert Schraut

Lead Game Designer, Promotion Software GmbH, Tübingen, Germany