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Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital video game specialist is part of care team for kids

There’s no specialized degree that prepared Brad Taylor for his job in Upstate’s Golisano Children’s Hospital. Instead, Taylor’s deep knowledge of video games and gaming, a desire to make personal connections and a daily drive to help as many hospitalized children as time will allow make him the perfect person for the job.

As the Gaming and Technology Specialist for Golisano, Taylor’s main job is to play video games with young patients as they await blood draws, an IV insertion, surgery or radiation.

His goal? Normalize the hospital environment, make the patients less afraid, cheer them up, combat their boredom and reduce their pain.

The clinical outcomes of his work show in happy smiles and giant hugs.

“One patient said to me, ‘Every time you’re down here is the best time. I am so happy when you come in to play,’” Taylor said. “The job is fun but hearing that tells me how meaningful it is to patients and families, and how much it impacts them.”

Taylor started in his role in fall of 2021, thanks to a grant from Child’s Play, a national non-profit that delivers therapeutic games and technology to pediatric hospitals to improve patients’ lives through the power of play. Child’s Play was started in 2003 when its founders wanted to change the negative perception of gaming and gamers in the media. Now, it supports almost 200 hospitals in the world with gaming and technology equipment and funds to hire people like Taylor. Taylor’s services fall under the Child Life Program, which also provides art and music therapy.

“Brad has done an amazing job with the patients and families,” said Child Life Manager Gina Lozito- Yorton MSEd, CCLS. “This was especially hard because nothing like this position has never existed at Upstate so he had to figure out exactly what his job should be. The feedback from patients and families has been nothing but positive.”

Taylor has associate degrees in computer science and mechanical technology as well as a bachelor’s in business management. He has long been involved in the local board game and video game scene. He was looking for a job with more personal interaction when he saw the Upstate position posted on Facebook and applied.

Now, in addition to gaming with patients, Taylor maintains all of the gaming systems and computers and the iPad that Child Life Specialists use with patients in many different ways. He also uses a 3-D printer to make items for the specialists to use when explaining procedures such as IV ports, radiation masks and tracheotomy tubes.

But his favorite part is playing games. Every room at Golisano has a PS4 and there are seven mobile gaming carts that feature Xbox and Nintendo Switch games as well as games for mature players. Taylor will check the list of patients and see who might need a visit from him.

When he arrives at a patient’s room, he introduces himself and what he does and assesses the situation in the room as well—the patient’s demeanor and condition. Then he asks if the child wants to play a game with him. Which game to play depends on the situation. If the child is there a short time or is very anxious or bored, Taylor will pick a high action game like Mario Kart or Super Smash Brothers. For patients with longer stays, he suggests the longer term building games like Farming Simulator, which is very relaxed and slower paced, or Minecraft where kids can spend days building.

“When you’re playing Mario Kart, it distracts you from why you’re here and maybe it doesn’t feel like you’re in the hospital,” Taylor said. “You don’t feel the pain as much. For kids here longer, they can work through progression games instead of just thinking about their next chemo treatment.”

In fact, Child’s Play offers hospitals on Online Therapeutic Video Game Guide that suggests games for different issues, ranging from pain and sadness to boredom or anxiety.

Ideally, Taylor said he would spend his entire day with patients and does when he can. He can only stay 45 minutes to an hour so that he can get to as many patients as he can. Sometimes, kids just like to talk about shared interest in games.

He prioritizes patients who can’t eat due to an upcoming procedure, older teen patients and patients who are there alone.

“When kids are unable to eat, I prioritize them more,” he said. “I know if I am gaming, I am no longer hungry and sometimes even forget to eat lunch.”

Taylor said most often patients perk right up when they learn they can play a two-player game with him. Sometimes it is harder to connect, he said, but he has lots of tricks in his bag including VR headsets and games for older kids.

One of the most rewarding parts of the job is making adaptive controllers for patients who may have limited mobility in their hands or arms. Once, Taylor set up one such patient with a VR game that was controlled by head movement. Otherwise, he can print adaptive controllers with bigger buttons or different joy stick configurations. Once a child showed him their adaptive controllers, in the event Taylor needed something similar for another patient.

Taylor usually sees about four to five patients a day and can see as many as eight in one day, though often the tech support portion of the job keeps him busy as well.

“On a perfect day,” he said, “I will be in a room every minute of my day if I can.”

Caption: Brad Taylor, a gaming and technology specialist, plays video games with a patient at Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital.