[An interesting one, this - I had a chance to talk to Hopelab and Virtual Heroes about their just-announced partnership to create an updated version of Re-Mission, a therapeutic game for child cancer sufferers. 'Serious games', indeed.]

Nonprofit Hopelab is teaming with serious games developer Virtual Heroes (America's Army) to create a new version of Re-Mission, a game Hopelab first released in 2006 to inspire and encourage kids suffering from cancer.

In the game, players pilot a microscopic robot named Roxie through the bodies of fictional patients to attack cancer cells and combat the side effects of treatment.

According to Hopelab's own studies, which have been published in medical journals like Pediatrics, kids who play games like Re-Mission show positive therapeutic results, like taking their medications more consistently, and better understanding their illness.

Since the original game's release, it's been used at multiple medical centers globally, and HopeLab has also distributed more than 142,000 free copies of Re-Mission in 81 countries.

This new version in partnership with Virtual Heroes, the developer who is also creating official NASA MMO Astronaut: Moon, Mars & Beyond, is funded by Hopelab partners Vivendi, the Annenberg Foundation, and the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

In this interview, Gamasutra speaks with both Hopelab communications director Richard Tate and Virtual Heroes managing director Jerry Heneghan about what's new with Re-Mission V2 and the team effort to use games for health:

How do you plan to evolve the gameplay and goals in this new version of Re-Mission?>

Richard Tate, HopeLab: The primary goal of the game remains the same - to create a fun, compelling game-play experience that helps young cancer patients stick to their prescribed treatments and gives them a sense of power and control over their disease.

These behaviors and psychological factors are key to fighting cancer, and research on the first Re-Mission proved a specially designed video game can have positive impact in these areas.

But the game has to be fun to be effective - if kids don't play the game, it can't work. We think we can build a new version of Re-Mission that's even more fun and engaging than the original. That's where Virtual Heroes' creative expertise comes in.

Jerry Heneghan, Virtual Heroes: As for the game play experience, we want to make the next Re-Mission even more fun than the original. HopeLab has done hundreds of hours of play testing of the original game with teen cancer patients, and the feedback from those kids has been key to shaping some creative goals for this project.

For example, we want to make the in-the-body environments a richer sensory experience, enhancing both the visuals and the sound based on the biology of the body. We're also putting the player front and center, shifting the perspective from a third-person to a first-person shooter. Kids have told us that they want to shoot cancer, and they want to win.

It's great to have the voices of these patients as guide posts in the creative process - HopeLab is committed to incorporating their input throughout the development process, and so are we.

Are there particular platforms that you're going to try to launch the re-imagined Re-Mission on?

RT: Part of our nonprofit mission is to make the game readily available to the young patients for whom it's designed. To ensure broad accessibility, we're focusing on making a great PC game.

The first Re-Mission game has been distributed to 81 countries, and many of the hospitals and clinics where teens often are introduced to the game have limited or no access to consoles.

Are you able to leverage social networks and multiplayer in any way for this new version?

JH: We're currently focused on a single-player experience.

RT: Because Re-Mission is about you fighting your cancer, the single-player approach makes sense. Teens fighting cancer tell us that they like basting cancer cells in a game, but outside of the game they don't necessarily want to be identified as cancer patients - they just want to be themselves.

So social networking and multiplayer opportunities aren't our development focus. That said, we'll certainly tap into on- and off-line social networks to raise awareness as we look to launch and distribute a new game.

Why do you think an interactive format works so well for this particular message?

JH: Games offer players a chance to experience and play out scenarios in a safe virtual space, which is ideal for communicating a serious message like how to fight cancer.

The evolution of adaptive game-play technology, which we're looking to incorporate in this project, also allows us to create a game that responds to a players skill level, making the experience more accessible to young people with cancer who aren't gamers.

RT: Again, fun is key - the interactive quality of games provides a great channel to deliver a message, but to be effective, the experience has to be engaging enough to hold your interest and attention.

Based on our research on the first Re-Mission [cited in Hopelab's official announcement], we believe the gameplay experience does more than just convey a message or deliver information; it causes a shift in attitudes and emotions that leads to better health behavior.

For example, playing Re-Mission allows a patient to experience chemotherapy as their weapon, not just a medication that makes them feel sick. We want to amplify that experience in the next version. The creative opportunities in game design make it possible to create weapons and environments that communicate real-world experiences, but in a fun, immersive way.

What's the biggest learning point from the first version of the game to the second, in your opinion?

RT: Earlier this year, we published an article in the International Journal Learning and Media that summarizes a great deal of what we learned. I would highlight three things in particular.

First, we learned that the battle against cancer is great drama for game play, and kids engaged in their own cancer battle love the concept.

Second, it may not be necessary to create a 20-level game to achieve the health outcomes we're after. Researching the impact of the first game, we saw that even small amounts of game play led to improved treatment adherence.

So we're focused on creating a streamlined but even more compelling experience with the next Re-Mission. We'll be testing the new game in scientific studies, as we did the original, to be sure we maintain the impact we're after.

But the biggest learning overall is that the game has to be fun to be effective. We think there are great ways we can boost the fun factor in a new Re-Mission, and it's going to be exciting to explore those with the team at Virtual Heroes.