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Gaming for all: Disability Networks’ virtual gaming group keeps people connected

Two men sitting in gaming chairs smile and grasp hands in victory. They are wearing gaming headsets.
Yan Krukov
One group in Traverse City was able to stay connected during the pandemic by meeting virtually to game.

During the pandemic, all kinds of groups around the world stopped meeting.

In particular, it was easy for people with disabilities to become disconnected as in-person activities became risky.

However, the gaming group with Disability Network Northwest Michigan never really stopped meeting, says Gaming Peer Group Coordinator Andrew Kossek.

“When COVID hit, I was able to transfer [the group] over to a digital space and it's kept on going for a couple years now,” he said.

For Kossek, cooperative games really helped him connect to his peers when he was growing up with ADHD.

“When I was younger, having…board and card games where everyone was following the same set of rules that were written out for everyone to see, acted as this great lattice for friendships to grow,” he recalled.

From large intricate games like “Dungeons & Dragons” and “Among Us”, to standard shooting games like “Fortnite”, this group plays them all.

Kossek uses a discord server to connect the group. They use emojis to vote on each day's games and then the group separates into mini playgroups.

“Some people are playing a board game online and some people are playing a video game,” said Kossek. “I’m just keeping an ear on all conversation to make sure everything is going smoothly for everyone.”

As the group met virtually, Kossek discovered a surprising benefit to meeting online.

“A couple of the members who had trouble making themselves heard in physical spaces have had opportunities to grow and thrive in digital spaces where someone can turn the volume up on their microphone to make sure they are heard,” he said.

That is not the only way that the gaming group improved communication. Throughout the pandemic, isolation was a concern– both terms of socialization and support.

“And having a space where people are virtually popping in twice a week has helped with both…socialization and communication,” said Kossek.

That's because a person with an anxiety or other disorder might not answer the phone, but a regular game day is an easy way to connect and share public health information or job resources. Supportive services like those are at the core of Disability Network. And according to Kossek, that eventually might mean showing up to play together less often.

“Because they are succeeding and thriving and building a life that they enjoy,” he said. "I greatly enjoy that part of working for Disability Network– people not being able to show up [to game] as often."

Disability Network Northwest Michigan’s accessible virtual gaming group meets on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Kendra Carr joined IPR as the All Things Considered host in 2019. She previously worked at WMOM in Ludington as the News Director. In 2017, WMOM received the Michigan Association of Broadcasters "Station of the Year" award.