Playing The Pain Away

Put a video game in front of him, and Ben Duskin is a typical young boy, somewhat of a master player. But at 11 years old, Ben is also a game designer. The objective of his game is to conquer cancer — specifically his leukemia.

Three-and-a-half years of chemotherapy have been incredibly painful, Ben tells CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras.

But video games were a big help in getting Ben get through his treatments. So when Make-A-Wish Foundation asked him what he'd like to do more than anything, he wound up in the studios of filmmaker George Lucas, creating a game with software engineer Eric Johnston to help kids like him.

"I thought it would be really cool if you could kill the cancer cells with not just like, mental, but with like swords and all that stuff," says Ben.

The game's objective: enter the body, destroy the cancer and conquer side effects like rashes and vomiting. It's a fun game which also keeps a kid's mind off the pain.

As it turns out, Ben is onto something. At the University of Maryland's Baltimore County campus, psychologists are finding kids have greater tolerance for the pain of frigid water while immersed in a virtual reality game. Researchers say the distraction from pain is similar to that of athletes who don't realize they're injured until they leave the field.

Psychologist Lynnda Dahlquist has also observed the calming effects of simple video toys on the very young, even during chemotherapy.

"We found children who were crying and screaming could focus on that [games], and they still whimpered a little when the shot went in but it was much less stressful for them," Dahlquist says.

Ben's Game, which is free online, has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times; fulfilling his goal of helping other kids cope with cancer treatments.

Although the game he designed has plenty of virtual power, Ben Duskin knows the battle against cancer is still very real.
  • Jessica Goldman

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