Steven King wins UNC’s C. Felix Harvey Award for pediatric patient AR video game

UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media Assistant Professor Steven King has been awarded the University’s prestigious C. Felix Harvey award for his work on “Adventure Squad,” an augmented reality video game that keeps hospitalized pediatric patients mobile and empowered, all while turning them into the “superheroes” of their story.

King, who also serves as the Hussman School’s Reese News Lab’s chief innovation officer, developed the game with Dr. Richard Hobbs, an associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at the UNC School of Medicine. Hobbs, who is also a pediatrician and internist with UNC Health Care, wanted a fun way to keep children active and positive during hospital stays. He looked to King’s team for the tech-savvy know how to make it happen.

Steven King and Richard Hobbs (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

“Augmented reality has a great ability to help people, and I think a lot of people in the medical field are starting to see that,” said King, who relishes any chance to leverage an emerging technology for social good.

The “Adventure Squad” storyline puts players into a superhero role, letting them assume powers and defeat obstacles, such as overflowing lava, while the game interacts with floor-specific details of the hospital’s setting.

“We have the opportunity through storytelling and technology to help a child escape a floor they aren’t allowed to leave,” King said.

The game encourages mobility, interaction with staff and participation in therapy, with the goal of leading to fewer medical complications and shorter hospital stays.

“A lot of our patients have broken bodies. We want them to feel like superheroes. We want them to feel like they’re in control of their own bodies,” Hobbs said.

The C. Felix Harvey award is given out yearly to faculty members whose projects best apply humanities and/or social sciences methods or approaches in innovative ways that create a measurable impact on a problem.

In 2017, C. Felix Harvey III and his family endowed the Harvey Award to fulfill the University’s longstanding mission of social service and commitment to innovative outreach that addresses real world challenges.

The Harvey Award’s $75,000 prize money will help King and Hobbs continue to develop the game, currently in prototype phase. Ultimately, the pair would like to have specifically-scaled versions of “Adventure Squad,” currently planned as a nonprofit venture, available in hospitals around the country.