Spotlight On: Hospital Gaming Specialists

Ask Marty McMahon what he does at work and he will jokingly say, “I get paid to play video games.” 

The reality of what he does is so much more important. Marty is the Gaming Activity Coordinator in the Child Life department at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas. So, while he does in fact get paid to play video games with hospitalized children, Marty is helping to improve their quality of life while undergoing treatment. 

With Marty’s background in game design and educational technology, he was the perfect fit for one of Child’s Play grant-funded Gaming Specialist positions. He spends much of his time conducting normalization play, which means he makes life for a hospitalized child as normal as possible. 

Because Houston is home to both a thriving game design education community and a robust, innovative medical community, Marty has been part of a gaming incubator that combines gaming apps with health technology to help patients with healthcare compliance. Something as simple as washing their hands, which can be critical for a chemotherapy patient, is turned into a game through an app. For a child, this can mean the difference between completing a task and not completing a task. 

Doctors, nurses, Child Life, and parents all agree gaming can be helpful for pediatric patients. Here’s why:

  • Gaming provides entertainment and combats boredom during long hours of treatment, extended stays, and after visiting hours have ended. Plus it’s an activity that the whole family can participate in.

  • Gaming provides socialization benefits including increased cooperation, support, helping behaviors, and civic engagement.

  • Playing video games gives hospitalized children a sense of normalcy, which is very important during a challenging medical journey.

  • Video games provide emotional support and are effective distractors, reducing anxiety, and stress in children.

  • Utilizing games that encourage patient participation and engagement can lower a child’s and increase their compliance.

  • Gaming allows physical therapists to capitalize on their patients’ functional abilities in fun and novel ways and could require less pain medication.

“Every day, I am motivated by the impact gaming has on my patients,” said Marty. 

Starlight is grateful for gaming specialists like Marty who help us deliver happiness to seriously ill kids. You can deliver happiness too by making a donation

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