Being a kid is hard enough as it is. Add in having a chronic disease and it can make those very special years potentially very isolating ones. Shadow’s Edge is a virtual reality game that allows children to process and express their feelings about their disease — or whatever else they may be going through. This mobile game can help change the experience of a serious diagnosis, or challenging times, by combining art therapy and cognitive behavior therapy and giving children a safe place to not feel so alone.
Action video games can help reduce depression in teens and Shadow’s Edge hopes to help bring positivity and community to those who need it most. Founder and philanthropist, Sherri Sabrato Brisson, is a brain cancer survivor who initially co-wrote a book, “Digging Deep: A Journal for Young People Facing Health Challenges ” with Rose Ofner, to help kids process their chronic disease or serious illness and it had great success. She then met Rosemary Lokhorst, who is now the game producer because of how much she loved the concept and that is how Shadow’s Edge was born.
Shadow’s Edge is a free and completely donation funded, virtual city that has just been overtaken by a storm, much like our lives after being hit with a diagnosis of some kind. The storm removes all the color from the city, much like our disease has the potential to take away some of our happiness…if we let it. The object of the game is to bring back the color to the city through writing and art, which helps empower the player to take on whatever it is they are going through.
Photo credit: Shadow’s Edge
So far, Shadow’s Edge has worked with many organizations and university clinics in the US, Brazil and in Europe, focusing on kids and teens with cancer, and has received very good feedback, especially from doctors. Currently, they are running a complex research study nearby the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, with more than 100 kids testing Shadow’s Edge. So far, the results have been fantastic, and the game is helping these children build up the resilience to tackle the challenges they are facing.
I was able to chat with Sherri to find out more about Shadow’s Edge and their plans for the future.
Sheri, the journey you went through with brain cancer must have been so traumatic. Did writing your first book, Digging Deep: A Journal for Young People Facing Health Challenges, prove to be therapeutic? What about creating this game?
As a survivor, I can tell you, I know how difficult it was for me to even know how I was feeling at the time, let alone be able to express these feelings.
On my 25th anniversary of survivorship from brain cancer, I envisioned a world where every young patient has real-time access to the tools he or she needs to build emotional resilience through their experience.
I started by co-authoring Digging Deep: A Journal for Young People Facing Health Challenges, with Rose Offner, MA. I donated 35,000 journals to hospitals across the country, but it still wasn’t enough. So, we decided to meet young people right where they are—on their phones, playing games.
Seeing the success of your book shows that there is a need for resources and tools for people who have serious illnesses or a chronic condition. How do you think Shadow’s Edge can help fill that gap for our children?
Just like the physical journal, Shadow’s Edge helps teens build their emotional endurance to tackle the challenges they face through the power of their personal narrative. There are very few resources directed at teens today. Our aim is to meet them where they are – on their phones, playing games. So this time, teens are engaged through their medium—their phones or tablets—to express themselves through writing and now, covering a city in graffiti! Through gameplay, teen players realize they needn’t stay in their confined world—they have the power to reshape their world into whatever they choose. Through their expression, they can create beauty where there was once dilapidation: There can be light; There can be color; There can be hope. And, there can be a community.
“When starting to play Shadow’s Edge, a teen may not even know how they feel or what is troubling them. As they continue through their journey, they often discover they are at a different place emotionally in the end—there may be a sense of resolution, a greater understanding, a place of peace”.
I know for me personally, when I was diagnosed with type one diabetes, finding community changed everything for me. I was so much better off mentally and emotionally and had a much better outlook on my future. How does playing this video game help children connect with others?
Yes – connection is key to build resilience and to feel better! Teens asked us for a space that is theirs only, where they can express things for themselves, as they are not always clear or ready to connect. Interestingly, this working with oneself helps to reach out. Additionally, the game has an in-game sharing space (once you reach the new level, Disillusionment). There you receive a means to see other players’ art and provide messages of support and where you can publish your graffitis. The community aspect is one that we are focusing on to expand – it is the key ask of players to build on.
I could see how the concept can be applicable to many different obstacles a child could be facing, what other areas are you focusing on and what do you hope to accomplish?
We are expanding the content so that teens facing a variety of difficult situations can benefit from it – these can be changes in the family like a divorce or death of a family member, bullying, anxiety, stress, depression, identity questions.
Shadow’s Edge has the potential to help so many children going through hardships. Where do you see Shadow’s Edge going from here?
We are working on expanding the community aspect of the game. We want to create a community around self-expression where teens facing all kinds of challenging situations can share, collaborate to create art, find psychoeducational content and just connect with each other.
As a brain cancer survivor, what message would you like to share with people facing a health battle of some kind?
Your challenge does not define who you are, you define this. When you are ready, take an active role in opening up–every time you tell your story you tell it a little differently, this make you integrate it and see new perspectives. Practicing this also supports you to understand you are stronger than you think, getting comfortable with your story and owning it as a part of you, but not all of you.
Shadow’s Edge is available on both IOS and Android, and available in 6 languages.
They also have a special website dedicated to helping parents and healthcare professionals who are helping a young person with illnesses, see more information at www.diggingdeep.org.