Finding Escape in Video Games

For Adam Boukind, Friday afternoon is the best part of his week. That’s when he plays Mario Kart, Minecraft and other video games with young patients at the Children’s Center.

One of five child life gaming volunteers, Boukind focuses on fun distractions. “Playing video games is escapism for the children,” says Boukind, a master’s student in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins who plans to attend medical school in the fall. “Nothing makes me happier than when I hear the relief in their voice when they forget about being in the hospital.”

Whether for a routine procedure or a more complicated medical issue, being a hospital patient can be both tedious and anxiety-producing. Technology and gaming are important ways that children play today, and gaming has become a core component of the child life repertoire. Boukind and the other gaming volunteers work under the direction of Eric Clarkson, who was hired in 2021 to be the first full-time child life gaming specialist.

Each Friday after medical rounds, Boukind gets a list from Clarkson of patients who want to play video games. Then, Boukind makes his own rounds, pushing a mobile cart filled with iPads, virtual reality headsets and other state-of-the-art technology items that can be used with the Nintendo Xbox Series X console that is in every patient room — thanks largely to the philanthropy of Child’s Play Charity.

Once the patient has selected a game, Boukind settles down to do what he and his friends did while he was growing up in Morocco: hang out, laugh and chatter. Then he repeats the process with the next patient on his list.

Working with children is familiar territory for Boukind. As a teenager, he and his father, a reconstructive surgeon, volunteered with Operation Smile, the global nonprofit organization that provides free surgeries to children born with cleft conditions. His father also treated children with burn injuries. The work left an impact on Boukind, who wants his medical career to revolve around children and, perhaps, burn care.

Boukind says it’s the connections with the patients and their families that he finds most rewarding. “Their resilience is truly inspiring,” he says. “Even if I don’t know them at first, I become part of their family. It’s a very intimate space to be in and a privilege for me to be part of their journey in the hospital.”