IT Carlow - Gaming as Youth Work

An Innovative Research Partnership to Promote the Inclusion and Wellbeing of Young People through Gaming.

A young gamer helps to design her group’s arcade machine during the HEA-funded gaming summer camp in IT Carlow, 2019.

Young participants in an exciting research project being run in partnership between Institute of Technology Carlow and Carlow Regional Youth Service (CRYS) were asked to talk about their experiences of the Gaming as Youth Work project: 

‘This is the best thing ever; normally I just play games on my own, but this way I can play games and be social!’ 

‘I just absolutely love it here, it’s my favourite part of the whole week’ 

‘This project has helped me enjoy games more and understand the need to have boundaries in how long I play games for’ 

This project, funded by the Irish Research Council, is identifying ways that youth workers can support young people who use digital gaming heavily. Despite the legitimate concerns that exist in relation to young people’s use of gaming, this project is proving that, when done right, it can be a powerful tool for fostering connections with, and between, young people. Significantly, the project has found that digital gaming can be an especially effective way of engaging with young people who experience anxiety, social isolation or other challenges.    

Doing youth work via digital gaming requires much more than putting on a game system and ‘leaving the young people to it’. Instead, it involves working collaboratively with young people to explore what gaming means to them, embracing activities such as e-sports, game development, content creation and online communication.  

To date, the project has achieved the following:   

  • The establishment of the first gaming group in Carlow. The group proved so popular that it quickly developed a waiting list and attracted many young people who had never previously engaged with youth work services. Participants reported increased confidence, pride in their own creativity and a new sense of social belonging. 
  • Based on these successes, the project was awarded funding from Healthy Ireland to set up three more gaming spaces throughout County Carlow. Four youth workers are being trained as ‘champions’ in delivering this type of work. 
  • Two summer camps that used creative digital gaming-based activities have occurred. During the 2019 camp, young people built and decorated their own arcade machines. The 2020 camp used online communications tools to help young people collectively plan events such as a Youth Comic-Con. Both camps are funded by the Higher Education Authority. 
  • During Covid-19 social distancing measures, these activities are facilitated online, providing young people with social and emotional support at a time when face-to-face supports are restricted. 

The Gaming as Youth Work project has already received much interest from other youth services. The practice resources developed by the project will be distributed widely. The aim to enable all youth workers, regardless of technical ability, to realise the potential of digital gaming as a tool for promoting the social and personal development of young people. 

Gaming as Youth Work is being led by Postgraduate Researcher and experienced Youth Worker, Tom Manning, and is supervised by Humanities Lecturer Dr Niamh McCrea and Computer Science Lecturer Dr Daire O’Broin, with the support of CRYS CEO Kathyrn Wall and her colleagues.