When Pam Omidyar and I first met back in 1999 and started HopeLab officially in 2001, I don’t think we ever imagined that her idea of a game for kids with cancer would turn into the success that we have seen with Re-Mission. We actually completed the game in 2005. We did research on it with 34 hospitals in the United States, Canada and Australia the following year. We released Re-Mission at the end of 2006 when we announced the finding we got at a conference. To date, over 200,000 copies of the game have been distributed in 81 countries across the world.
I keep in touch with Richard Tate who is the Director of Communications at HopeLab, the non-profit company I co-founded with Pam Omidyar back in 2001. When I expressed my amazement not just at Re-Mission’s continued popularity as a serious game but the media’s continued fascination with it, he said, “Yes. That story has legs!” In journalism when a story has legs, it lasts for a long time. The story about Re-Mission sure does have legs!
I recently did a video interview with Ben Rooney of the Wall Street Journal. In this you can hear why I think Re-Mission has been so successful for so long. (Click here to link to the story and video.)
In summary, I think it is a combination of three factors.
#1 The high production factors of the game which means not just the artistic value but the design approach that combined serious learning and behavior goals with fun gameplay. It is by now an old PC game and the controls aren’t perfect but you do feel immersed inside the human body and engaged in the story of Roxxi the nanobot fighting cancer in young patients, which brings me to the second point…
#2 The concept is brilliant. Too many people mistakenly think I came up with the concept but I didn’t. It was Pam Omidyar’s dream to make a game for kids with cancer where you go inside the body and engage in the fight against cancer by shooting cancer cells. Pam O.’s goal was to engage kids in an epic battle against cancer in the game. Epic games are what Jane McGonigal says engage people on a large scale and help them feel part of something bigger than themselves. It’s almost a spiritual experience. I think Re-Mission does that.
#3 As I say in the video, Re-Mission is still popular and people are talking about it because we did research on it. This made the game much more than an amusing and entertaining distraction for kids with cancer. The research findings confirmed that this game was actually a powerful tool in the fight against cancer. The game “worked.” Kids who played the game took more of their antibiotics and oral chemotherapy as prescribed by their doctors than kids who just played a control game. I don’t think anyone would be talking to us today if we didn’t have these research findings. It wasn’t just a fun game where you shoot cancer cells. It was something that led you to do things in the real world like take your medication more regularly so that you could actually beat YOUR cancer, not just the cancer of a character in a game.
Overall, I think we need to make really great serious games that combine our serious goals with fun and we need to make sure we do good research on them.
It’s not easy but it can be done. And we can change the world with serious games. That is OUR epic battle!