Pengunaut Trainer

A Playful VR App for Kids to Prepare for MRI Examinations

The Challenge

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a painless, non-invasive method of taking a look inside the body. Nevertheless, the narrowness of the tube, the loud noises, and the need to lie still are a strain for many people. Especially children often react with fear, stress, and physical restlessness. For this reason, it is common to sedate or anesthetize young patients (i.e., put them to sleep with drugs) to ensure a proper diagnosis, which unfortunately is not without risk.

Our Mission

Our mission is to make MRI scans less stressful for children. Our goal is to ensure and improve the well-being of young patients during the examination. For this purpose, we have developed the Pengunaut Trainer („Pingunauten Trainer“ in German) in an interdisciplinary team of German scientists and students, doctors, and medical staff as well as representatives from the creative industry.

The Project

The Pengunaut Trainer is the result of a joint interdisciplinary work of scientists and students of the University of Duisburg-Essen (Germany), medical professionals, psychologists, and radiology experts of the University Hospital Essen (Germany) as well as representatives from the entertainment industry and medical technology.

This is a non-profit, non-commercial project for the improvement of health care for children. We are part of the project „VR-RLX – Integrated Virtual Reality System for the Reduction of Anxiety and Sedation in Pediatric Radiology“ („VR-RLX – Integriertes Virtual Reality-System zur Reduktion von Angst und Sedativa in der pädiatrischen Radiologie“). VR-RLX is funded by the State of North Rhine-Westphalia and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The App

The Pengunaut Trainer is a Virtual Reality (VR) app for smartphones that prepares children for MRI examinations in a playful way. Step by step and with mini-games, children explore a true-to-original examination room. While experiencing a virtual MRI scan, the players practice lying still during the examination. They are accompanied by the Pengunauts Bella and Benny Beak.

VR Viewer

To experience Virtual Reality on your Smartphone, you need a special mount. The Smartphone is securely clamped in the front and can then be used like real VR glasses. Our app works on every VR-ready Smartphone and with every VR viewer!

A list of current Smartphone models matching the hardware requirements for Virtual Reality you can find here.

We are currently revising our app. The relaunch is scheduled for this summer, 2021. Then there will finally also be an iPhone version!

The Study


A first prototype study has already provided indications of the effectiveness of our approach (Liszio & Masuch, 2017). An extensive study examining the effect of the app over a longer period started in October 2018 and has now been completed after almost one year of operation.

In the study, participants received the app and the training kit and were able to train on their own. During the training phase, before and after the MRI examination, emotional experience and impressions of the children were recorded.

Patients of the children’s clinic of the University Hospital Essen and the children’s clinic Amsterdamer Straße in Cologne participated in the study.

We are currently in the analysis phase. A publication of the results is planned for 2020.  


Entertainment Computing Group


We would like to share our findings and knowledge from the development and usage of our app with all interested parties. As part of our research, we have published several articles documenting our work and results. These articles were subject to a scientific peer-review process and can be downloaded below for free.


Stefan Liszio and Maic Masuch. 2017. „Virtual Reality MRI: Playful Reduction of Children’s Anxiety in MRI Exams“. In Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on Interaction Design and Children (IDC ’17). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 127–136. DOI:

Open Access über Researchgate

ACM DigitalLibrary


Stefan Liszio, Linda Graf, Oliver Basu,  and Maic Masuch. 2020. „Pengunaut Trainer: A Playful VR App To Prepare Children for MRI Examinations – In-depth Game Design Analysis“. In: Proceedings of the  Interaction Design and Children Conference (IDC ’20), London, United Kingdom, June 21-24, pp. 470–482.
DOI: 10.1145/3392063.3394432

Open Access über ResearchGate

ACM DigitalLibrary

Be Brave!

At the beginning of the Pengunaut Training, each child can choose its own courage formula. They can make it their motto and repeat it to themselves if they want to encourage themselves.

Every courage formula is associated with an animal that is also brave and courageous. Also, the courage formula is always connected with the natural habitat of the animal.

Kids can use the courage formula beyond the training, too! They may recite their formula during the MRI scan, to cheer-up themself.

Game Manual

If you need help with the controls or the gameplay of the app, you can download a game manual as PDF.

Download as PDF

Who we are

Entertainment Computing Group
LAVAlabs Moving Images

Concept and Development

Stefan Liszio, M.Sc. (Project Lead)

Prof. Dr. Maic Masuch

Linda Graf, M.Sc.
Christopher Kremzow-Tennie, B.Sc.
Dennis Pohl, B.Sc.
Matthias Quaß, B.Sc.
Ida Schaffeld, B.Sc.

Paediatric Expertise and Study Conduct 

Dr. med. Oliver Basu (Project Lead)

Carolin van Nahl (Children’s nurse)

Visual Design

Lisa Mena
Johanna Krawczyk
Timo Stampa

Further contributors

Radiological Consulting

Dr. Bernd Schweigerer
(Institute of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology and Neuroradiology, University Hospital Essen)

Study Conduct Cologne

Dr. Martin Stenzel
(Head of pediatric radiology, Kinderkrankenhaus Amsterdamer Straße)


Development of the Courage Formulas

Maja Begemann-Frank
(Psychologist, University Hospital Essen Clinic for Pediatrics III)


Music and Sound Design
Matthias Quaß


Dialogue Direction and Voice Recording

Marcus Bäumer & Tristan Berger (Backwoods Entertainment)


Voice Actors


Benny Beak – Edwyn Tiong
Bella Beak –  Jessica Maston
MD Theodore Tails –  Matthew Curtis
Florence Fin & Off-Voice –  Jessical Carroll
Beatrice Beak – Sally Beaumont


Lars & Lotta – Christina Brandenberg
Dr. Frederik Frack – Johannes Walenta
Schwester Franzi & Off-Stimme – Henrike Tönnes
Fr. Schnabel – Eva Berger


Do you have questions or suggestions about the Pingunauten Trainer? Would you like to support us in our work? Then please contact us!

We are continuously working on our ideas and concepts. We are therefore happy to receive individual experience reports with the app and the training kit. Send us your story in text, picture, or sound and support the project and our research!

Use the following form to contact us.


© LAVAlabs Moving Images GmbH
© Entertainment Computing Group, Universität Duisburg-Essen

Disclaimer and Copyright

The audio-visual contents and documents presented on this site are protected by copyright according to German copyright law – copying / reproducing, editing, distributing, or changing them is only allowed with the written permission of the author (Entertainment Computing Group, University of Duisburg-Essen; LAVAlabs Moving Images GmbH). This does not apply to downloading the application (app) onto your smartphone. The app is intended for private and non-commercial use only. If any content used on this website was not created by one of the project partners, the copyrights of third parties are respected. Using the contact data displayed in our imprint for commercial advertising is prohibited unless we have given our prior written consent or a business relationship already exists.

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