How a “Kid at Heart” Surgeon Created Seattle Children’s Hospital on Minecraft

“Before COVID-19 restrictions, patients facing surgery were given the opportunity to tour the hospital with their families ahead of time to help ease the nerves and to become comfortable with the process. Since that option became unavailable, Dr.  Henry Ou took it upon himself to create a virtual tour that a kid can walk through on Minecraft! In their world! It is very impressive, and you can tell he has spent a lot of time and effort perfecting it for the kiddos.” — Mariette Broncheau, partner employee — Research

As a self-described “kid at heart,” Dr. Henry Ou said he’s got a good sense for how patients may be feeling, including what they’re interested in and which situations may be scary for them. When the pandemic struck and hospital visitation had to be limited, Ou used his kid-like perspective to accomplish a task very different than his usual surgical case — creating a Minecraft version of the hospital.

Minecraft is a video game that allows players to virtually explore a 3D world with different terrain and environments to accomplish various tasks or missions — a virtual LEGO world of sorts. Over the past 18 months, Dr. Ou has taken thousands of videos and photographs around the hospital and spent hundreds of hours during his personal time designing a Minecraft version of the hospital building.

Dr. Ou explained, “Before the pandemic, our Child Life team used to offer hospital tours so families knew what to expect prior to arriving here. When the tours stopped, I tried to think of a way to reduce the fear and anxiety by offering a virtual experience. My son plays Minecraft, so that inspired me, too.”

top picture is minecraft version of clinical desk. bottom picture is real life photo of clinical desk
The images above show a clinical desk area at the hospital in the Minecraft version of the hospital Henry’s creating (top photo) and in real life (bottom photo).

Dr. Ou used hospital floor plans and the videos and photos he’s collected to recreate the hospital, complete with individualized rooms and in-brand colors.

He’s currently working with Children’s Digital Health team to come up with a way for his customized hospital Minecraft to be accessible via in-room iPads and at home for prospective patients.

“Hopefully by becoming familiar with the Ocean Café and other patient areas, new families will feel a little more comfortable about coming here,” said Dr. Ou. “Long-term, I’m hoping to offer the functionality for patients who are staying at the hospital to use the iPad to customize their room and complete different missions and games at the hospital in Minecraft.”