Video Games for Pediatric Patients, an Internship Experience with Nationwide Children's Hospital


Primary Physician Investigator, Nationwide Children’s Hospital

Amy Dunn, MD, Director of Hematology

User Experience Technology Research and Development, Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Jeremy Patterson, Team Lead
Robert Strouse, Team Member

Interns – Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Alice Grishchenko (OSU Design MFA candidate)
John Luna (OSU Dance MFA candidate)


A research project initiated by a team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital has resulted in a multi-year internship for two Ohio State graduate students, John Luna (Dance) and Alice Grishchenko (Design).

Physicians and staff at Nationwide Children’s are creating a clinical treatment environment for pediatric patients to alleviate pain and offer distraction during repetitive and tedious treatment sessions (e.g., hemophilia infusions). Another goal is to make this technique available to parents or guardians to treat children at home.

Creating Virtual Reality (VR) 3D animated games became the Internship goal for Alice and John who are studying video game design at ACCAD.

The students, guided by Jeremy Patterson, the User Experience Technology Research and Development lead at Nationwide Children’s and instructor for ACCAD, created 3D interactive VR games with a set of very unique requirements:

The creative team meets regularly with physicians and pain management specialists at the hospital to design the games, including modeling the characters, designing the environments and activities, and recording a soundtrack to enhance the needs of the clinicians and the young patients.

Using Unity and Maya software programs, Alice and John created their games within soothing aquatic environments with game mechanics to keep young patients engaged. The games are fun and magical, transporting patients underwater where floating bubbles have friendly faces, and game points are earned by hopping between islands. Game levels are incorporated to keep the games challenging. Using breath to control the game doubles as a calming effect on the patient.

The interdisciplinary backgrounds of both John (Dance) and Alice (Design) proved to be vital. John explained that VR headsets are notorious for inducing motion sickness. John used to perform a dance solo where he would spin for 7 minutes on an aerial apparatus. He had to develop tricks to ward off motion sickness. John and Alice were able to translate these anti-motion-sickness techniques into the design of their virtual spaces.

Alice noted that designers seek to keep in mind who the “user” is, learn about them, imagine their circumstances and consider how design choices will improve their experience. Those skills were elemental to this project. It was critical to carefully consider the “user” vs. “product” relationship.

Jeremy Patterson added, Without John and Alice, none of this would have been possible. Their knowledge is beyond their years of experience and their insights are keen. ACCAD is one of the only places where cross-discipline, creative and design-oriented thinking is ingrained as part of the culture.

A clinical trial of the project with Nationwide Children’s Hospital opened spring 2016. The video below produced by Nationwide Children's hospital, demonstrates the treatment protocol.