A fun way to life and social skills

Weekly social gaming days involving a range of sensory and digital activities are boosting mental health and human connection, say Carly Newsholme and Peter Dawson-Booth

Young wman holding game gards

Use Your Nose is the newest group activity played during sensory and digital gaming sessions for adults who have learning disabilities.

The sensory game involves staff and members of Connect The Dots, based in Bradford, taking turns at guessing the fragrance in a jar – which can be anything from perfume to the smell of the ocean.

If you guess right, you move your tiny playing pot on to the gaming board – like bingo. The activity is simple, inclusive and hilarious, inspiring conversation and debating skills, for example: “What’s the smell? Do you like it? What memories does it remind you of?”

Connect The Dots opened in August 2023 to support people with learning disabilities to lead happy, independent and fulfilling lives. It provides a space for meaningful, social activities that promote independence, inclusion and life skills. Open three days a week at a community centre, it has four staff and nine members aged between 19 and 29 years.

Offered alongside cooking, crafts and gardening, the social gaming day every Thursday aims to challenge perceptions about the activity. It can be perceived poorly because online games can often have negative effects on wellbeing.

Connect The Dots wants to change people’s minds about that and show how inclusive social gaming can be because some activities can promote positive mental health and connections.

Social gaming is usually defined as playing computer games with or against other people, using the internet or social media. At Connect The Dots, it means playing games together – board games, quizzes, bingo and lots of computer-based games – to have fun and learn new things in a group environment.

If you focus on a group game, you forget about your worries and it is a great way to communicate with others and feel less isolated. You can build confidence and develop your tech skills and digital literacy; at Connect The Dots, members have learned to set up equipment such as the Nintendo Switch or Wii themselves.

Party games on the Nintendo Switch, such as Mario Party and Everybody One Two Switch, are popular. Everyone can join in weekly quizzes on a website called Kahoot because the answers are based on multiple choice – if you are not sure of the answer, you can just guess.

In the future, Connect The Dots plans to organise social gaming trips so people can take part in laser tag, escape rooms and virtual reality games. In the longer term, the plan is to open five days a week.

It is incredible to see how much fun everyone has, and the smiles when people connect with each other. One of my favourite moments was when our member Reece Gadsby taught us how to play the Higher or Lower game with playing cards. That was a lovely moment.

Carly Newsholme is founder and Peter Dawson-Booth is a member and quizmaster at Connect The Dots

How to set up a games club

Social gamer Peter Dawson-Booth offers some top tips on setting up a gaming club.

  • Be open to try new things – it can be scary but also very exciting
  • Think about the games you already like and start with those
  • Visit your nearest board game shop for advice and information about which games to try
  • Make sure to have games for all abilities so everyone can join in
  • Have a mixture of styles of games. We have a good range of board games, card games, team computer games and physical games such as table football, pool and air hockey