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Gaming Changes Lives

Updated: Sep 17, 2019

Unboxed is 300 posts old today! I’ve been thinking for a while now about what I would write for this milestone, wanting to create something profound to mark the occasion.

However, what I think I am going to write about is how gaming has helped one person specifically. As regular readers will know, I have a younger brother who suffers with a form of cerebral palsy that affects his learning and motor skills. He struggles with basic things we take for granted like reading and counting, however he loves playing games with the family.

Through the use of games we have been able to cement the idea of pattern recognition. For example the dots on the side of a die are instantly recognisable, despite the fact if he was presented with 6 objects he would have to count them individually. He uses the images on a card to understand what it says, for example when he draws the Hag in Talisman he knows that he must travel to the village to get rid of her.

This recognition of patterns and images is actually proof of intelligence beyond what his doctors and therapists believe he possesses. Andrew can store thousands of patterns in his brain, knowing the functions of hundreds of cards and board positions in dozens of different games, so much so that he often corrects other players when they make a mistake.

As an extension of this pattern recognition Andrew has begun to recognise words and their meanings within a game context. For example he recognises the words “Card” “Gold” “Wound” “Disease” “Hit Points” and understands what they mean within the context of the game. I know that this is actually understanding of the word because he can extrapolate and use the word in different games where the same word is used but generates a different result.

We have known for many years that Andrew can comprehend game mechanics. For example, when he plays Zooloretto he can not only recognise which truck of animals will work best for him, but he can also identify which truck each other player wants and, as you can tell by his sadistic little smile, he knows when he is deliberately messing up your strategy!

Andrew has a desire to play games with his family and that desire is driving his learning. After watching us play Thunderstone for years he eventually decided that he wanted to join in. The finer mechanics of the game are too complex for him to understand, however being able to add and subtract his attack and gold is something that could be taught.

Initially we tried to teach him using a calculator, however I quickly realised that he was not understanding the correlation between the symbols (i.e. numbers) and their numerical value, so we switched to an abacus and the difference was immediate and apparent.

Andrew can now play Legendary almost unaided, using his abacus to add up his Fight and Recruit. We are still working on subtraction. He can recognise when he is allowed to draw additional cards by reading the words “draw a card” and he is starting to understand when he can use his super power actions. When asked to show an X-men Hero or an Marvel Knights Hero he can do so unaided, the same is true if he asked to show a specific class hero.

His counting ability has come on leaps and bounds since he started playing using his abacus. At first games were painfully slow while we struggled to get him to add up his attack or recruit score which he could only do one bead at a time. Now however he is confident enough to move groups of beads up to five at a time and can recognise how many beads are in a string on sight (although he struggles with 5 and 6).

Making him understand 10’s was not easy but the concept is slowly sinking in as is the ability to subtract a villains Fight value from his attack score to see if he has enough to beat anything else. He is also getting much better at the concept of “Higher” and “Lower” which he just used to guess at. Andrew’s ability to add up using his abacus has now come on so far that he can calculate his final score correctly (which has been up to 55) without prompting and unsupervised.

We have been using this strategy since November and progress has been slow and sometimes frustrating, but we have also achieved more through the use of games than formal schooling had achieved in 21 years. Andrew’s desire to play a game has directly boosted his reading and counting skills and the change is staggering.

So, there you have it, proof that games can not just be a fun distraction but that they can be educational and life changing. If you have a story about how gaming has affected you or someone you know in a positive way please get in touch and perhaps write a guest post for the blog.

See you next week guys,


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