It's estimated that one in every eleven men and thirteen women will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime. To improve the medical screening rate and increase early detection of colorectal cancer, Dr. Yousuke Ishii created the mobile game Unkore, which was selected for the 2019 INNO-vation Program’s Disruptive Challenge.
To put it simply, Unkore is a mobile game where the player pairs up with various heroines and intestinal bacteria to take on bad guys in the bowels. The lead heroine is a resident of Untopia, a world that exists on the other side of the toilet. The game works similar to other Gacha-style mobile games, though instead of buying items and characters in the form of microtransactions, the player instead reports the status of their bowel movements to receive new intestinal bacteria characters. The player teams up with the intestinal bacteria taking on the form of medical maidens to take down Cleaves, the boss of the game representing cancer, all to save the world of Untopia.
The app assists with early detection of colorectal cancer by studying the reports submitted by the player. If the app detects any abnormalities in the player’s stool, an alert will notify the player to schedule an appointment with a doctor, or visit the hospital. No matter how skilled a doctor may be, effective treatment of colorectal cancer depends on how quickly it is detected before it has a chance to worsen.
The development of a unique mobile game aiming for early detection of colorectal cancer started with Dr. Ishii’s own personal experience.
“Before becoming a doctor, I, myself, had an ulcerative disease. I had noticed that there was blood in my stools, but I didn’t think that it was due to any kind of serious illness. So I didn’t report it to my doctor even though I had started feeling bad, which eventually led to the worsening of my symptoms,” Ishii recalled.
Indeed, bowel movements aren’t exactly the easiest points of conversation to share with other people. After Ishii became a doctor, he took his own experience to heart and began asking his patients if they had any abnormalities in their stools, and he discovered that many of them actually did.
“If someone has a stomachache, for example, they might realize it’s a symptom of something else right away, but it’s rather difficult to quickly recognize that a change in stool can be a symptom of an underlying disease. So, I thought it would be a good idea to educate people on the fact that a change in stool could be the early warning of a more serious condition,” Ishii stated.
Dr. Ishii has always had a passion for games. For him, raising public awareness through games was a natural progression in his research. But since his educational background is in medicine, he had no relative game development knowledge. Therefore, Ishii developed Unkore with an open innovation concept, inviting experts from various fields to work on it together as a team.
Unkore was exhibited at game shows during its prototype stage, which allowed for the recruitment of more people into the development process. Through the participation of experts from a wide number of backgrounds, the game far exceeded Ishii’s initial expectations.
In Part 2, we’ll ask Dr. Ishii about the details of Unkore’s development process.