A Society Connected by Gaming
Written by Brigitte Gagne, DaBR Journalist
For members of our population living with social impairments, depression, chronic disease, restricted mobility, and age-related illness, it can be very hard to make meaningful daily connections with other people. What if there was a simple way that we could help these vulnerable members of our society? I’d like to share a personal story of how casual games can provide a sense of togetherness and connection.
At 76, after more than 50 years of marriage, my mom became a widow and was living alone for the first time in her life. Despite having a community of friends and family around her, I know that some days she found it difficult to find enough things to do to fill her day.
This is the story of how multiplayer turn-based and casual games helped fill her time and bring her joy. It started when my sister and I found Skip Bo and Phase 10 on the Apple App store and installed these on my mom’s iPad.
At first, we played a few rounds while sitting together in the same room. We made sure our mom knew how to launch the games and request a new game with us. When we were back at our respective homes, we three ladies would start up a 3-way Skype audio call, then switch into one of the games while the call kept going in the background. We had the same kind of talk that you’d find if we were sitting around a card table: some trash talk, some girl talk, and some general chit chat about what we did that day or that week.
Over the next two years, we found more games to play. Sometimes they were adaptations of conventional card or board games, while others were new to us. There were games we played together at the same time and some turn-based games where we could each play our turn when we had a couple minutes in the day. Some of our favourite turn-based games were Yahtzee, Boggle, and Phrase Friends.
Not only are these casual games a great way to connect, they’re also really good for the brain. Reading, card-counting, and decision making skills are used in nearly all the games we played together.
My brothers liked to complain about how much of her time we were wasting with these games, but they missed the point. The games gave her something to look forward to, and a way to feel connected to us. To feel a sense of belonging. And yes, they also helped her pass the time on lonely days when she couldn’t find enough to keep her occupied.
My mom’s struggle is not only felt only by seniors, but also by all socially isolated people. A friend of mine has an eight year old son, Zachary, who is on the autism spectrum. Though every child is different, a common trait of Autism is anxiety, and more specifically social anxiety. While Zachary can make connections with adults, he finds it more difficult with his peers.
Zachary had become good friends with a boy at school who just seemed understand him. Unfortunately, the boy’s family moved to Texas making it hard to stay in touch. But Zachary and his friend have found a way to connect with games. Together they play Minecraft via Minecraft Realms servers. Zachary uses the family PC and the two friends FaceTime on iPhones at the same time. His mom reports the same kind of chatter, trash talk, and excited cheers that you would have found when listening to my mom, sister, and I as we played. The connection of social and casual games brings them closer together, despite the physical distance.
In Canada, almost two million adults1 report their activities are limited due to disability. Combined with the quarter of all of us living alone, including nearly 50% of seniors living on their own2 , there are a staggering number of people in our society who are likely to suffer from often overlooked side-effects of their situation: loneliness and social isolation.
As you’re reading this, take a few moments to think of the vulnerable people who live in your community - a colleague, a friend, a relative or a member of your religious group – and if they or someone they know could benefit from a bit more social interaction. If you have the means, donate an older iPad or tablet to a senior or to another member of your community who could use it. Offer to play games with them. Take slivers of your time each day to give someone else the gift of belonging and community.
I miss playing these games with my mom, they were a bright spot in my days just as much as they were in hers. I know the same joy can be brought to others with just a bit of dedication on our parts. So go out and find someone whose life will be brighter with casual games and make that connection. You’ll both be better off for it.
1 Statistics Canada. Mobility disabilities among Canadians aged 15 years and older, 2012
2 Statistics Canada. Families, households and marital status: Key results from the 2016 Census. Web 2018