Shane Rafferty plays video games for a living. He is neither a developer nor a ranked professional, but his work revolves around games nonetheless: Rafferty is a specialist in game technology. As the name suggests, he uses technology – and video games in particular – to provide social and emotional support to hospitalized children and their families.
Although the job description sounds like fantasy, game technology specialists are a reality in more than 50 hospitals worldwide. Among them are Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. Since August 2021, Rafferty has played dozens of games there, ranging from Mario Kart to Tetris to Super Smash Bros.with hundreds of children.
Rafferty comes from a healthcare background, so he’s no stranger to educating patients, distracting them and helping them cope with diagnoses, but games also allow him to connect with patients over shared interests.
“It’s a great way to build connection with them and break down barriers,” says Rafferty.
In addition to building relationships, he’s also found that playing with (or against!) the kids helps them forget they’re in the hospital. It gives them a chance to engage in play, in the same way as their peers.
“They sit down, they play Mario Kart,” says Rafferty, “and they don’t think about how they’ve been stuck in the same room for the last month. Instead, they think, ‘I’ve got to get this red shell so I can beat this guy who thinks he’s hot stuff.’
Being able to offer the reprieve through play that both Rafferty and the children enjoy is particularly rewarding.
Just another day in the life
The title “games technology specialist” can be a bit of a misnomer, as Rafferty’s day can include everything from bedside gaming sessions to console troubleshooting to consultations with other departments and even donors.
As Rafferty puts it, “I wear many hats.”
Rafferty has three primary tasks at Lurie. The first is to maintain the hospital’s entertainment technology. This includes the consoles in the playroom area of the hospital’s 20 mobile game carts and all technology loaned to patients’ individual rooms. He troubleshoots controllers, installs updates and confirms the suitability of the apps downloaded to the hospital’s iPads. He also orders new equipment as needed.
These are tasks that improve patients’ quality of life. These are also tasks that can be moved to the back burner without a dedicated specialist.
“Our child life team is focused on interacting with patients’ families, performing procedural supports and providing education,” says Rafferty. If a game doesn’t work, “they don’t have time to say, ‘Okay, that’s it.’ Minion Rush up to date?'”
Handling the burden of technical maintenance is just one of the benefits of a gaming technology specialist. There’s also Rafferty’s second task to consider, one that informs the first: His job requires him to keep up with the latest trends in technology and gaming.
In this research, Rafferty is never alone. His position is currently funded by a two-year grant from Child’s play, a gaming industry charity. Through this partnership, Rafferty not only receives donated equipment (such as the hospital’s 3D printer), but also access to the larger community of gaming technology specialists with whom he meets weekly to exchange ideas.