Mindful video gaming to reconnect teens with their real world.
Most parents have reservation sand mixed feelings about video games and their kids. I am a relaxed Mum, but even I have had visions of ending up on Dr Phil, telling the whole world my 18-year-old son pees in an empty coke bottle, so he doesn’t have to leave his 5-hour gaming marathon. The production crew would then show shots of his filthy sheets, stinky socks and two-day old pizza box. Dr Phil would look at me disdainfully and say “How’s it working for ya? “EEK!
We have read the rhetoric, seen the screaming headlines in the media -“Gaming causes your brain to rot!”.
Kids get addicted and have no social skills, and are in a constant state of hyper arousal, they need to be out kicking a ball and so on.
Then we hear the alternative research that kids perform better on gross motor skills, hand – eye co-ordination, and there is no reliable longitudinal data on correlation or causation between violent gamers and increased violence in children. Matthew Rozsa wrote recently, that scholars behind a Dutch study published in the April 2017 edition of the “Journal of Youth and Adolescence” called “Video Gaming and Children’s Psychosocial Wellbeing: A Longitudinal Study” found that,
“Gaming at one time was associated with increases in emotion problems, the findings now are, “violent gaming was not associated with psycho-social changes and cooperative gaming was not associated with changes in pro-social behaviour.”
I think the take away is, like all things we enjoy in this complicated internet driven existence, it’s about balance, balance, balance! We want kids to develop their real world social and communication skills but we also want them to enjoy the activities they are drawn to as individuals. Connecting kids to their wellbeing in this world can be a challenge when we are competing with adolescent fingers on the keyboard. Should we keep prying them away? Why not combine them?
An innovative program was developed by counsellor Rob Dovey while he was doing his student placement for counselling teens at a school in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. There were a lot of kids coming to the wellbeing team who seemed disconnected from school life and from interaction with other students and teachers. They presented with a myriad of issues related to anxiety, self-esteem, loneliness, depression, lack of motivation, self-harm, family issues and bullying. Rob, as a student counsellor noticed, that many of these students while belonging to the “don’t know,” and “shrug,” teen generation came to life when asked about their video gaming. It was a great ice breaker and a tentative facilitative tap into their head space to see what issues were troubling them. Not only that, some of these teens seem to be utilizing video games for relaxation, solace, and their friendships. They liked it, it was fun, stimulating, rewarding, and facilitated friendships without the pretences of real life relationships. Sounds like a great sales pitch to me! No wonder it is such a magnet!
Rob realised that gaming and psychology had a lot of crossover. If he could combine their virtual world and their real world, he could provide tremendous and relevant support to these disconnected young people.
Counselling and gaming sounds an odd recipe doesn’t is? Almost an oxymoron really. Counselling is about people and connection with real warm bodies and sharing spontaneous, laughter filed moments that make your endorphins swirl and stimulate ideas and wellbeing. Gaming is perceived as relatively solitary and sedentary (cue Dr Phil and that basement bedroom)
However, game design and video games are built to be intrinsically psychologically motivating, so, why not capitalise on this? Video games can take advantage of our innate capacity to learn and master our environments by building templates of retentive information and then applying that knowledge to real life situations and scenarios.
Five pilots later Rob had a great novel web app game that works to facilitate therapeutic intervention and preventative practice. He called it “Gamilyf”. Gamilyf integrates elements of positive game design and play psychology into a real-life wellbeing system that has the inbuilt capacity for measurable analytical data outcomes. Therein lies its credibility and its kudos as a wellbeing strategy. We can see it working!
The game has students receiving challenges or “quests” from their counsellor and they should complete them to earn experience points, which accumulate over time to reach “levels” Once certain levels are reached, privileges or powers can be offered which encourages their capacity to develop their social and communication skills over time. This may be for example as simple as, “this week, give someone a compliment “.
Rob writes “When I announced the first pilot to the students at the school, it immediately captured their imagination. It started off with about 25 students working with a simple IT solution to track simple data. The results were immediate. Every day students came in of their own volition and asked about their quests for the day or week”.
Results from analytical data collated in other schools taking on the program yielded impressive results and students averaged a 20% increase in positive outcomes, ranging from strengthening friendships, lowering anxiety, more confidence and more school engagement.
One male student sticks out in Rob’s mind. He was lonely and had been suicidal and had recently lost his Mum to suicide. Rob’s quest for another female student who was also needing new connections was “to talk to someone new.” The girl approached the boy, who she had frequently seen in the wellbeing department but had never spoken to. Within weeks they were sharing music and speaking regularly. Soon the isolated boy had a new community of friends, in and outside school.
The program is successful because it allows students to experiment, learn, master and build social skills in a fun interactive way.
Rob says “…. I will never forget how much technology and game design can empower them “.
For more information about Rob’s programs contact him at www.gamilyf.com