“Gaming levels the playing field for our Demelza teenagers. For a boy with a condition like Duchenne’s (Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, or DMD), picking up a controller and playing Call of Duty with his friends is about more than just having fun; when he tops the scoreboard for the fourth time in a row he stops being ‘the guy in the wheelchair’, and he becomes ‘the guy who’s really good at Call of Duty’. Letting our young people shed those preconceptions, even for the brief time they’re with us in the hospice, is why gaming is so important to me.”

Paul Packman, a Healthcare Assistant and avid gamer who’s been with Demelza for eight years, sat down with us to share his experiences leading on all things gaming at the Kent hospice – and why he thinks it’s more than just a hobby.

“When you talk about gaming to a lot of adults, they tend to be dismissive; it’s a new medium compared to film or TV, and people can be intimidated by it. But when it comes to the young people who visit Demelza, especially those with disorders like Duchenne’s who are cognitively able but physically disabled, gaming is an incredibly useful tool in engaging with them on a level they’re used to with their friends back home.

If a teenager were to come in for respite care for the first time and I just bombarded them with questions – ‘do you like football, who do you support, have you ever been to a game’ – their reaction would be to clam up, because that’s what you do as a teenager when an adult is trying to get to know you. But if I sit down next to them with a controller and say ‘Do you fancy a game of FIFA’, suddenly I have a way in – an icebreaker.

You make comments about the game, you start laughing and joking about what’s happening, and before you know it you’re having a full-blown conversation and you’re not even trying. Now a teenager who might have been shy or withdrawn when they arrived is actively engaging with me, and chances are they’ll be excited about future opportunities to visit the hospice because they know it’s not a dreary hospital setting – it’s somewhere they can come to have fun.”

Three young people who use our services – Draven, Liam, and Dylan – came into the hospice in August for a dedicated gaming session. “Gaming makes it easier to get to know new people,” said Dylan. “I didn’t know Draven and Liam before coming to Demelza, but we ended up gaming together all day. I’d definitely come back and do it again.”

Paul is keen to combat the negative perception of gaming and encourage people see it for the tool it can be. “There is still this pervasive notion that playing games can’t be a valuable experience, but I disagree; I think it’s an invaluable way to reach and engage with young people. At the end of the day I want our families’ experiences at Demelza to be positive – whatever positive means to them – and that’s what I’m always working towards with the gaming we do here.”