Video games support the social and emotional health of young patients

7-year-old Lucas Alcantara says he likes to play video games while in the hospital. His favorite game is Minecraft Dungeons. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)

On any given day, a patient at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital might get a knock on the door. The hospital worker on the other end is there to ask an unexpected question: “Are your video game needs being met?”

Sam Giles Le Blanc - Doernbecher video game expert

Sam Giles LeBlanc (OHSU)

This employee is Sam Giles LeBlanc, OHSU Doernbecher’s patient technology specialist — even though he usually introduces himself as “the video game guy.” Giles Le Blanc runs the Therapeutic Play Program, a new addition to the hospital’s Child Life Therapy program.

Child Life Therapy focuses on the emotional, social and developmental needs of children, helping patients and their families cope with the hospital stay through play, education and creative activities. They understand that sick and injured children still need to have fun and play in the hospital, and video games can provide some of that sense of normalcy.

“The therapeutic play program provides an extra layer of support for patients and families here at Doernbecher,” said Rebecca Coles, manager of the OHSU Doernbecher Child Life Therapy Program. “Offering an activity that will engage a child who is in hospital helps to increase their coping and generally supports their social emotional health.”

Many of the patients Giles Le Blanc sees are already video game enthusiasts and they welcome the opportunity to browse the video game library and play a favorite game or try something new, often with a family member or Giles Le Blanc playing right next to them .

“Games can really make young people feel at home in a way that not much else can,” said Giles Le Blank. “Video games provide an escape from the 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 by illness or injury, that’s a really big deal.”

He finds the program useful even for kids who are new to video games, and makes sure to offer plenty of multiplayer, co-op games with a very low bar to entry.

“If something happens to you and you’re going to be in bed for a few months, you start to rethink your relationship with video games,” said Giles Le Blanc. “There comes a time when a digital adventure would be useful.”

“Minecraft Dungeons” is a favorite among OHSU Doernbecher patients, and Giles Le Blanc likes to introduce patients to one of his personal favorites, a cooking simulation game called “Overcooked! 2.”

The therapeutic gaming program recently received a donation of eight Xbox Series S systems — preloaded with games — from a nonprofit organization called Games for Love. Giles Le Blanc applied for the grant, which was administered through Fully Loaded Electronics.

“This is probably the most generous gift our video game program has ever received,” said Giles Le Blanc. “We are talking about top class equipment and the scale of the donation means these gaming machines will impact the lives of thousands of children over the years.”

Giles Le Blanc’s position is funded through a program called 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 are in the hospital,” Coles said. “It helps children get up and move around when needed, provides company and distraction and even plays for patients when they can’t. It provides so much social interaction, distraction, comfort and fun.

It’s that sense of familiarity that makes the therapeutic play program one of OHSU’s 20-year patients Doernbecher Chance Vishnofskethe hospital’s favorite things.

“I like playing the Xbox here because it reminds me of the one I have at home,” Wischnofske said. “If there was a video game that was made for me, it would have to be Venom because his moves are totally rockstar awesome.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *