Five years ago, 12-year-old Steven Gonzalez, Jr. found himself lonely and afraid while battling a rare form of cancer that gave him only a two percent chance of survival. Today, he is a survivor of the deadly disease and credits video games as what helped him get through the hardest part of his life. He’s created a video game to provide that form of relief to others who are now going through similar pain and seclusion.
After undergoing chemotherapy and a double cord blood transplant, his fragile immune system required him to be isolated in a sterile environment for 100 days. To cope with the isolation, Gonzalez began mastering video games, such as “iMovie” and “Maya,” and ultimately created his own called, “Play Against Cancer.” Now 17, he recently spoke at a TED conference about the healing power of video games, and he’s working on a social network for gaming called “The Survivor Games,” geared towards 6th through 12th graders.
“I realized how much video games played a part in my treatment and how it created a community for me,” says the senior at The Woodlands College Park High School in The Woodlands, Texas. “Cancer kind of rips you away from that community you have. These video games helps brings these kids together and makes a community for them.”
He remembers one of his biggest challenges while fighting cancer was finding normalcy again.
“I was isolated from my old community, and anyone who walked into my room wanted to talk about my treatment,” says Gonzalez. “Eventually I made friends with other patients in the hospital through talking about video games. I now had community again that wanted to talk about something other than cancer.”
After his treatment, he says he went to a small camp where they taught him a video creation tool, but that wasn’t enough for Gonzalez who had a vision for something bigger.
“I kind of figured out what I could and used the internet for whatever I couldn’t figure out on my own,” says the young achiever who created the video game “Play Against Cancer” while he was in isolation from summer to Christmas in the 6th grade.
After he created the game, Gonzalez says he distributed it to patients in the hospital. However, eventually he wants to develop a more public distribution, which will probably be included on his new up-and-coming non-profit social Web site.
The eager humanitarian calls it “The Survivor Games” a safer Facebook geared around video games. The idea has been brewing in his mind for quite a while and he finally announced it at his local TED talk in August.
“Over this past summer, I started forming the board of directors and completing the paperwork,” he says. “Once I have the board’s approval, I’ll start growing it in stages. You can make an account on there, and updates will be on the site.”
In addition to his already packed schedule, the high school student spends the rest of his free time in the hospital that treated him — The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center — where he volunteers with the director of arts and medicine on a 3D animation using some of the patients’ artwork.
“Every second I can get, I go there and help him, or someone else, there…I love animation, which I have been doing side-by-side with video games,” says Gonzalez who also taught himself the 3D software. “We’ve been working a few years on this, and it’s still ongoing.”
At such a young age, Gonzalez already has a blueprint made for himself after high school. He says he plans on going to college and studying video game developing and business, while continuing to work on his non-profit.
“I think after going through cancer treatment…after going through something like that, you just want to live your life to the fullest and do what you can each day,” he says.