OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Oregon is offering a new program designed to help children develop important social and emotional skills using the power of video games. Patient technology specialist Sam Giles Le Blanc spends his days monitoring patients who knock on the door. “Are your video game needs being met?” he asks each child.
He became known as the “video game guy” in the establishment. The initiative is part of the hospital’s Child Life Therapy program, which was created to help children feel more comfortable in the hospital. Therapy can include art, music, games, costumes, toys, and even a visit from one of the hospital’s therapy dogs.
The team behind the program wanted to help sick children play and have fun while at OHSU, and playing video games can help restore some of the normalcy.
“The Therapeutic Play Program provides an added layer of support for patients and families here at Doernbecher,” said Rebekah Coles, OHSU Doernbecher Child Life Therapy Program Manager. “Providing an activity that will engage a child who is in the hospital helps increase their adjustment and helps with their overall social-emotional health.”
Giles Le Blanc said most children who come to the hospital are video game enthusiasts. It helps them acclimatize by showing them how to browse the library of available games, while encouraging them to try something new.
“The game can really make young people feel at home in a way few others can,” he said. “Video games provide an escape from what’s going on around them, but it’s also a way for kids to connect with their friends outside of the hospital – and when your life is turned upside down by… Illness or injury is a really big deal.”
The games can be just as fun for kids new to video games, he added. They like to play multiplayer or competitive games that are easy to learn even without a lot of experience.
“If something happens to you and you’re going to be stuck in a bed for a few months, you start to rethink your relationship with video games,” Giles Le Blanc said. “There comes a time when a digital adventure would come in handy.”
“Minecraft Dungeons” and “Overcooked! 2”, a realistic cooking game, are two of his personal favorites.
The program was made possible by a donation of eight Xbox Series S systems, which came with games preloaded, from a nonprofit organization known as Games for Love. Giles Le Blanc requested the donation, which was administered by the Fully Loaded Electronics foundation.
“This is probably the most generous gift our video game program has ever received,” said Giles Le Blanc. “We’re talking top-of-the-line equipment, and the scale of the donation means these gaming machines will impact the lives of thousands of children over the years.”
Her position at the hospital is funded by Extra Life, a Children’s Miracle Network hospitals fundraising program.
“Sam has a unique way of connecting with patients and families and meeting them where they are in the hospital,” Coles said. “He helps kids get up and moving when they need it, he provides companionship and entertainment, and he even plays for patients when they’re unable to. It offers so much social interaction, distraction, comfort and fun.
Twenty-year-old patient Chance Wischnofske said playing video games had become her favorite part of her hospital stay.
“I like playing Xbox here because it reminds me of the one I have at home,” Wischnofske said. “If there was a video game that was made about me, it would be Venom because his moves are totally awesome.”
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