The Survivor Games: Creating a Gaming Community for Teen Cancer Patients

All teenagers need a community. Sadly, when teenagers like myself are diagnosed with cancer, we are torn from our normal network of friends, school, sports and social activities. Kids going through cancer treatment still need friends and a social outlet, but they also need something more, a support group where people understand what they are going through. You see, a teen with cancer feels isolated from the world not only physically but also socially and emotionally. Social isolation can happen when you don't "fit" into your group anymore because you don't look or feel like yourself when you are going through treatment. Cancer treatment is tough on the body, and many teenagers feel self-conscious with all of their scars from cancer. For me the thing I needed most was just to feel normal.

My experience at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital and my love for video games inspired me to start a non-profit organization called The Survivor Games to help kids through their cancer experience by connecting them through video games. The purpose of The Survivor Games is to bring the healing power of video games to the cancer community by creating a social network with video games as its foundation. This social network allows teens with cancer to join other cancer patients who are the same age and begin to find that sense of normalcy again. Through this online group they won't feel isolated or different, and they will be able to talk to other kids about something they enjoy -- video games.

For teens one of the hardest things to do is break into a new community. Often all one needs is a conversation starter, but coming up with one can be difficult. Video games, however, are a very common topic among teens like me.

Through video games, The Survivor Games will provide that common ground for teens with cancer.

The network will be similar to a virtual version of an arcade. Here, teens will be able to play games in a safe environment with other teens and even watch experienced players continue to beat their previous high scores. They can also talk to other teen patients about video games and catch up on gaming news.

It is a place where cancer can be irrelevant. It'll not only fill the physical void but it will also support the patient's emotional and social needs by allowing those who are shy or self-conscious to reach out to others like them in a non-threatening environment. Appearances won't matter for those who are self-conscious about how they look. It will break the barriers of physical isolation by encouraging interaction to take place, both in the hospital and at home.

Working with a board of directors made up of both experienced entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders, we hope to get The Survivor Games ready for launch this year. Together we've developed a plan for establishing The Survivor Games in the state of Texas and are in the process of refining our business model. With the paperwork in order, we'll be excited to start building our own community by finding the expertise required to create a web site that is secure with initial functionality, and building a network of partners in the medical and video game industries.

Five years ago, Steven Gonzalez was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) and given just a two percent chance of survival. Not only did he undergo both chemotherapy and a double cord blood transplant at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Children's Cancer Hospital (CCH), but his new, fragile immune system required him to be sequestered in a sterile environment for 100 days. To cope with isolation, Steven began playing video games. He self-mastered Toon Boom, iMovie and Maya, and created Play Against Cancer, a video game for young cancer patients. He recently established a foundation to connect teen patients with the healing powers of video games.