The best way to help as many sick kids as possible, they decided, was to go to where they spend the most time — their mobile devices.
"Shadow's Edge," a free mobile game designed for those 13 and older with serious medical challenges, was released late last year for Android and Apple devices.
The game, complete with sophisticated graphics, music and voice recognition, brings players into the damaged city of Shadow's Edge, where they help restore it with graffiti art and writing based on "Digging Deep" journal writing prompts.
While it's meant to be a solo game, the players can choose to share the art and writing they create. "You get enough kids out there willing to share, they can start learning from each other, be inspired by each other," Ms. Sobrato Brisson said.
"What we are trying to show is the commonality," she said. "We want to connect kids ... so they don't feel alone."
"'Shadow's Edge' is a tool that puts control back in the hands of young patients — a chance to be proactive in their healing," says Ms. Sobrato Brisson, a longtime Atherton resident with school-age children of her own. "Our goal is to help kids deal with the reality of what is happening to them, so they can heal emotionally as well as physically."
Ms. Sobrato Brisson, who survived brain cancer that was diagnosed when she was 24, worked not only with artists, creative designers and programmers to create the game but also with teens and psychologists, who all provided feedback.
Nicole Gustafson, a 22-year-old graduate student in psychology at Santa Clara University who has a chronic pain disorder, beta-tested the game beginning in August.
"It provides an outlet for people to kind of forget about what is going on around them and get in touch with what is going on (with their illness) in a positive way," she said.
The questions the game players are asked to write about "are really thought-provoking in a healing way" she said. "You get the benefits from the therapy side of it without it being obvious that it's therapy," she said.
Playing the game is "therapeutic in a self-meditative type of way," she said. "There's no one else telling you what to do."
Plus, she said, it's fun. "I've yet to get bored with it," she said. "The art keeps you enthralled."
Ms. Gustafson's 13-year-old cousin has also been beta-testing the game, and also returns to play again day after day.
Rosy Lockhorst was the game's producer, with responsibilities for supervising a 13-person development team. "It's a little bit like producing a movie," she said of her job, which includes everything from budget and deadlines to music.
Developing the game was even more complicated than creating a game simply meant as entertainment, she said. "Everything we do is targeted," she said, "enticing the player in an entertaining way to work through their problems."
Young people "live on their mobile phones," she said. "For kids, I think it's intrinsically more intuitive to find something out by gaming than when they read a book or get a chore done."
Ms. Sobrato Brisson said her team plans to keep improving the game and the activities connected with it, including joint art projects that all players could contribute to.
"We have lots of really fun plans using augmented and virtual reality, but we have to raise some funds," she said.
DiggingDeep.org has information about the game and a blog for parents and caregivers.
Shadowsedge.com also has information about the game and a blog for young people who have — or have survived — serious health conditions.
Search for Shadow's Edge on the Google or Apple app stores for a free download.
This story contains 700 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.