Video game helps patients fight cancer

Some of the world’s greatest tech minds already supply scores of gamers with their button-mashing, sword-wielding, touchdown-throwing fix from offices in southern San Mateo County.

Now, these same cutting-edge Peninsula pros are helping cancer patients survive.

The Sims, Madden NFL, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil and the PlayStation consoles are just a few of the international gaming and merchandising titans created by companies with U.S. headquarters in southern San Mateo County. That success amounts to colossal business: 65 percent of American households play video games, contributing to $9.5 billion in U.S. sales last year alone, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

Crashing the Peninsula’s internationally renowned gaming party as of late, however, has been Redwood City-based nonprofit HopeLab. The organization, formed in 2001 by Pam Omidyar, wife of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, is receiving attention in 80 countries for creating a video game that a recent study suggested helps cancer patients stick to their treatment. Players blast cancer cells and learn about treatment in the third-person shooting game called Re-Mission.

HopeLab benefited from consulting with nearby gaming giant Electronic Arts, based in the Redwood Shores neighborhood of Redwood City, while creating the video game, said Pat Christen, president and CEO of the organization.

The Redwood Shores area has a variety of gaming corporations and research centers from UC Berkeley and Stanford, Christen said, that guided the nonprofit in forming what Re-Mission is today.

“It’s sort of the perfect storm here for game developers,” Christen said. “Certainly it’s kind of the game development epicenter of the country, this area.”

In addition to Electronic Arts, international gaming corporation Sony Computer Entertainment America is headquartered in Foster City. The company serves as the U.S. hub for Japan-based Sony, which has made the popular consoles PlayStation, PS2, PS3, the mobile gaming device PSP and games series such as Gran Turismo and Twisted Metal.

Eidos Interactive, on Seaport Boulevard in Redwood City, and Capcom, on Concar Drive in San Mateo, are also international gaming behemoths with U.S. headquarters here.

Companies tell Linda Asbury, San Mateo Area Chamber of Commerce president, that they prefer the proximity to major freeways and airports, the abundance of skilled workers and the area’s attractive, unique style.

“EA started out here as a start-up … and now we’re the largest video-game publisher in North America,” Electronic Arts spokeswoman Mariam Sughayer said. “We’re really proud of the fact that we are in the most technologically advanced hub in the country.”

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

A digital depot

International video game companies with U.S. headquarters in southern San Mateo County.

Electronic Arts, Redwood Shores: The Sims, Madden NFL, Rock Band

Sony CEA, Foster City: PlayStation consoles, PSP, Gran Turismo

Capcom, San Mateo: Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Mega Man

Eidos Interactive, Redwood City: Tomb Raider, Hitman

Nonprofit HopeLab, Redwood City: Cancer-treatment game Re-Mission

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