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The Healing the Power of Games: Why I Extra Life


Article written by Ben Gerber, a sixth-year participant who plays for Boston Children's Hospital.




I first learned about Extra Life six years ago from an online post from a fellow gamer. It means an awful lot to support the patients at Boston Children’s Hospital. My daughter was one - my daughter will be one again early next year.




My youngest daughter was born with a right unilateral cleft lip. Her first surgery happened at age 2 and two weeks ago, she had her fifth surgery at age 8. Her surgeon is the best in the world and to him this is a walk in the park, but for us it’s a biggie, and for her, it was a stupendously huge deal.


The surgery was two and a half hours, and we were able to take her home that night. She was very tired and after four hours had passed, she had her first tentative sips of apple juice.


“Dad?” she asked.


“Yeah hon,” I anxiously replied, expecting a request for some pain medicine, or another ice pack.


“Can we play a game?”


While she was confined to the couch by doctor's orders, we wrangled up a breakfast tray and my copy of Love Letter and something pretty amazing happened. For the fifteen minutes we played this simple little sixteen card game, she forgot she was just hours out of surgery. There was laughter as she got the first three points before I scored even one, and she concentrated on the game and the enjoyment it offered to the point where her mind was off of her face and what had been done to it.




Over the next several days, I would see this again and again. Despite being tired we would keep on playing games. The next day it was more simple games. We tackled Zombie Dice, more Love Letter and my squirrel game prototype. While sleeping was an issue for her, and she would spend some time zoned out into a movie, her best avenue of escape was gaming. I think she started to realize this as well.


Towards the end of any pain medicine cycle, she’d make a point of asking to play a game. There’s something very amazing about the mind’s ability to focus on a task that’s enjoyable and literally exclude the stuff that’s not. How often have you played a game and managed to push off that unpleasant task looming at work? A night’s gaming for me is an escape just as total as a wonderful movie or an enthralling book.


On her second full day of recovery, she put her hands on her hips and insisted on something a little stronger than a ten-minute game. She was also at the point in her recovery where swelling was going down and noticing the pain was taking a front seat. No one likes to watch their kid suffer through a painful experience, and that kid wasn't too keen on it either. So we distracted each other with Castle Panic and Forbidden Desert.

We upped the difficulty on Forbidden Desert for the first time and managed to construct our air ship and get out of that parched landscape just before we ran out of water! Next, we defended our castle as it was besieged by wave after wave of nasty monsters and giant boulders. We managed to pull off another victory, even the at the end we had to sacrifice the Wizard’s tower to do so. That was several hours mixed in with some smaller games as well that passed so quickly for her.

It was great to see - greater to be a part of it. It also did amazing things for my peace of mind as well, distracting me just as thoroughly as it distracted her.

After that, her body was exhausted and her mind tired from a good mental workout. She did something she hasn't done in years – she took a nap. A lengthy one at that.

Consider what happened here – pain medicine would take the edge off but wouldn't make her forget the experience. TV was distracting but that distraction faded fast. Games though, well there was something else entirely going on here. We’d strategize together. She’d laugh over her wins and has begun to take her defeats with grace and good sportsmanship. We’d discuss what happened afterwards and allow the game to make a story that she’d bring up throughout the day. Using her mind to focus on something so completely, she forgot – sometimes literally, entirely forgot what she was going through.

Every day since that day has been better for her and today is the day that things start returning to normal. I’m back at work, she’s back at school and life is going on. No more pain medicine is needed in her case, and when she smiles, she can do so without it turning into a grimace.

She did make me promise though that tonight we’d play another game. Who am I to say no?



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