With Annie Goldsnider, Child Life Gaming & Technology Specialist 

The world of video gaming offers so much! Did you know Connecticut Children’s Child Life team works with families during hospital stays to encourage therapeutic video game play?  That’s because, with the support of Child’s Play Charity, we have a Gaming & Technology Specialist, Annie Goldsnider, who is able to connect with other specialists across the country for the latest and greatest. They share happy stories and insights on how to make the child’s experience even better.

We sat down with Annie to explore how video games can help kids—both inside the hospital and at home.

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Q: We’re so curious—what role does a Gaming & Technology Specialist play in a hospital setting like Connecticut Children’s?

A: I have to say, this role is so unique! At Connecticut Children’s, I collaborate with patient care teams to utilize video games as a form of play that encourages the normalization of hospital stays. A hospital experience can be scary for kids at any age. This play brings a sense of familiarity to a, sometimes, very unfamiliar feeling of being in the hospital. Gaming can provide kids with an adventure in another world, even though they may be stuck in the hospital while their doctors help them feel better.

I think one of the coolest parts of this role though is getting to play video games with patients. I get to actively engage patients in play, lift their spirits, and build relationships doing something that we both love—gaming!

Q: How have you seen gaming help hospitalized children first-hand? Do video games have health benefits?

A: Yes! I’ve seen huge transformations in patient’s affect (emotional responses and feelings) and overall attitude once I’ve connected them with the video games that they resonate with at home. I strive to be a “gamechanger” (pun intended) for kids who have to spend time in the hospital because I believe that when their spirits are higher, they start to feel better. Here’s why:

  • Gaming helps reclaim kids’ right to be kids first, while so much of their life may revolve around their diagnosis.
  • Video games are a phenomenal tool for Child Life to use with patients as a distraction from their pain or discomfort.
  • For patients who have long hospital stays, they have the chance to reconnect with friends via online games—in ways that a text message can’t always provide.
  • I’ve had parents tell me that their child has talked more to me or their friends while playing video games together than they have talked to anyone since being admitted! It’s my goal to help patients feel more like themselves again.
Two young women hold video game controllers

Q: How do you work with kids and families who are completely new to gaming?

A: For anyone, learning a new skill is a great way to boost confidence and morale. Being able to learn this new skill gives kids a sense of mastery and control in a hospital environment, where so much control is being taken from them. So because of that, I work with patients to introduce video gaming as a new way to lift their spirits or change up their routine. Each of my gaming sessions are personalized to each patient based on their unique needs and their parent/caregiver’s preferences when it comes to technology.

Q: Generally, what are some overall benefits of gaming?

A: In addition to its social benefits, gaming has therapeutic benefits that aid in easing stress or anxiety. Two styles of games could be:

  • “Cozy” games: These offer relaxation with a focus on feel-good objectives, like helping NPCs (non-player characters) with tasks or building a farm at your own pace.
  • Fast-paced, high-energy games: These games involve a lot of decision making, which can strengthen critical-thinking skills, strategy building, communication with teammates, and problem-solving techniques—all while in a low-risk environment.

Both styles of games can regulate emotions, improve mood, build resilience, and soothe feelings of distress. 

As a lifelong gamer, myself, I’ve always enjoyed the strong community around gaming, as well as the feeling of progression in video games. Just like in any sport or craft, the sense of putting work into something until you meet your goals and reach the “endgame” is the reward that’s fueled my love of video games to this day.

Q: Beyond being a passion or hobby, where else can video games take us?

A: The field of video games is ever-changing and now a significant piece of modern culture. Many schools are even integrating video games like Minecraft: Education Edition into their curriculum! Kids can easily apply their enthusiasm for gaming to their education. That enthusiasm can then venture into many different avenues of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) careers. For example, there are roles like programmers, animation designers, writers, audio engineers, marketers, and positions like mine!

Q: What about the risks of gaming? Can you explore those a little bit?

A: We all know that everything carries risks. Of course, the first conversation I have with parents/caregivers in the hospital is about their preferences in how their child utilizes technology. This helps me create customized recommendations that are developmentally appropriate for each child. I’m passionate about preserving the innocence of gaming, but having this conversation is still important to highlight the things to be mindful of.

To bring in my sport analogy again, playing a sport poses its own risks. Risks that could include physical injury, losing balance between sports and schoolwork, experiencing conflict between teammates, and more. With gaming, the risks are similar to those of sports in many ways.

Risks of physical injury are not as likely, but socially and emotionally, the risks are parallel. It’s also important to read the ratings of games to have a better understanding of each games’ exposure to certain content as well as find a harmony between gaming and other areas of your child’s life.

A young girl playing video games

Q: What kinds of games do you tell families to watch out for?

A: Every kid is different, so there’s no “one-size-fits all” approach to moderating the games your child engages with. But here’s what I tell families to be on the lookout for to avoid run-ins with age-inappropriate situations:

  • Game platforms that host mostly user-generated content (games or maps that are created by the players). It’s difficult for the platform to moderate all of its player-created content, so there may be some inappropriate material that’s still slipping through age-restricted filters.
  • Game platforms that lack substantial parental control features. Many platforms have parental settings that give your child access to a game’s content in the safest way. You can control if your child can join chat channels, who they can chat with, personal information that is shared with other players, how long they can play a game, and more.

For helpful information about a game’s content and intended audience, visit https://www.esrb.org. They are the standard for game ratings in the United States and their website provides brief summaries of most games. For more in-depth parent reviews of games, visit https://www.commonsensemedia.org/game-reviews

Q: What other advice do you have for parents/caregivers whose kids are interested in gaming?

A: I always encourage parents to be their child’s biggest fan and take interest in what your kids enjoy! With video games, this could mean learning to play with your child, researching games through online reviews, or having open conversations with them about the games they’re playing. Maintaining that interest and transparency with your child prioritizes their safety in that hobby, while also validating their interests.

I also suggest encouraging self-regulating habits with your child so that they themselves can be aware of the signs telling them to take breaks and balance other priorities. Be honest with your child about moderation and team up with them to set time limits, content limits, and safety guidelines.

Video games are intended to be fun and engaging! With proper moderation (which looks different for everyone), anyone can experience video games safely. Game on!

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