Written by Hanna Lee
A year ago, Jamie Dillionâ€™s public relations background, nonprofit experience and love for video gaming helped her land her dream job. She is the newest staff member at Childs Play, a nonprofit dedicated to improving Â childrenâ€™s lives in hospitals through the power of play. Dillion recognizes the combination of her skills were perfectly suited for the job: â€śI went through a very extensive interview process, and it would be hard to work at Childâ€™s Play if I wasnâ€™t a gamer,â€ť recalls Dillion.
In 2003, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, founders of Penny Arcade, an online comic strip that focuses on video games and gamer culture, were frustrated with the mediaâ€™s negative stereotyping of gamers. Krahulik and Holkins resented the portrayal of gamers as lazy and apathetic. In response to the biases facing their community, the pair organized the gaming community to donate toys during the holiday season to Seattle Childrenâ€™s Hospital. Within a week of announcing the toy drive, their garage was packed with donations. Today, the organization has raised 10.5 million dollars to change the lives of countless sick children.
Studies show that children who play video games while undergoing painful procedures request less pain medication. â€śTechnologies like the Kinect and Wii Balance Board are changing the way kids are healing and handling injuries, illnesses and treatments,â€ť explains Dillion. â€śThe games help in two main ways, with distraction and compliance. Children are more likely to comply with an uncomfortable treatment if they have a game to take their mind off the pain.â€ť
Dillion also recounts the ways motion sensory games are changing physical therapy for kids. â€śPhysical therapy is the same motion over and over again. Itâ€™s boring and painful,â€ť says Dillion. â€śBut if a kid plays a dance game to beat their previous score, they are thinking of beating their high score and not about the pain. The physical therapy becomes play for them.â€ť Children also struggle with a lack of normalcy or routine during hospital stays; being able to play a multiplayer game with a sibling or playing a handheld system during a late-night treatment helps ease these additional stresses.
Compared to most nonprofits that rely on mailing lists, newsletters and postcards for donations, Childâ€™s Play focuses on engaging the gaming community. The nonprofit is active in social media and depends on grassroots word-of-mouth.Â Every year, Childâ€™s Play plans two fundraising events: a golf tournament and a dinner auction. Gamer community members use the events as an opportunity to meet and bond for a shared cause. Currently, 90 hospitals are in the Childâ€™s Play network worldwide.
While the Childâ€™s Play team is small, their reach into the gaming community is powerful and limitless. As a gamer herself, Dillion clears up many misconceptions perpetuated by the media claiming that gamers are causing violence or are lazy: â€śThe reality is that gaming is changing and itâ€™s really like any other hobby,â€ť says Dillion. â€śGamers are adults with real careers who are productive members of society and do good in the world. We arenâ€™t worried about the gamer stereotype because we are a testament to the fact that itâ€™s not true.â€ť
Dillion frequently hears from parents and children who were positively impacted by gaming and Childâ€™s Play. Specifically, Dillion cites a sick young man who was offered a wish from The Make A Wish Foundation. â€śWe partner with DesertBus.org for one of our biggest events, and this young manâ€™s wish was to participate in the gaming tournament for six days to benefit Childâ€™s Play,â€ť Dillion recounts. â€śHeâ€™s spent much of his life in the hospital, but his wish was to help other kids in his position get video games. â€ś Dillion says these stories are a testament to the gaming community and the undeniable positive impact of allowing children to play when they need to most.
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