In Turkey, roughly 3000 children and adolescents are diagnosed with cancer every year (Kebudi, 2012). Although there are different types of pediatric cancers, their trajectory is similar and filled with various physical and psychosocial challenges for the patients and their families. Moreover, cancer usually causes a drastic life change for the whole family. To adjust to the changes and cope better with the challenges, it is crucial that children understand cancer, its course, and the treatment (Eiser & Havermans, 1992; Scott, Prictor & Watt, 2003 as cited in Mant et al., 2018). However, in Turkey, parents often avoid sharing cancer-related information with their children, which hinders children’s understanding, adjustment, and coping (Dr. N. Yıldız Silahlı (MD), personal communication, 2022). Therefore, this thesis aims to improve children’s understanding, adjustment, and coping by nudging parents into changing their attitudes and encouraging children to express themselves. To do so, the project utilises the power of play.
The project starts by exploring the context of pediatric cancers, the factors that affect children’s understanding, adjustment, and coping, and the strategies to utilise play in the pediatric cancer context through a literature review. Then, the project analyses families’ current experiences, needs and wishes, and the barriers and opportunities in the context through generative interviews with the families and interviews with healthcare professionals, which reveal the reasons behind parents’ attitudes and another key problem: limited emotional sharing between children and parents. Based on the interview results, the project visualises the users’ experiences, needs, and challenges through personas and a user journey map, which shows the need of focusing on the hospitalisation stage.
In the light of new findings, the project analyses and reframes the initial design problem and envisions the solution space by defining the design goal, vision and requirements. After generating various solutions that fit within the envisioned space through ideation and conceptualisation, the project introduces the final design: AstroMission, a space-themed role-playing game that aims to facilitate the emotional connection between children and parents.
AstroMission consists of several elements with different functions:
1. Storyline: It is a metaphorical representation of cancer, treatments, and psychosocial challenges. Parents can use this storyline to give children cancer-related information.
2. Missions: They are play opportunities that require the collaboration of children and parents. Their content nudges families into talking about cancer and sharing their emotions with each other in a fun way.
3. Emotion puppets: They are a set of toys that represent four basic emotions of joy, anger, sadness, and fear. They help children to express their feelings. Also, some missions require the family to play with them.
4. Hospital room decorations and objects: They reframe the hospital room into a less scary, even fun environment for children. Also, some missions require the family use the objects in the room.
5. Mobile app: It presents the missions and the story of the game to the family. Also, it has a social function of connecting the families going through the same experience.
Due to the project duration, the project iterates on and validates only the first three elements of the game with the users. However, user evaluations show that AstroMission is desirable and holds great potential to facilitate cancer-related conversations and emotional sharing between parents and children throughout the cancer trajectory.
Lastly, the project shows how to put AstroMission into practice by proposing a material and production method and estimating implementation costs. Also, the project presents the recommendations for further development of AstroMission.
To conclude, the outcome of this project creates value for the users by improving children’s understanding, adjustment, and coping, and alleviating parents’ psycho-emotional burden. It also creates value for the hospitals by improving the user experience.