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How To Use a Game to See Someone’s Pain

How to Use a Game to See Someone’s Pain

Ever use a game to see someone’s pain? More about that later. First, let me ask you something. When was the last time you saw an athlete  break a leg?

It’s pretty frightening to think about, isn’t it? And if you’re like most people, you can be emotional  – and you’d rather not go through the experience. Because when you see an athlete, especially one you admire, get hurt it’s almost like it’s happening to you.

A Soccer Player is in pain From Twisted Ankle
Soccer Player Grimacing in Pain

Consider this account:

Kevin Ware, guard for the Louisville Cardinals, had jumped to block a shot thousands of times in practice and in games. Landing on one foot or two, twisting away or turning into an opponent was an instinctive act, not requiring thought, just body reaction. But in front of a packed house and millions more watching on television and the internet in 2013, Ware came down on one leg with just the right (or wrong) angle, torque, and amount of force that the leg gave way and the crowd hushed. The leg is not meant to bend at such an awkward angle and the bone is not meant to be pushed through the skin. Disaster had struck. [1]

Kevin Ware on His Back From Injury
Kevin Ware on His Back

Unless your heart is made of stone you felt  Kevin Ware’s pain

Kevin Ware Attende to After Injury
Kevin Ware Attended to After Injury

You showed empathy.

Boy Hugging Sad Girl
Boy Hugging Sad Girl

Empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of the other person. A report suggests that doctors do the following:

“To show true empathy to your patients, you must step back and imagine yourself in the sort of pain they describe day in and day out and then think of how you would want to be treated. That is empathy. Not a tilt of the head or a half-smile or a few practiced reassuring words — but making the patient feel like even though you can’t understand or imagine what they’re going through, you believe them and want to help them.” [2]

See The Scars

It is, of course, much easier to feel someone’s pain if you can see the physical scars.

A Scarred Leg and its XRay Image
Scarred Leg With X Ray

When You Can’t See The Scars

Take a look at this woman

A woman, Pain Sufferer, Sitting on Hospital Bed
A Woman, Pain Sufferer, Sitting On Hospital Bed

She looks perfectly fine, right? However, she suffers from chronic back pain. As she says in the short film  no one can see any of her aches and pains. She asks, “how can you believe me if I say my back hurts —all over  all the time—? No one can point to anything.” She laments that if she had a disfiguring condition that people could see, they would believe her and not think it’s all in her head.


Another chronic pain sufferer describes her condition as  feeling like:

Pain Represented as Blurring Dots
Pain Represented as Blurring Dots

Yet another states:

Evening You try to watch TV, but your legs are burning, you have tingling in your toes and are just uncomfortable. Sometimes family and/or friends join in to make it a good night. You get a few “Oh you look good, are you getting better?” You do everything you can to not jump up and attack that person… Instead you mutter something or just look the other way.[3]

The bottom line is this: just because you can’t see someone’s pain doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Use Tech to See Other’s Pain

What if there was technology that would enable you to see the pain of  others. In short, a game that fosters empathy for chronic pain sufferers.

On Feb. 25, 1916, Simon Fraser University located in BURNABY, British Columbia, issued  a press release that three graduate students had devised an interactive  game to help non-patients empathize with chronic pain sufferers.[4]

“The goal of our game is to help put others into the shoes of those dealing with chronic pain,” says Xin Tong, who developed the game with colleagues Weina Jin and Servet Ulas.” [5]

How The Game Works

The creators of the game ,in describing how it works, state :

In the game, participants interact with their altered virtual body — a silhouette they see in a virtual mirror — and complete object-oriented motor tasks. Then, using their whole body, they reach out to connect dots into a line which forms a meaningful shape related to a chronic pain experience.[6]

“Pain randomly attacks different parts of the body. In our game, we make pain visible with visual particle motions — they look a little like a glowing red ‘cloud’ ” Ulas explains. “The pain limits body movement and hinders the participant from reaching some of the dots.” [7] For more information, check out the game in the video below.




Now you know how to be more empathic  with someone who suffers from chronic pain. You can offer support not based on pity but on a renewed understanding of what life is like when one lives with daily pain. You understand that just because a pain sufferer felt good  yesterday doesn’t mean he or she feels good today. You understand now, perhaps for the first time, what it feels like to suffer in silence. You understand how devastating it feels when a pain sufferer thinks he or she can’t be counted on because  their  pain always gets in the way. You understand what it feels like to live in isolation.

You have learned the most important lesson a non-patient needs to know. Chronic pain may be invisible, but it’s there all the time. The best  thing you can do for a pain sufferer is to tell them that you believe them. As for those who live with chronic pain, I leave this inspirational video that has a simple but powerful message: Life is worth living. I like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.

If You Like This Website Click Here To Create Your Own Website For Free

I like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.








5. Ibid

6. Ibid

7. Ibid

22 thoughts on “How To Use a Game to See Someone’s Pain

  1. Hi, I really liked the information provided. I learned a lot. I really had to pay attention to the video of the video game because the narrator’s accent was a little strong and I was not expecting it, but in the end I understood what the game is all about. If I had chronic back pain I would totally use that game so that others could have a better understanding that the pain does exist. Great site, videos, and images. Hope this comment helps.

    1. Hi  Desiree,

      It’s easy to have empathy for someone suffering from pain if you can see the scars. What if you can’t? Chronic pain sufferers have to deal with that question all the time. How can they make people believe them if no no one sees their aches and pains. I think the genius of this interactive empathy game is that it enables non-pain sufferers to see other’s pain. This fosters empathy.

  2. So true. Just because you can’t see someone’s pain doesn’t mean it’s not there. I echo Desiree’s sentiments. I think it would be useful if in the future there were workshops, maybe in community colleges or civic centers, that employed the game to bring more awareness of what it’s like for pain sufferers to live in daily pain. Do you think something like that could happen?

    1. Hi Jamie,
      What a great suggestion. I think that before this “empathy game” can be used for community centers such as libraries it first has to go through more extensive trials and peer reviews. I’m confident, though, that this will happen quickly and it won’t be long before the technology is available to everyone. So to answer your question, I definitely think this game will be employed by community service groups with a focus on health issues. I also think community colleges will be happy to offer workshops.

  3. I almost cried as I read your post. It really hit home. I have suffered from chronic back pain for 7 years due to a car accident. I feel like a burden sometimes, and that hurts. I feel like screaming at all the people who don’t get what I’m going through. Now I can show them that I’m not faking it.

    1. Hi Kathleen,
      One of the biggest frustrations that chronic pain sufferers have , as you are well aware off, is that people can’t see their pain in the same way they can see scars on a body. As a result people such as yourself have a difficult time making people understand that they are not faking it. As a pain sufferer once told me,” of all the things I could fake, why would I fake having chronic pain? There are better ways to get attention.” Well, it’s sentiments like those that made me want to bring this “empathy game” to the attention of more people—especially non-pain sufferers. Please understand that there are people out there who won’t make you feel like a burden and understand your situation. Reach out. The worst thing you can do is isolate yourself. I truly wish you the best. Keep a positive attitude. Remember that you are more that your pain.

  4. Wow! What a great way for these wiz kids to apply their education and make a real difference. I applaud them. Using a game to see someone’s pain is a great way to build empathy. I think so many pain sufferers just want us to acknowledge what they are going through. The video with the woman explaining her daily experiences with pain, and how it gives people the wrong perceptions of her, is heart breaking. I will most certainly try to be more a more emphatic person. I think we can all try harder to be more understanding to those in chronic pain.

    1. Megan,

      Those kids who came up with the empathy game should indeed be applauded for finding a way to make others more aware of the isolation and hopelessness that people with chronic pain often feel. A very impressive way of combining brains with heart.

  5. I completely agree with this post 100%. Sometimes it could be very difficult to make people believe you when you talked to them about how serious the pain you are going through is, especially when there is no scar whatsoever to show for it; I have once been there and it hurts me more that people can’t ‘see’ my pain. This post is really worth sharing and I’m doing that right away!

    1. Hi Lady Grasha,
      You really summarized the experiences of a lot of pain sufferers. Indeed, when there’s no scar whatsoever it’s difficult for a pain sufferer to explain that even if they look okay they are in fact not okay. Chronic pain can be exhausting and pain sufferers often get tired of explaining how they feel hour-to hour- and sometimes minute-to minute. It’s just easier to put on a brave face and just smile. I hope that this post can enable the non-pain sufferer to be more open minded.

  6. wow!! This is really awesome. I have a friend who always tells me about his pains and how it affects his regular daily activity, now I believe with this he can prove to his boss he truly has the pains.

    1. Hi Donald,
      What I like about this technology is that it enables a non-pain sufferer to have empathy for a person who experiences wide spread chronic pain. The technology makes empathy possible by allowing anyone to “see” just how hard it is to maneuver your body at will when suffering from chronic pain. This has the potential to make a tremendous impact in the field of health technology. Very exciting news that I was glad to share.

  7. This will really help in giving medications. This is such a smart move. Technology is really becoming helpful in letting us become more empathic with those suffering from issues like back pain.

    1. Hi Harry,
      Your comments are on target because in some circles this technology is referred to as “the empathy game” because it allows non-pain sufferers to see the struggles of doing take-for-granted activities while experiencing chronic wide spread pain. I think this technology has the potential to bring greater awareness to how pain impact relationships with loved ones.

  8. I understand how chronic pain works. My mother has several non-visible problems that cause her major pain. Sometimes she cannot even lift her arms. She just fights through it though because she has been on painkillers before and says that getting herself off the medication caused her more pain than just living with the pain she has.

    I really like this new possibility of people being able to at least envision being stuck in the same place with the same problems. This game could help break some important boundaries.

    1. Hi Brittaney,

      My mother is also a chronic pain sufferer, so I understand where you’re coming from. I also know all too well what you mean when you say your mother is in such pain that sometimes she cannot lift her arms. I have gone through a similar thing with my mom. I completely agree with you that this empathy game can break some important boundaries when it comes to people better understanding what it is like to live with chronic pain.

  9. This is amazing. Thank you for talking about the game.
    I’m naturally a very empathetic person but I know a few people who could certainly learn a lesson on empathy. Just because the pain is not obvious, doesn’t mean it’s not there. There are many silent sufferers all around us. We need to be much more sensitive to their pain.

    1. Hi Suzanne,
      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. Yes, it’s true, unfortunately, that many people have a difficult time empathizing with pain they can’t see. The result is, as you point out, that many suffer in silence. I think this game can help make non-pain sufferers more empathetic. Blessings to you also.

  10. Hello Thabo, what an amazing article this is. When we can see others’ pain it allows us to also be more compassionate and caring. And it makes the world a much sweeter place. I am so grateful to read this article. There are so many physical ailments that are invisible and yet people suffer all the time. To offer comfort is such a blessing. Thank you.
    In peace and gratitude, ariel

    1. Hi Ariel, always a pleasure to hear from you as you are an inspiring spirit whose words are full of compassion for others. It’s obvious to me, from the posts that I have read on your website, that you already have very high empathic skills, and this game most likely just reinforced what you instinctively know. That said, I’m glad you found the article rewarding. Thank you.

  11. Wow. I have worked with athletes for a good part of my life. Whenever we heard a ‘click’ ‘crack’ or ‘crunch’ the whole class or performing group would freeze and look in the direction of the sound.
    It could be a bad day for someone, or the end of their career. We were certainly close to their pain.
    But most people have a different experience with this.
    The idea of using a game to develop empathy is so intriguing!

    1. Hi Dianne,
      I think the idea of using a game to develop empathy can make it easier for us to better understand the challenges that people with chronic pain have as they try to live their daily lives and remain connected to family and community. Once we have this perspective–of putting ourselves in the place of a chronic pain sufferer–we are in a much better position to offer constructive help.

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