Cheryl Yu and Diane GromalaCheryl Yu and professor Diane Gromala in the SFU Pain Studies Lab.


Gaming for pain management

October 09, 2014

By Marianne Meadahl

Video games may be good entertainment, but Cheryl Yu is creating a game that serves a different purpose.

Merging her passion for technology with the goal of producing alternative pain management solutions, she has developed Mobius Floe, a game to distract users such as burn patients and those suffering chronic illnesses from their persistent physical pain.

Still in the early stages of development, Mobius Floe draws the patients’ focus away from their pain and into a virtual environment.

The idea is to constantly present the patients with a captivating world that requires their constant attention, a strategy referred to as ‘pain distraction.’

Working in SFU’s Pain Studies Lab with Diane Gromala, a professor in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT), Yu researched and implemented game design concepts. She also experimented with different kinds of virtual reality games for reducing patients’ chronic and acute pain.

“Being part of the Pain Studies Lab, it felt more purposeful because we were developing the project to help people suffering from a health condition,” says Yu, an Undergraduate Fellowship Award recipient in the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology.

The award provided her the opportunity to work with and learn from industry professionals. And with Gromala’s contacts in the health field, she has found patients willing to test out her ideas.

“If a video game can be designed to be intensely engaging enough for people who have persistent pain and a host of other medical problems, imagine how captivating it will be for healthy people,” says Gromala.

“Cheryl was able to adapt to the rigors of research in a very challenging area that is full of uncertainties. She has exactly the kind of innovative thinking, adaptability and hard-core work ethic that are necessary for success in high-tech jobs.”

Yu, who graduates this month with a bachelor of arts, with honours, hopes to land a job in the video game industry. While competition is stiff, she believes the skills she has already honed as a SIAT student researcher will be transferable beyond the lab.

Do you need any testers or patients to help with research.trials etc ? I've been living with chronic pain for aprox 10 yrs and love to play interactive games. They help when I can't get out the house. I live in the lower mainland and I'm on disability so I'm home most of the time
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This is exactly why I got into the gaming world so many years ago (1996) and then into the online gaming world (and ended up working in it for years); it provided a necessary and interactive distraction from my constant pain (tv and even reading is too passive to involve me enough to take me away from the pain). I think this is a very worthwhile idea and hope that whatever is being developed can be used on different platforms. I'll be interested to see the outcome. I live in the Fraser Valley and if you ever need more people to help test this, reach out.
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I would love to be a beta tester for your game if you need one! I've been living for years with Fibromyalgia, two types of arthritis, Chronic Pelvic Pain, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes as well. I would welcome ANY new activity that would offer a distraction from the daily toil pain takes on body and brain.

Thank you for your work in this have no idea how helpful this might truly be for soooo many people!!!
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As a long-time gamer and person with chronic illnesses, I'm very interested to see where this goes. How do I follow/get updates on the project?
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