helping patients cope with pain during chemo

Farmooo is a virtual reality farm simulation game designed to help with pain distraction for teenage cancer patients during chemotherapy treatment. A more extensive week to week blog can be found here.

As a final academic research project, a colleague and I partnered with the SFU Pain Studies Lab and BC Children’s Hospital to develop an MVP game and run a pilot study with the intention to give back to the hospital.


How might we alleviate physical and mental pains for teen cancer patients during chemotherapy?


A VR game was built as a pilot study to test the interest and demand for teen cancer patients, as well as hospitals. Techniques of immersion were incorporated into the game to transport patients into a fantasy world without the need to get out of bed, fast and slow pace game tasks were provided for different levels of health conditions, as well as rewards are given to boost one’s confidence.


Growing carrots.

The primary game mechanic is to grow as many carrots as possible and harvest as many carrots as possible. By doing repetitive actions, it seeks to drive the focus into the game rather than elsewhere.

farmooo growing carrots gameplay

Environment exploration. 

The secondary game mechanic allows patients to walk around the environment at a slow pace. They can walk around the field, visit the windmill tower to look over the farm, or look up at the sky to see the clouds passing by and occasionally birds flying by. This mode is for patients who can only do minimal movements because of their treatment type or health conditions.

farmooo birds eye view of game environmentfarmooo tower view of game environment

Cow companion. 

There is also a cow that wanders in the game. It acts as a pet and patients can call it to pet it. By integrating a character into a rather empty game, it also symbolizes that the patients are not fighting the disease alone and that there are other people supporting them.

farmooo cow companion


Rewards are also an important factor in the game to encourage patients to play. The more carrots are grown and harvested, the higher the rank it goes.

farmooo cow achievement plaque


VR games are slowly growing in popularity, but many are for entertainment over research purposes. In knowing that VR provides a new immersive gaming experience, teens love to play games, but for those who are sick it becomes less accessible, we seeked to bridge the gap to provide true value for the artifact.

farmooo technology prototype


After taking a deep dive on understanding the benefits and consequences of VR used in the medical field, I sketched out storyboards of gameplay, methods of interactions, the environment, and characters.

farmooo initial sketchesfarmooo storyboard

Next, a list of features were compiled and prioritized to build a minimal viable product. The ideas were first tested internally on a paper prototype to understand its feasibility prior to executing higher fidelity assets.

farmooo paper prototype


Once the prototype was completed, 6 outpatients from BC Children’s Hospital were recruited for a focus group study on the game. I facilitated the session to discuss the themes of VR content, gameplay, controls, and drawbacks to get feedback on usability and satisfaction.

farmooo research methodology diagramfarmooo user study room


After gathering feedback and coded the responses, we found positive results and items to make improvements.

1. Over 50% of the teen patients enjoyed the game and expressed that they would have liked to use it during their chemotherapy treatment. However, the gameplay was not challenging enough and there was not enough variety. The teens hoped to have more mini games and interaction with the pet cow, as the character was their favourite part of the game.

2. Over 50% of the teen patients also believed that they were immersed in the game and were not aware of their external surroundings. One participant mentioned that this helps as there are often many loud machines in the treatment room, which causes patients to feel scared, stressed, and uneasy. The game assists in making one more comfortable, but mobility issues were a concern. For those with IVs and cold hands, it decreases the accuracy for gesture detection, where an alternative game controller input is required.

farmooo user study analysis results

The participants also suggested the following items to improve on:

1. Having more mini games with the cow companion as the pet was their favourite aspect of the game.

2. Make the game more challenging.

3. Add background music as it felt empty.

4. Using a more tactile game input or controller as the sensor could not detect cold hands and patients often have cold hands during chemotherapy treatments.

5. Create more smooth and round visual assets as the points in the low-polygon style created stress.

farmooo gameplay


1. Presented the study in various conferences (such as Canadian Pain Society and Society for Imaging Science and Technology) and gained a lot of interest from attendees.

2. Received interest from 3 local hospitals for a partnership.

3. Awarded Surrey’s Top 25 Under 25 by the Surrey Board of Trade.

4. Recognized by various media coverage.

farmooo press releases


Surrey Board of Trade: Surrey’s Top 25 Under 25 Awards

SFU: Surrey Board of Trade’s Top 25 Under 25 Awards honour 18 SFU students, alumni

LinkedIn: Surrey Board of Trade top 25

BC Technology: SFU Students Create Virtual Farm Game to Help Young Cancer Patients Deal With Treatment

Medical Xpress: Virtual farm game to help young cancer patients deal with treatment

The Now: SFU Surrey students create game to ease discomfort for young cancer patients

Vancouver Sun: Video game help cystic fibrosis kids breathe, while virtual reality helps children with cancer cope with pain

La Source: Video game could help teenage patients manage pain