Developing Videogames & Play for Hospitalised Children 

January 2014 - December 2014
Funded by AHRC

Co-I: Dylan Yamada-Rice (formerly) University of Sheffield; Stripey Design; Distinctive Games; NHS Trusts and Caroline Claisse and Xinglin Sun, MA Information Experience Design students, RCA

This was a one-year  inter-disciplinary network project that used multimodal and experiemental design practices to inform videogame design for hospitalised children. 


The methodology centred on a series of knowledge exchange workshops that rotated to prioritise the concerns of each the key stakeholders

  1. Hospital & Medical Perspectives (March 26th 2014)
  2. Academic Perspectives (May 9th 2014)
  3. Videogame Designers Perspectives (June 2nd 2014)

A final session brought these perspectives together to reach a series of emerging themes. 


The first workshop ocused on hospital and medical perspectives to focus on the potential of play for supporting children in hospital and recovery space. Also, how to inform the game industry for creating content for the design of videogames which blends both traditional and digital form of play.

Hospital Play/ Kevin Hartshorn, Sheffield Children’s Hospital
In this session Kevin talked about his practice as Play Specialist and the potential of play in hospital context.

“ According to him, play can certainly help patients to understand and cope with stressful situation and encourage them to express their feelings, helping them to recover quickier. He described different types of play such as development and rehabilitation play, post-procedural play and bereavement play as well as distraction play where for example play specialists use techniques to divert patient’s attention from their situation by focusing on something else, using for example musical games and books. Play specialists use a variety of activities which involve free play to encourage the children to express themselves such as handprint and hand casting. Other activities such as memory box can involve the family to participate in the making process.” (Taken from blog post by Claisse & Sun)

Following this we heard further ideas about play from a group of play specialists from the Birmingham Children’s Hospital

“The Birmingham Children’s Hospital play specialists emphasised the change made in the last twelve months in their practice. Their team of qualified play specialists split into different categories: medical, surgery and youth services. They deal with both outpatients that are refered to them for preparation to treatment they are going to have and inpatients they see on a more daily basis. The environment the group described sounded amazing: they have a play centre and playground which allow the children to keep playing outside when the centre closes. The centre features multi sensory areas, kitchen amongst other exciting things and the play specialist usually works with young people in the hospital to design those spaces. They also propose a lot of creative activities and spaces for people to come down from their ward. In terms of technology they have TVs, iPad to take around the wards and recently got a 3d TV and some special game controller for patient with limitted movement.” (Taken from blog post by Claisse & Sun)

Medikidz/ Adrien Raudashi 
This session showcased the work of Medikidz in providing information to children on illnesses and diseases in comic book format. 

Journeys, Battles and Engines: The potential impact on graphic medicine on patient emotions/ Sarah McNicol

“McNicol also recognised the power of Comics in her talk “Journeys, Battles and Engines: The potential impact on graphic medicine on patient emotions”. Before looking at the different examples that dealt with comics and health, she introduced her background in bibliotherapy where books are used as a form of therapy, a method widely recognised since the 50s. The presentation featured examples that questionned ways of how to deal with emotion around the illness and where again, Comics were used as a medium to create a more intuitive and direct engagement with the patients. Comics allow the patients to have different interpretations about the story which encourage creativity and imagination. Sarah also highlighted the use of metaphore in the Comics as being useful, a way of taking something difficult and scientific to make it understandable to a wider audience, to make it more memorable.” (Taken from blog post by Claisse & Sun)

Space to Care/ Jo Birch

“Jo Birch presented some research she did on the use of space in Sheffield Children’s Hospital. She introduced some findings from “Space to Care” (2007), a project which looked at everyday children experience in hospital. Her research promotes co-design approach and was concerned in how to make hospital more child centred, child friendly environment. For this project, she used interviews supported by field notes and child drawings with 255 in and outpatients accross three sites. She mentioned hospital as challenging settings for research with children. Her study looked at what children would ideally like from hospital spaces. Using pictures, children and teenagers were asked to reflect on different spaces in and out hospital, looking at the look of the room, the different elements and what kind of things would be scary for them. They found that decoration and emblems such as clown or long plain corridor would be an increasing factor of pain. However emblems that were familiar or cultural icons would decrease the feeling of fear. They also looked at the hospital layout, the notion of order and tidiness, hospital sitting (…). The study emphasised that children have an important role in shaping their own experience of spaces. The kind of environement they like would always feature familiar elements, not only from home but from any other familiar spaces such as school or shops. The study shows that people would always try to keep them occupied and to maintain daily routine. Jo emphasised that sometimes children would just sleep and watch TV, those things they would be doing when ill at home.” (Taken from blog post by Claisse & Sun)

Kancer Sutra/ Isobel Williams 
Isobel asked the workshop participants to draw things that comforted them in childhood. 

Drawing Emotions/ Andrew Godfrey
Andrew encouraged workshop participants to make short stories in graphic form where the facial expressions were the opposite of what is normally felt in the situation. The idea was a critque of medical questions that as patients to place a number on emotions:

Caroline Claisse and Xinglin Sun organised a wrap up section in which workshop participants were asked to write key themes/words from the day onto cards which were then stacked:

Related Publications

Yamada-Rice, D. (2017) Designing Play for Dark Times, Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Vol.18 No.2. p.196–212.

Related Talks

Yamada-Rice, D. (2014) Videogames network exhibition, AHRC Creative Economy Showcase, 2014. 

Yamada-Rice, D. (2014) Videogames for Hospitalised Children, Children’s Media Conference, Sheffield Showroom 2014.