VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s one of the few places not to have been impacted by COVID-19, and it’s a video game.
A student support worker based in Vancouver says she’s been working with BCEdAccess to facilitate successful game days on Animal Crossing: New Horizons (ACNH). Every Friday, kids and teens between the ages of five and 19 meet for a few hours and come up with creative ways to pass the time and socialize.
Akeala Brodowski runs ‘Akeala’s Animal Crossing Social Group for Students,’ and says she’s pleased to see dozens of the same faces show up weekly on Friday evenings. To her, it means these young people are finding connections during a very stressful time.
She pitched the idea to BCEdAccess in January, which agreed that the space would be good for young people to interact in. The game is rated ‘E’ for Everyone by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which means the content is typically suitable for all ages.
“The community that BCEdAccess Society serves is children, youth and families with disabilities, or complex learners, or others who just feel a lack of connection and just want more opportunities to connect with other people around the same ages,” she told NEWS 1130.
The groups are financially supported through the Red Cross of Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada. Each week, the kids log on to ANCH to play games, dress up their avatars, shake fruit from trees, fish, catch bugs, and do other other activities they could typically do in person.
“We had a lot of overlap during the Easter long weekend. Animal Crossing calls it ‘Bunny Day,’ so we did a lot of Easter egg hunts and we’ve done a lot of games [such as] fishing tournaments, bug [catching] tournaments. We play a lot of tag, and birthday parties are really fun — we shared some cupcakes one day! The kids come up with really awesome ideas themselves, so they’ve created a game of musical chairs, stuff like that, all through our characters,” she explained.
Browdowski says the game was chosen for how accessible and friendly it is.
“Just the nature of this particular game, it’s so friendly. It models a lot of pro-social behaviour. The characters are always sharing and saying ‘hello,’ offering gifts, and it’s a very polite game. It’s really friendly and it’s appropriate for everyone of all ages, so there was no pushback [when pitched to BCEdAccess as a platform],” she said.
Many of the young people who join the groups feel like they need a way to connect, and Browdowski says the great thing about ACNH is that it allows players to pick the parts that they love, and ignore the parts they don’t.
“You can kind of skip through the reading, if reading is kind of a challenge, and then often if participants do need a little bit of extra support, their family member will be close by to help with the technical side, but then the gameplay itself is very straightforward.”
The group also uses Zoom to help guide conversations as needed.
“I think that helps foster more connection. The kids that are participating, they could be from all different levels and backgrounds, all across B.C., and we find a way to make everybody feel heard, gain a sense of belonging, and just form those connections,” Browdowski said.
In the past, video gaming has been looked down upon by some as a negative influence in the lives of young people, especially games that are considered violent. However, Brodowski says the conversations are changing, and she’s seeing that in the feedback she gets from parents.
“It’s a really valuable time for their children to be connecting with others. Some of them are being homeschooled at the moment, so some of them do comment that their children feel heard and are forming that sense of belonging,” she said.
This is not the only kind of gaming or online group available, as there are other options connected to Minecraft, dance, and teddy bear’s picnics.
Anyone who knows a child or teen who might be interested in joining these groups can sign up here.