Gaming in the Community: Saanich Neighbourhood Place

Every year, we make a number of donations to community organizations, libraries, and schools that integrate board games into their education programs. It’s a great opportunity to connect with the community, and to see how gaming can be used for more than just entertainment. Whether it’s an elementary school starting up a gaming library or a teacher getting their students to exercise lateral thinking and creativity with some well-timed games of Dixit, board games are becoming a great way of broadening children’s and youths’ education, and making learning more interactive and engaging.

We recently donated a number of board games to a unique program run by Jordan Czop at Saanich Neighbourhood Place in Victoria, BC that uses gaming as a way of building important skills for local teens. Below, Jordan talks about the program, and the impact that gaming has had on the community he works in.

Can you tell us a bit about your role at Saanich Neighbourhood Place?

I work as a Youth and Family Support Worker. In this position I am responsible for a number of different projects and programs. I have three avenues of work that I am directly involved in: 1) Parenting Programs 2) Individual Outreach and Support and 3) Youth Programing. I am given a fair amount of autonomy to create and provide programs that are beneficial for a wide range of participants. We are encouraged as staff to be creative in our programming while also ensuring that we meet the agency goal of improving the lives of children, youth and families.

How do board games fit into your work at SNP?

Staff at SNP are encouraged to be creative in our programing and to be looking for opportunities in how to engage participants. About a year ago my supervisor and I were discussing my interest in board games and the benefits that I recognized as a result of this hobby. My supervisor suggested that I consider providing a program that would utilize my interest in board games as an opportunity for teens to connect socially and challenge them cognitively. As a result of this discussion I developed the Teen Board Game Group and have been running it for over a year.

Additionally, I view board games as a learning tool to build skills in a number of different areas; I view social and cognitive skills as the most salient for the work that I do. Board gaming is primarily social in nature. It is a face-to-face hobby that allows players to interact in a shared experience; with the increase in forms of entertainment based on technology, board games stand out as a distinctive form of social entertainment. Importantly, some teens can find it difficult connecting face-to-face in a social environment, and board gaming provides a space for teens to connect where the focus of social interaction is largely directed at the game itself and then indirectly to the players. By hosting the board game group I can facilitate an approachable space for teens to connect.

Another way I see board gaming as a fit for my work is that board games provide a great format to develop cognitive skills. Board games offer players choices — sometimes easy ones, at other times, difficult ones. In a good game, any choice you make will affect the game in some way, providing new choices for other players to then respond to. This back and forth interactive process provides a perfect space for learning cognitive skills such as: memory, executive functioning (planning, flexibility, strategy), and thinking (analysis, self-reflection, and reasoning), etc. Similar to how the Sudoku or cross-word player exercises the brain, board games also give players a great mental exercise. Mental exercise is beneficial and I want to support that in any way I can.

How many teens have participated in your program?

In total we have had approximately 80-90 participants over the past year. We have had as few as one and as many as eight participants at a time with the average week hosting two to three participants regularly. When I began running the program I was hoping that we would see 10 to 20 teens each week; however, what I have discovered in hosting a smaller group is that the teens who are attending regularly thrive in a small-group setting. Now I tend to think that, whether the group grows or maintains its current attendance, I am providing the group for those who need and want to be there.

What games do they most enjoy?

We have tried a variety of games over the past year. In the last few months, I have focused on bringing co-operative games to the table, or games that provide incentives for interacting positively with their fellow players. Co-operative games are fantastic for this purpose as they provide a great context for social interaction towards a shared goal. Therefore, Mice and Mystics has been the go-to game for a number of months. Mice and Mystics aside, there are a lot of games out there that have been a hit with the group. Settlers of Catan, Libertalia, Telestrations, Ticket to Ride, and Citadels have all gone over quite well. Most recently, thanks to Starlit’s game donation, we were given the opportunity to play Tales of the Arabian Nights.

Tales is a really interesting storytelling game that feels like a new adventure each time it’s played. It was a huge hit and I got the sense that Tales will be requested more often than not. For the most part, the group has been open to every game that has been introduced. My perspective is that if we are having fun then the game is a good fit for the group.

What’s the most memorable gaming experience you’ve had with your group?

There was a session about six months back when the group sat down to play Settlers of Catan. The game started off well with everyone playing in a civilized manner. About half-way through the game one of the players proposed a trade and, for whatever reason, this started a conversation about the ethics of trading sheep (“What if the sheep don’t want to be traded?”; “Don’t sheep have feelings?!”; “Ovine rights!” etc.). After a few minutes of group ramblings the next player blurted jokingly, “Pass the dice!” Ever since then, when a player is taking their sweet time on their turn we will gently remind them to “Please. Pass the dice!”

What are your plans for growing the program in the future?

I have been speaking to the local youth and family support workers in Victoria about the program and the benefits I have seen through the group. I have been encouraging these workers to send teens who they think would benefit from attending. Word of mouth has always been the most effective way to bring in new participants for all of the programs offered at SNP.

Is there anything more you’d like to share?

I would like to say, on behalf of SNP and the participants of the Teen Board Game Group, a great big “Thank You!” to everyone at Starlit Citadel. Thanks to your gracious donation of board games you have allowed for my work at SNP to continue in facilitating this unique program.