The children anxiously waited for us at the door. My body trembled as I entered the room. I saw their little faces look up at me with very expressive eyes as I opened the boxes. They wore chinstraps due to the chemo treatments they were undertaking. I looked at them and asked, “So, are we going to play?” They raised their little arms and shyly responded, “Yes!”
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — When I delivered the first portable gaming console I created to the local children’s hospital, I wanted to visit and give it to them myself. When I walked into the pediatric hemodialysis sector, the staff made me wear a full suit. I felt like an astronaut. When I caught sight of the children, a profound sadness overtook me. I kept my composure, despite wanting to break down and cry. They all looked so frail.
Yet, at the same time, they seemed to be filled with happiness. I wanted to help them in any way I could. We approached one of the dialysis chairs as the doctor performed a treatment on a young boy. I handed him the box. At first, he did not understand what it was, but the moment the screen turned on, his face lit up with joy. He let out a scream of excitement as he inspected the device. The console has two joysticks so you can play in pairs. Watching the kids immerse themselves in the games felt incredible, and my non-profit organization La Guarida took flight.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the world went into quarantine, the isolation felt unbearable. To keep myself distracted, I plunged into video games. Every night, I sat at my desk, immersed in a world of color and excitement. I always felt passionate about gaming and dreamed of working in the industry. So, I started a channel on the popular platform Twitch and live streamed while I played my games.
At first, I had no viewers, but little by little, a small community formed. I began to invest more hours into streaming and worked on improving the quality. It felt comforting to have people to interact with during lockdown. In time, I began to generate revenue through my content. I never intended to earn money from doing this and I tried to think of ways to spend it wisely.
Seeing families in my area sleeping outside with small children in impoverished shelters broke my heart. So, I bought a lot of food and cooked meals to deliver to them. When I got there, I looked into the children’s eyes, and I felt their innocence and sadness. As I shook their parents’ hands, a heaviness settled into my chest. They thanked me for the meal, but I knew my small gesture did not change the reality they lived in. When I walked away, the image of the families stayed with me, and desperation set in. I needed to do more.
One day, I met some people from El Otro me Importa, an NGO working with children suffering from cancer. They managed a project, in which they donated video game consoles to hospitalized children. However, many times the process of connecting the monitor to the hospital television proved difficult. I wanted to find a way for them to access video games without needing all this extra equipment.
I immediately started working on some prototypes and created La Guarida’s first portable console. It took me two and half months to create the final prototype. Once I had it, we found a children’s hospital and gave them the console. They loved it so much, quickly deciding it could be useful in the hemodialysis sector.
During hemodialysis treatments, the patient remains connected to a machine for five to six hours, remaining sedentary. The games allowed them to keep busy and enjoy the process. The children can sit and play alone or with the person in the chair next to them. It creates an incredibly strong bond through play that seems to renew them. It is like they enter another world.
Sometime after we delivered that first console, my team and I went back to the hospital. We brought more consoles this time and delivered them to the pediatric oncology section. The children anxiously waited for us at the door.
My body trembled as I entered the room. I saw their little faces look up at me with very expressive eyes as I opened the boxes. They wore chinstraps due to the chemo treatments they were undergoing. I looked at them and asked, “So, are we going to play?”
They raised their little arms and shyly responded, “Yes!” I gave each of them a joystick and turned the consoles on. As soon as they heard the video game’s intro music, they began to laugh. Their eyes filled with wonder.
Everything felt magical and for a moment, we all forgot where we were. Video games helped me navigate through very tough moments in my life. They mean the world to me. Being able to give that to a child feels incredible.
I remain immensely grateful when I meet children at the hospitals and watch them make connections with one another. To me, the simple act of playing heals so much. Play is often the first way we really engage with society. To play is to be free.
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