Virtual therapy for children

Video game lets kids with cerebral palsy exercise and socialize

Hamilton Hernandez, PhD ‘14, demonstrates the Fit ‘n’ Fun game bike. The game was developed at the on-campus EQUIS Lab.
Hamilton Hernandez, PhD ‘14, demonstrates the Fit ‘n’ Fun game bike. The game was developed at the on-campus EQUIS Lab.

Exercise video game Fit ‘n’ Fun was created to help children with cerebral palsy simultaneously exercise and socialize.

A Queen’s team involved in the program’s development says preliminary tests are complete.

Cerebral palsy is a condition that affects brain function, decreasing motor control. According to the Ontario Federation of Cerebral Palsy there are approximately 50,000 Canadians living with the condition.

Fit ‘n’ Fun is a computer game that uses a modified exercise bike and hand-held controller. In order for the game character to move the player must pedal the bike.

Hamilton Hernandez, a Queen’s student involved in the Fit ‘n’ Fun development, said for children the system isn’t just a game but a way to get active and make friends.

“Kids with cerebral palsy have these disabilities that make it difficult for them to get involved with physical activities like other kids,” Hernandez, PhD ’14, said. “They need to have enough physical activity so that they have the strength to hold their body up as they grow.” The game, targeted at children and teens aged 10 to 18, takes place in a virtual world where players can do things such as construct buildings and mazes, play mini-games and fight villains.

Hernandez said though there are other games designed for people with disabilities — including games to help those with auditory or visual impairments — Fit ‘n’ Fun is the only game that’s specifically targeted towards helping children with cerebral palsy socialize.

“The big difference with our game is that it is being designed to promote long-term game play,” he said, adding that theoretically the game never ends.

The project started in late 2010 when it received its first grant from NeuroDevNet and GRAND — two funding groups that promote computer-based therapies for neurodevelopmental disorders. Since then, the project has received funding from various sources. The team includes seven doctors from across Canada and three Queen’s graduate students in the Engineering Interactive Systems at Queen’s University (EQUIS) Lab. They are experts in fields ranging from medicine to game design, Hernandez said.

The EQUIS Lab at the School of Computing focuses on collaborative game technologies. He said when designing the game, the team held participatory design sessions with eight children with cerebral palsy every two months.

“We brainstorm some ideas with them, we get feedback on our ideas, and then we come back to the lab and apply changes to the game,” he said, adding that some suggestions they applied included a seat belt for the bike. “The kids are completely involved in the design process.”

The game is now ready for testing inside children’s homes, Hernandez said, adding that this process will continue for the next year.

The game and technologies used by the team are available for free on the EQUIS Lab website.

Once the game is ready, players will be able to download the game and purchase the gamer bike online.

“The children are really excited,” he said.

Though they’re not intending to commercialize Fit ‘n’ Fun, Hernandez said there’s a possibility that private companies could become interested in the published results.

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