For Kids in the Hospital, Video Games Are Part of Recovery

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Shane Rafferty plays video games for a living. He is neither a developer nor a qualified professional, but his work revolves around games: Rafferty is a specialist in games technology. As the name suggests, it uses technology—and video games in particular—to provide social and emotional support to hospitalized children and their families.

Although the job description sounds fancy, game technology specialists are a reality in more than 50 hospitals around the world. Among them is the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Since August 2021, Rafferty has played dozens of games there, ranging from Mario Kart a Tetris a Super Smash Bros.with hundreds of children.

Rafferty comes from a healthcare background, so he’s no stranger to educating patients, distracting them and helping them cope with diagnoses, but games also allow him to connect with patients over common interests.

“It’s a great way to build a relationship with them and break down barriers,” says Rafferty.

Beyond building relationships, she’s also found that playing alongside (or against!) kids helps them forget they’re in the hospital. It gives them the opportunity to participate in the game, just like their peers.

“They are sitting, they are playing Mario Kart” says Rafferty, “and they’re not thinking about how they’ve been stuck in the same room for the last month. Instead, they’re thinking, ‘I need to get this red shell so I can beat this guy who thinks he’s hot.'”

It is especially rewarding to be able to provide this break through play, which both Rafferty and the children enjoy.

Just another day in the life

The title “Games Technology Specialist” may be a bit of a misnomer, as Rafferty’s day can include everything from late-night gaming sessions to console troubleshooting and consulting with other departments and even donors.

As Rafferty says, “I wear many hats.”

Rafferty has three main tasks at Lurie. The first is to maintain the hospital’s entertainment technology. This includes the play area consoles on the hospital’s 20 mobile play carts and any technology loaned to individual patient rooms. Troubleshoots drivers, installs updates and confirms suitability of apps downloaded to hospital iPads. Also orders new equipment as needed.

These are tasks that improve patients’ quality of life. They are also tasks that could take a back seat without a dedicated specialist.

“Our child life team focuses on interacting with patients’ families, providing procedural support and providing education,” says Rafferty. If a game doesn’t work, “they don’t have time to say, ‘Okay, yeah.’ Minions Rush Updated?'”

Handling the burden of tech maintenance is just one of the benefits of a gaming tech specialist. There’s also Rafferty’s second task to consider, one that informs the first: his job requires him to keep up with new trends in technology and gaming.

In this investigation, Rafferty is never alone. His position is currently funded by a two-year grant from Child’s Play, a play industry charity. Through this partnership, Rafferty receives not only donated equipment (such as the hospital’s 3D printer), but also access to the larger community of gaming technology specialists, with whom he meets weekly to exchange ideas.

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