Video games support the social and emotional health of young patients

Children at the Doernbecher Children's Hospital play newly donated Xbox systems and games

Lucas Alcantara, 7, says he enjoys playing video games while staying in hospital. His favorite game is Minecraft Dungeons. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)

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

Sam Giles Le Blanc - video game expert at Doernbecher

Sam Giles LeBlanc (OHSU)

This employee is Sam Giles LeBlanc, OHSU Doernbecher’s patient technology specialist – although he usually introduces himself as “the video game guy”. Giles Le Blanc leads 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 and helps patients and their families cope with being in hospital through play, education, and creative activities. They understand that sick and injured children in the hospital still need to have fun and play, and video games can bring some of that sense of normality.

“The therapeutic play program provides an additional layer of support for patients and families here at Doernbecher,” he said Rebekah Coles, Manager of the Child Life Therapy Program at OHSU Doernbecher. “Providing an activity that keeps a child busy in the hospital helps improve their coping and overall contributes to their social emotional health.”

Many of the patients Giles Le Blanc visits 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 right next to them plays.

“Gambling can really make young people feel at home in a way that few others can,” said Giles Le Blank. “Video games offer a way to get away from things 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 from illness or injury, is.” that’s a really big deal.”

He finds the program to be beneficial for kids who are new to video games as well, and ensures that it offers plenty of cooperative multiplayer games with a very low barrier to entry.

“When something happens to you and you’re stuck in a bed for a few months, you start to reevaluate your relationship with video games,” said Giles Le Blanc. “Eventually, a digital adventure would be helpful.”

Minecraft Dungeons is a favorite among OHSU Doernbecher patients, and Giles Le Blanc loves 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 non-profit organization called Games for Love. Giles Le Blanc requested the donation, which was managed through Fully Loaded Electronics.

“This is probably the most generous gift our video game program has ever received,” said Giles Le Blanc. “We’re talking world-class equipment, and the magnitude of the donation means these slots 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 donation 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,” said Coles. “He helps children get up and move when needed, he provides company and distraction, and he even plays for the patients when they are unable. It offers so much social interaction, distraction, comfort and fun.”

It is this sense of familiarity that makes the therapeutic play program one of the 20-year-old OHSU Doernbecher patients Chance Wischofske‘s favorite things about the hospital.

“I like playing here on Xbox because it reminds me of the ones I have at home,” Wischofske said. “If there was a video game made about me it would have to be Venom because his moves are absolutely rock star genius.”


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