A Virtual Smash Room for Venting Frustration or Just Having Fun: Participatory Design of Virtual Environments in Digitally Reinforced Cancer Rehabilitation

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Cancer rehabilitation is central for helping patients and relatives create a functional everyday life based on the changes in life conditions. The needs are highly individual and include physical, mental, and social challenges. Cancer rehabilitation programs offer coping strategies, including guidelines on how to handle emotions.

This paper presents a participatory design activity where patients in cancer rehabilitation use a virtual smash room, which is a virtual environment where the user can break things, mainly porcelain or glass items such as vases or plates. The objective is to understand attitudes to, and some effects of, using this application, as well as eliciting ideas of other virtual environments that would be desired.

The virtual environment presented here, the virtual smash room, was designed at the request of a patient with cancer who wanted a tool for venting frustration. In this virtual environment, the user can break porcelain, vases, and plates. Patients participating in a week-long cancer rehabilitation program tested the virtual smash room and reported their experiences through a questionnaire. The questionnaire comprised three sections: (1) a subset of the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI), (2) a subset of the Virtual Reality Symptoms Questionnaire (VRSQ), and (3) a free-text response section.

A total of 101 responses were gathered. The results from the IMI questions showed that the participants found the virtual experience enjoyable (mean 4.52, maximum 5, SD 0.73), and it helped them retain their focus (mean 4.44, maximum 5, SD 0.74). The VRSQ revealed that there were only minor symptoms related to general discomfort (5.9%, n=6), fatigue (5.9%, n=6), nausea (3.0%, n=3), and tired eyes (8.9%, n=9), while several participants experienced dizziness (22.8%, n=23). Since only postmeasurements were gathered, nothing could be concluded about the prevalence of these symptoms before testing. The free-text responses indicated that the user group had many ideas for other virtual environments to use in cancer rehabilitation.

This study presents a concept of using virtual reality in the cancer rehabilitation process and exemplifies activities of patient participation in the design process. Virtual reality has potential in being both distracting and enjoyable, while certain aspects of cybersickness might be especially important to consider for a user group already experiencing physical and mental issues. The results will act as input in the process of further designing virtual applications in digitally reinforced cancer rehabilitation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJMIR Rehabilitation and Assistive Technologies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Oct 7

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Human Computer Interaction


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