Carlow Regional Youth Service
Teens, Socially Isolated Young People
Using Gaming in Youth Work to engage socially isolated young people who might not ordinarily access youth services.
It was widely recognised by youth workers that many young people were using video games heavily. This was particularly true of those who had undergone significant trauma or who had additional needs.
It became clear that games were significant to these young people, taking up large segments of their time, and that as a youth work agency we did not have a grasp of how best to support young people in this situation.
From here we began groups to support young gamers and these have attracted young people from a multitude of different social and emotional needs, many of whom had not previously engaged in any form of youth support.
We worked with a number of young people over several months to develop a group and facilities to meet the needs of young gamers. Together, they developed this programme and week to week we review it and improve the activities and structure:
In addition to the programme above, a number of ‘break out’ activities happen each week such as video editing, event planning and consultation work to improve our services. As one young person put it this week ‘the activity can be anything and is very varied’.
Game systems and computers. These have been sourced from multiple locations, and many have been given to us as donations.
Older technology is particularly interesting to young people and three of our televisions are very old models that were free from Facebook marketplace.
Young people have offered very positive feedback regarding this group, with one referring to it as ‘the best part of my week’ and another saying ‘I love this group, I think it’s the best thing ever because I can play games and be social. normally I just play games and am on my own, but here I do it and can be social’. One young person said that ‘I don’t really have friends and I don’t go to school, so this group helps me to have friends and do something’.
Parents are particularly positive, stating that this has made a significant difference to their children. There are a number of young people for whom this group is their primary or only social activity and in some instances, it is likely to have changed the course of their young adult lives.
Each week young people are involved in a group evaluation, in which they offer one thing they enjoyed, one thing different for next week and an encouraging comment for a peer. This simple formula embeds reflection, evaluation and team work into each session.
Additionally, most weeks some additional feedback is sought. Young people are supported to run their own events for others such as game tournaments that are open more widely, and assisted in evaluating these events.
The benefits of establishing this group or ‘gaming community’ have been numerous.
It has established an environment in which young people can receive peer support. This is especially significant for young people who might have limited social engagement outside of group, sometimes representing their exclusive form of social contact.
Previously, when parents or professionals sought support for young people who gamed heavily, there was an uncertainty about how best to respond. Now a clear referral pathway has been created in which we can offer a clear form of support to the young person.
Additionally, the group have worked together on a number of projects, including facilitating a Comic-Con style ‘Game-Fest’ event that attracted high attendances.
The benefits of the programme are best expressed by looking at the journey of young people within the group. For many it has been a turning point for their social and emotional development, and represented an opportunity for those who are socially withdraw to re-emerge into the world using the games that are so often a form of comfort and support as way of helping them reconnect with others.
Additional information The main group organiser, Tom Manning, is currently completing a thesis regarding how youth services can respond to the needs of young people using games heavily, especially those who are socially isolated. If you are interested in discussing further, feel free to contact him (firstname.lastname@example.org)