TEWKSBURY — Social distancing is vitally important to slowing the spread of the coronavirus, but it has also created an impact on our youth. Kids have not been able to interact with their peers easily, and for those who may have health issues, the consequences of exposure to the virus could be severe.
Additionally, kids that were already struggling to make social connections in a supportive school environment are missing their friends and feeling isolated. While technology has helped connect some kids via texting and video chat, the actual camaraderie of competing against or playing on a team together is still a bit of a challenge.
When the Tewksbury Special Education PAC approached Tewksbury Public Library’s Teen Librarian Emily Leggat about this, she was all too eager to jump in and find a way to help.
“Kids need a safe place to game with other kids,” Leggat said, and decided to set up a server through the library just for this purpose.
Leggat explained that while some kids are already gaming together online, it is happening out in the vastly unsupervised realm of the Internet.
“Kids can be playing Minecraft together, but an outsider can come in and destroy their building, which they’ve really worked hard to build,” Leggat said.
In the library’s safe server environment, Leggat is the moderator and oversees the goings on. Parent Peg Ricardo agrees.
“Many parents are hesitant to let their younger kids have access to online gaming because you never really know who they would be interacting with and what their motives might be. The virtual gaming option the library is hosting will offer a safer way for kids to interact with other kids in their community.”
Participation is open to all teens in grades 6-12 or those up to the age of 19, but does require registration and Leggat only makes the sign in credentials available to the registrants through her sign up on the day of the game.
Leggat said this is a pilot program and hopes it is successful with an eye toward other types of safe gaming in the future.
“I’d like to have Minecraft mentoring sessions and create buddy programs,” she said.
Ricardo said, “Virtual gaming also allows kids with disabilities that may struggle with social interactions a way to join the group and develop some meaningful friendships with peers. It levels the playing field a bit.”
Parent Dina Mancini added, “I’m just so appreciative we have librarians like Emily, who are constantly seeking out ways to be inclusive.”
Leggat thanked the Friends of the Tewksbury Public Library for their support of the game charges. Participation is free but must be filled out for each session. A computer is required along with a copy of Minecraft (JAVA) and an internet connection.
A Nintendo Switch is needed for Mario Kart and Smash Bros. The games will start Aug. 24. Contact Emily Leggat via email with any questions or to register at email@example.com.