The Role of Spontaneous Digital Play during Young Patients’ Cancer Treatment

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

The Role of Spontaneous Digital Play during Young Patients’ Cancer Treatment


  • Teresa de la Hera Department of Media and Communication, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  • Camila Sarria Sanz Department of Media and Communication, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands


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Abstract:  In Europe alone, more than 120,000 children and 150,000 adolescents are diagnosed with cancer every year. Thanks to treatment innovations the survival rates of young patients’ cancer increase substantially every year, but improved prognoses are in many cases linked to longer treatments. To cope with the social, emotional, and developmental challenges associated with cancer, play and playful activities are widely recognized as fundamental for adolescents and children. This article presents the results of an exploratory study conducted to better understand the role of free digital play for young cancer patients (0–17 years). Methodology: 15 semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted, divided into two groups. The first group consisted of four experts and the second group consisted of 11 parents of young cancer patients. Conversations with the participants revolved around children’s use of digital platforms during cancer treatment, emphasizing their motivations to play digitally, methods and patterns of use, perceived benefits, and impact on children’s social interactions, identity development, and personal narrative. The results show that digital play becomes a valuable activity for young cancer patients during three phases of the treatment: (1) inpatient care; (2) outpatient care; and (3) remission. We also identified three types of digital play patients engage with: (1) playing with digital games; (2) playfully interacting with digital technologies; and (3) the overlap between digital and non-digital play. Finally, the results also show that digital play has an impact on at least three aspects of young patients’ lives: (1) social interactions; (2) identity development; and (3) communication.

Keywords:  digital play; digital games; meaningful play; qualitative interviews; pediatric cancer; serious digital play

Published:   6 January 2021


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v9i1.3216


© Teresa de la Hera, Camila Sarria Sanz. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.