OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Oregon is offering a new program that’s 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 checking up on patients with a knock on the door. “Are your video game-related needs being met?” he asks each child.
He’s become known as the “video game guy” at the facility. The initiative is a 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 during their stay at OHSU and playing video games can help restore some of the normalcy.
“The therapeutic gaming program provides an extra layer of support for patients and families here at Doernbecher,” said Rebekah Coles, manager of OHSU Doernbecher’s Child Life Therapy Program. “Offering an activity that will engage a child who’s in the hospital helps to increase their coping and overall aids in their social emotional health.”
Giles Le Blanc said most of the kids who come to the hospital are video game enthusiasts. He helps them get acclimated by showing them how to browse the library of available games, while encouraging them to try something new.
“Gaming can really make young people feel at home in a way that not much else can,” he said. “Video games provide an escape from things 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 due to an illness or injury, that’s a really big deal.”
The games can be just as fun for kids who are new to video games, he added. They enjoy playing 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 rethinking your relationship with video games,” Giles Le Blanc said. “There comes a moment where a digital adventure would be helpful.”
“Minecraft Dungeons” and “Overcooked! 2,” a realistic cooking game, are two of his personal favorites.
The program was made possible thanks to a donation of eight Xbox Series S systems, which came with preloaded games, from a non-profit known as Games for Love. Giles Le Blanc applied for the donation, which was administered through the foundation Fully Loaded Electronics.
“This is likely the single most generous gift our video game program has ever received,” Giles Le Blanc said. “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 kids throughout the years.”
His position at the hospital is funded by Extra Life, a fundraising program of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
“Sam has a unique way of connecting with patients and families and meeting them where they’re at in the hospital,” Coles said. “He helps kids get up and move when needed, he provides company and distraction, and he even plays for the patients when they’re unable to do so. He provides so much social interaction, distraction, comfort, and fun.”
Twenty-year-old patient Chance Wischnofske said playing video games has become his favorite part of staying at the hospital.
“I like to play the Xbox up here because it reminds me of the one I have at home,” Wischnofske said. “If there was a video game that was created about me, it would have to be Venom because his moves are totally rockstar awesome.”
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