Dr. Elaine Biddiss is trying to create something that could be described as “funapeutic” – that’s “fun” and “therapeutic” fused together.
She’s leading a team at the Bloorview Research Institute that’s tapping into the widespread love of video games, but with a twist.
She’s designing video games for kids with disabilities – games that are fun, engaging and even competitive, while helping kids become stronger, more flexible and more mobile.
(But they don’t realize that’s happening, that’s the cool part.)
It’s no easy feat. There are so many factors to consider, like accommodating a wide range of abilities of kids with disabilities, both physically and cognitively.
The other challenge: creating games that are accessible to all, so if a kid’s typically developing brother, neighbour or classmate wants to play, they can too and it will be equally fun for everyone.
Elaine’s team believes they have something that checks off all of these boxes and will help kids, parents and therapists alike.
Behold Botley’s Bootle Blast
Welcome to the digital world of Botley’s Bootle Blast. This suite of games invites kids and youth of all abilities into a robotic city that needs help to capture mischievous mini-robots that are running amok.
Players visit themed headquarters that are home to over a dozen games that each target different therapy goals.
Therapists can pick an area of the body they want to focus on, such as shoulder movements, wrist rotation, elbow extensions, grasping, and other targeted movements.
There’s Wizard's Adventure where players become a wizard Bootle character that defends its castle by aiming their magic wand and casting spells on attacking ghost Bootles.
In War Paint, players time the clapping of their hands to squeeze a virtual tube of paint and the first player to paint over a certain amount of territory wins the game.
Players steer their Bootle race karts to the finish line, racing against each other or to beat a personal best time in the Bootle Kart game.
And in Space Jumper, players control their astronaut Bootle avatar as it jumps from platform to platform eventually reaching outer space.
In addition to being fun, the games also offer a social dimension that helps kids connect.
“Our games support multi-player game play and we have clever ways of balancing the playing field so that kids with and without disabilities can play and compete together in a meaningful way,” said Elaine.
What also makes these games so unique is that they might be the very first video games designed from input from scientists, game developers, parents, therapists and kids.
“When you have the meeting and intersection of all these different schools of thought that can lead to some interesting design decisions,” said Elaine.
The kids, for example, don’t hold back their opinions.
“They’re quite good at telling you what’s fun and what’s not,” said game developer Alexander Hodge.
“Sometimes you have to go back to an idea that you thought was really good that doesn’t really translate when you put it in front of an eight-year-old kid,” he added.
What also makes these games so unique is that they are designed to appeal to all kinds of players.
Some kids want to compete and get the highest score possible. Other kids want to engage strategy. Others still want pure speed. These games cover all of that.
Botley’s going home
There is a clinic version of the game that is already being used in the hospital, with Elaine, Alex and the rest of the team continually gathering feedback from kids and therapists for some fine tuning.
And early next year, they are going to embark on their very first pilot program, giving this game system to 10 families to test out at home.
“The families will evaluate its impact, and once we’ve established some feasibility, some idea of the efficacy, we’ll do another round of design reiterations,” she said.
One day, she hopes these games will be in the homes of kids with disabilities, giving them a powerful tool to help them with their therapy. And all the fun and social connection? That’s the bonus.
For more information about Botley’s Bootle Blast, contact Elaine at firstname.lastname@example.org