genU GAMER - transforming lives through role play

Episode 4 October 24, 2021 00:25:31
genU GAMER - transforming lives through role play
Breaking Barriers
genU GAMER - transforming lives through role play
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Show Notes

In this episode of Breaking Barriers, host Natalie Jones, discovers the unexpected power of games like Dungeons and Dragons, and how support workers can use roleplay to transform the lives of people living with mental health challenges. How does this unique activity help people to gain confidence and develop interpersonal skills?

Our guest is Paris Conte, a telecommunications business owner turned mental health support worker - whose gaming-related epiphany has led to some amazing results for socially isolated young people.

● Paris Conte is introduced - we learn the story behind his name, and how he came to be a support worker at genU. 00.00-5.23
● The origins of genU GAMER are explained. 5.23-10.18
● A few success stories are explored. 10.18-14.00
● Paris delves into the reasons genU GAMER works so well. 14.00-16.02
● We meet Jake Anderson, and learn how his life changed through working with Paris. 16.02-21.45
● Paris explains the benefits of employing a neuro-diverse person. 21.45-22.56
● Find out how Paris feels about his work now, and what he plans to do next. 21.45-25.12

“I asked the group whether they had ever played Dungeons and Dragons, and would they be interested in trying it or playing it? And next thing I know everyone had put down their consoles and phones and tablets, and were all looking at me.”

“We provide a safe, pop culture-filled environment that they feel safe and comfortable included in, and slowly but surely they get to work on the things that they want to work on, in a structured environment.”

“I'm really looking forward to the time where once we've really identified the true strengths within people that (their abilities) becomes a non-sequitur, and we don’t think about that anymore. We just put people in the right places that they can blossom and shine in and bring benefit to everybody, including themselves.”

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 00:00:08 This is breaking barriers, a new podcast from MatchWorks Australia's leading nonprofit employment and recruitment specialists. In this series, we'll be exploring remarkable stories about why work matters and how working is changing the lives of some incredible people. Think building diverse and inclusive workplaces for business and lasting employment for everybody I'm Nat joins more on MatchWorks later. First we discover the power of role play and see how one man's a is turning lives around. Hi Paris. How's things. Very, very good. I bet. I bet. Look, before we start, I do have to ask, is Paris your real name? Speaker 2 00:00:52 Hi, this is my real name. Yes. Yeah. Not made up for this conversation. I was not named after the city or any hotel heiresses, but I was actually named after the Trojan prince out of the ILEAD. Speaker 1 00:01:05 I don't know that story Speaker 2 00:01:07 Yet. So have you heard of the Trojan horse? Right. So, um, so Paris was the Trojan prince that, uh, essentially stole, I wouldn't say a, but essentially stole the queen of the Greek king and took it back to Troy. And so, uh, Helen being supposedly the most beautiful woman in the world at that time, she's famous for having a face that launched a thousand ships. So the Greek king, uh, gathered all of these forces, took him over to Troy and eventually they couldn't couldn't break through the gates through sheer force, but eventually they use the Trojan horse as a, as a false present, I guess, but they had troops inside and yeah, so the Greeks destroyed Troy, uh, Paris is also famous for being the man that, uh, took down Achilles by shooting an arrow into cuisine. Speaker 1 00:01:59 That's a really cool story. The codename, oh, and for the record, it was mom who was the history buff, turning her baby boy into the central antagonist of Homer's epic. And yes, he's had to explain it ever since, but at something else, Paris is renowned for something that's turned the tables on how professionals support people struggling with mental health and autism. And it started in 2016 at GFE. A gaming store in Jalong, Victoria Paris was with MatchWorks is empowering youth program designed to help young people develop the skills they need to get work. Speaker 2 00:02:36 So at that time, um, I was actually working as an individual support worker in the mental health space. And I was asked to come along and assist with a group of young people, um, who had essentially isolated themselves from their community, families, friends, et cetera. Uh, and they're all struggling with various mental health challenges, whatever that might be. You're usually around anxiety and depression. Speaker 1 00:03:02 Back then Paris was working with disability service provider. Coringal the organizations origins can be traced back to 1952. When a group of Jalong parents started a play group for their children with disabilities, they wanted to give them a fulfilling life. One where they could all realize their true potential rebranded as genu in 2017. The organization's mission remains the same to empower people, to reach their full potential Speaker 1 00:03:39 As for Paris Conti he wasn't always in the field of mental health work. In his own words, he kind of fell into it. Originally, the X-Box guy, he was part of the Microsoft team that launched the first X-Box consoles in Australia, perk of the job. He got to play the heat military science fiction video game halo 12 months before anyone else, a two year stint as area manager for eBay games followed then 11 years hard slog running his own business telecommunications company. But while work paid the bills, it didn't feed his soul. What he really got a kick out of was helping people, motivating staff to find their inner hero. Speaker 2 00:04:21 As an area manager, I was responsible for budgets and KPIs and all that sort of stuff. But what I quickly discovered was that there was no point trying to tell a 16 year old or an 18 year old or whoever the responsibilities of the KPI we had to sell more product, or we had to do this instead of me trying to get individuals to sell more things. What I expressed to them was to get them to understand that they were the experts in this space. This isn't about you selling stuff. This is about you guys helping somebody else. This is about you finding out what someone, something someone wants, and then through your knowledge, because you're the expert here, you'll find that solution for them. And that became incredibly empowering for them. And conversely, our sales numbers went, went up and all that attachment rights, et cetera. And that's what I wanted to do for the rest of my career. I wanted to find environments where I could assist people, build on their strengths, build on the knowledge, what they already had and help them create the lives that they want, Speaker 1 00:05:23 Which brings us back to that gaming store called GFE in Jalong. Paris is a few months into his stint as an independent personal support worker with coringal and in front of him, a bunch of socially isolated young adults, their common denominator gaming lunchtime in the food hall at the local shopping center was an eye-opener as participants chose consoles over communication. Speaker 2 00:05:49 I really struggled in, in the initial component, uh, because while I could engage with each young person on individual level, very, very well getting them to interact on a S on a, on a social level, as a group was extraordinarily difficult and not impossible at that time under the format that we had at that time gaming technology was, was more of a barrier that would the guys there would use their tablets, phones, consoles, et cetera, to sort of keep themselves at a distance from other paper, which made it very, very difficult, Speaker 1 00:06:22 Totally frustrated. Paris felt like giving up in a major turning point. He even doubted whether he was the right person for the job. His entire life had been around results. Orientation, fix a problem, achieve a result job done, but this was different. How could he get past the video game consoles to create meaningful social connections and lasting friendships in the group? As it turned out, the answer was just a shelf away, Speaker 2 00:06:51 But thankfully on, on one fight dipole the owner of the store, he was putting up a bunch of Dungeons and dragons, Stata boxes on the shelves and with no more thought than this might be something to do. I asked the group whether they would be interested in, I have ever played Dungeons and dragons. And would that be interested in trying it, applying it? Speaker 1 00:07:11 And that's when Paris got his soy cold children of the corn moment as if under a spell, the diehard gamers turned wide eyes to stare down Paris of Troy, something had clicked. Speaker 2 00:07:23 And next thing I know everyone had put down their consoles and fines and tablets, and we're all looking at me. I, I kinda lost that now. It felt like a bit like a horror because I had all these eyes looking at me with bright intent on. I felt like I was, um, I was ready for lunch, but what it turned out was a lot of these guys not only heard of the game, but they wanted to apply it. But unfortunately, due to not being invited to play a game or just not having the confidence to ask, they'd never actually had a chance to play Speaker 1 00:07:50 What happened. Next was nothing short of a miracle. Speaker 2 00:07:54 And what I saw was these guys picking up and learning social interaction in a way they never had a chance to before. So instead of the real world where a lot of these people feel disempowered, or they have no authority where they can't make decisions that they want to, because of whatever, the reason within this guy in world, I have complete control and that changes the dynamic for the individual. Now they have the ability to do and explore what they need without fear of reprisal, without fear of consequence. And without fear of not having the resources or being told they can't do something. And when you take that pressure off an individual there's things that I could come up with on their own, it's truly amazing. Speaker 1 00:08:35 Role-playing and testing new ideas in the safe sandbox of the game world to develop real world confidence. Now that was something worth hanging around for, Speaker 2 00:08:44 Instead of the guys not interacting with each other, as much as possible, they would start to talk outside the game. They would want to discuss what they were going to do next session. Uh, and then that would lead to discussions about who they were as real people. You know, what were they interested in? What did they like? What foods didn't matter, what the conversation was. And it got to the point that when our sessions would end, the guys wouldn't want to leave in the past. It would be time to go. And they would to like, you turn the lights on and roaches at it. You know what I mean? And that was, that was the huge turning point for where things changed for me in terms of how I could assist people with their interpersonal growth. Speaker 1 00:09:25 But while Paris may have one over a room full of excited wizards and elf princesses, he still had a battle on his hands convincing coringal now Jen, you that the world of fantasy role-play had inbuilt superpowers and should be a funded program in its own, right? What couldn't be denied were astonishing outcomes. The transformation of young people witnessed by parents and mental health workers alike. As a result, genu gamer was born programs where a shared love of gaming and pop culture is celebrated in a safe and inclusive environment, regardless of disability, disadvantage or aging Speaker 2 00:10:02 For the three years that we had that unofficial graduation, we've had not one person file it. And what's more, the example that came out of that is really what gave her is about in, in the terms that one of the other things that we're very focused on is we don't want individuals to get their needs from the facilitator. The power of peer is a very big part of our model. And so what we want is individuals to reflect and get their understanding from people that they value the most or that the people they want to be valued by the most, which is people of similar age, similar interests, et cetera. We are not playing games here at gamma. We are using dimes as a tool to provide social environments to work on people's needs and wants. And so in many ways we use gaming as an enticement to come out of that spot, right? We provide a safe pop culture filled environment that they feel safe and comfortable included in and slowly but surely, they get to work on the things that they want to work in a structured environment. Speaker 1 00:11:01 He needed further proof that he was on a winner Paris got it. In 2017. That was when he took his entire gaming troop to packs the biggest gaming convention in the Southern hemisphere, a cacophony of neon noise and crowds conditions that would create anxiety loops for many, not one participant filed and all got to access packs, including one young woman who grew stronger with age visit Speaker 2 00:11:27 The young lady who she was terrified when I'm in terrified she was shaking. So this first time she goes to the pack, she's sort of locked to a facilitator, which was fine. She still got around, she got to do what she wanted and she had a bowl, but the next year when she went to do it, and we said, all right, are you ready? We were ready to take your inside. And they do it. She went off with a friend, which was fantastic. I'll show you guys. And we started at the end, but the third year when she went, she took someone that was just as and scared as Tara. She took them under her wing and she got a demo ramp packs. So now a facilitator was required that the power of what genuine gamer is, and, and, you know, I could sit here until you have to. I just drag them, like, because I can tell you, um, you know, how we, all our programs are based on a solid foundation and we'll flexible the alley, et cetera, et cetera. But ultimately if you know nothing more about gamer than that, it's about individuals helping each other and, and providing that, that growth within themselves then assisting other people to grow. Speaker 1 00:12:25 And then there's the story of a boy who for four years never left his room, such was his insular world of gaming compounded by his ASD or autism spectrum disorder and being mercilessly bullied at school. Speaker 2 00:12:40 He left school. I left high school early. He essentially barricaded himself in his bedroom with his computer and his dog for four years, barely associated with family, let alone anyone else. This is a teenager. And it was a slight progress for him. He was very closed and he didn't want to speak to other people. Didn't trust anybody, but slowly but surely playing a variety of different games. Role-playing was one of them. He slowly became more confident with other people. He never had it wasn't that he didn't have any confidence in himself. He just, he just didn't trust anybody. But he got into conference with the, with the people that he started interacting with his peers, he develop some more coping skills and moves on and on. And next thing we know, because we hadn't actually had this as part of his, of his plan, but he goes to the Gordon, which is a TAFE here in Jalong. And he finishes high school. He finishes his qualifications. Yeah. I shed a lot of tears that night. That was such a huge step into return back into a classroom environment. That that was a huge week that they might've been Michael Piper. We were that. Speaker 1 00:13:44 What can you explain to me what the psychology was behind the secrets to success for these kids? Speaker 2 00:13:51 So far, I'm playing a video game. There's a couple of things that are happening here. One, I have complete control over what's happening on the screen. I have instructions on what controls I can use, whether that's on that game controller, able to mouse. I know that this game world army exists within certain parameters. Anything that happens within this game will only happen within certain parameters. Plus the games themselves, all of them have some form of progressional success in them, which means that the bowl, you play it, the better you get at it. And you get accomplished, which is something that a lot of people are seeking. That's part of being a human being. We want to achieve. We want to succeed at things. So there's that payoff there as well. It's also a defense mechanism. While I'm in this gaming, I don't have to deal with my pain. I don't have to deal with, with what my trauma or any of that, that kind of thing. Well, my misunderstanding of the white people act around me and it doesn't make any sense. I can ignore all of that. Speaker 1 00:14:46 Harris says, even if players are losing, they're still winning in a virtual space. If they don't like what they see or hear in front of them, they have the power to turn off the game. But it's not so simple in everyday life. Truth is reality bites. Speaker 2 00:15:02 Yeah. If I go into the outside world, there's no video game controller that I can access. There's no cheat codes. There's no guide. People were doing all sorts of weird, wonderful things around me. I don't know why they're smart, why they appear angry or why they've responded to something I've said in a particular way, there's a lot of pain and hurt out here. I don't want to deal with it. I'm going back to my room. And that's where you'll find where a lot of this isolation and what I perceive as has been labeled as video addiction is coming from. It's not the fact that they're addicted to video gaming. It is that gaming has provided them a safe space that is controllable. Um, it doesn't provide the anxiety, et cetera, et cetera. And that's why they guided because it's psych Speaker 1 00:15:45 Among genuine gamers. Success stories is a young man named Solomon, struggling with socialization issues. Role-play has helped him develop a strong understanding of how to raid and comprehend human emotions, new skills. He's used working as a volunteer at an aged care residence and more recently in paid employment at a digital radio station. And then there's Jake. Speaker 2 00:16:08 All right. My name's Jake Anderson and I'm a volunteer or working as helping out with people. I came on as a volunteer. So pretty good. Speaker 1 00:16:22 So tell me a bit about life for you before genu gamer. Speaker 2 00:16:27 It's just staying home because didn't want to go out. I like to go out with my cousin, but I'm just, just like to stand, but it's pretty, not fun staying at home all the time, but it's all right. Speaker 1 00:16:40 What was it that was hard for you about going out Speaker 2 00:16:45 'cause I'm at high school? I was in year 12 and it wasn't good for year 12 for me, because this high school was not good for me because I lost my self. Like, self-esteem my confidence. So I just, just wanted to stay home because it felt safe. Speaker 1 00:17:00 And now what are some of the things that you like to do or feel comfortable doing now that you couldn't do before? Speaker 2 00:17:07 For me now I'm catching the most, so it felt nice catching the bus and seeing some people came on. So that's good for myself now. Speaker 1 00:17:18 So you've got more confidence. That's really awesome. Speaker 2 00:17:23 Jack's a bit light bag with big men, but we were cut Teddy bears. Like we look a bit, we look a bit fierce on the outside, but on the inside we really just tell bears. And so when I met young Jake, he, he was very reserved as well, very weary of, of what was going on, but he just has this heart of gold. It's really the only way I could have, I can describe Jake. He somehow, he's one of these unique individuals that has the ability to look at his challenges and use that as a basis to assist others. Not in the sense of that. He understands what they're going through because he's going through something, but just, he asks, I've seen him ask the question, Hey, this worked for me. See if it'll work for you kind of thing, Speaker 1 00:18:05 Triumphant turnaround and all in just 12 months, Jake has not only worked through his own debilitating mental health issues and autism spectrum disorder, but he's helping others at genu gamer overcome their or an anxieties. Speaker 2 00:18:19 It feels good. Feels really good because, um, if someone doesn't know, like if they wanted to someone to talk to, or if they want to play like a game, like play called or Diablo or some other Mario games, I'm just like, hell yeah, I'll do that. And we can just play the game and even we can talk a little bit. So that's pretty good. Speaker 1 00:18:39 And he's not phased when emotions run high. Like the time when one genuine gamer was so distraught, he started throwing things around social workers stepped in, but it was Jake who was able to settle the situation, his own lived experiences coming to the fall. Speaker 2 00:18:56 In that incident, I saw him being frustrated. Like people are trying to calm them down, even with the workers trying to come down. But I see, like, he didn't want to hear someone to say to him, calm him down. But for me, I was like, Hey, likes enemy. Let's just hold that on me. And he was trying to meet what anime he likes. So it was all good. And so Jake ends up sitting with this young man on the floor while this young man is just venting. Um, and he just sits patiently and calmly with him with, I'm not even sure I could do it. And I feel I have a lot of patients, but just what he was presenting, what I saw was just amazing. And this young man ended up coming down in a fracture the time that he would have done in the past. And he and Jake essentially spent the rest of the session together, playing games, talking, and Jake expressing the things that help him when he was getting deregulated when he was young. And he built this rapport with this young man, that just, just amazing. Speaker 1 00:19:51 In fact, it was this incident that led Jake to making genuine gamer history, becoming the group's first volunteer. He now gives his time five days a week, a generous gesture that hasn't gone unnoticed. And I hear that in November, 2020, you won the volunteering award at Jalong awards for people with disability, for your compassion and unique way of supporting others. How did it make you feel to win that? Speaker 2 00:20:17 Well, the first time I never went awards, but this was a ward for me. So I was just like, this didn't felt right. This is not my award, but when they said my name and said anything about me, I was like, holy God, oh my God, I'm winning this award. This is even my heart was beating. Even my face was a bit red because I was like, oh, I dunno what the award, but it felt so great. It, Speaker 1 00:20:43 And there's more good news. Jake is in the running for some supported employment. And while he waits to hear what his role will be, he's just excited to be joining the ranks of the workforce. What does it mean to you to have the opportunity? How does it feel knowing that you've got some work on the way? Speaker 2 00:21:02 I like really happy, like really happy getting that employment because I'm like, to me, I'm just trying to volunteer or do something else, but I did really well with them too. Like what was it? 2019 or 2018? I did really well. Even 2020. I did really well. So I understand I'm gaining employment because I did really well with volunteering. So I'm just excited. Speaker 1 00:21:29 And on the question of employing a neuro-diverse person like Jake in the workforce, Parris says there are many benefits among them being quick to learn and offering honest communication, as well as having exceptional attention to detail. Speaker 2 00:21:45 If you sort of look at it as a wholistic thing that have the ability to, to focus on, on details, they are very much detail orientated and places where detail is crucial to the task. You can't find a better person than someone with, with autism. It's just the only way I can express it as alignment is their brains are geared towards this kind of work. And they, it's not just because they're good at it. They get satisfaction out of it as well. I do know that in the programming world, the banking world, people with autism are highly sought after. So at least from the, from the anecdotal evidence that I've been given, um, from various papers in the industry, if you're looking for someone with who's whose attention to detail, and you give them the instructions in regard, or if you give them all the right tools in regards to what they need to do their job, just let them go. You can turn around and walk away, cause you'll know, they'll get the job done Speaker 1 00:22:40 And ask for Paris. Well, there's no comparison between his old X-Box life and his new found role as head dragon Wrangler, AKA growth quality coordinator at genu gamer. For one thing, dragon Wranglers don't wear suits. Emphasis. These days is more on connecting with the young adults he works with. So my last question is, is about you and your work and your, your job. I mean, I guess slack on the surface level, you don't even have to wear a suit anymore. Right? Speaker 2 00:23:12 Thank goodness. Um, I, I made the mistake. You have a diet probably five months ago where I wore a suit to work. Cause I was doing this presentation have a bit wear. So, um, I scared people, people thought I was a bouncer or that something has happened. So now I don't wear a suit. My, my claim to fame now, or my shtick is that I wear, uh, geek jerseys. So they're hockey jerseys, but they all have geek themes to them. So the one I'm wearing right now, as I speak to you is of the Adam West Batman SIM on the front. And I wear a comic book, um, caps. That's my thing. And I did a presentation to our senior board the other day in exactly this ghetto. So I take great delight in walking around in board rooms, looking like I've just come out of youth space because that's what I do. Speaker 1 00:23:59 Paris is now working with members of local and federal government in the hope of bringing genuine gamer to a wider audience, which leads us to a fitting finale from aimlessly paying bills and not really thinking about his future to now having a retirement plan Paris. His big dream is to hit the road, throwing all his role-play books in the back of the car and traveling around Australia to remote communities, sharing what he's learnt and providing games and fun to kids in indigenous communities. It's all part of his master plan to use imagined worlds to help build better realities. Speaker 2 00:24:35 We, we do classify people by their ability, challenges, et cetera. And I'm really looking forward to the time where once we've really identified the true strengths within people, that becomes a non-sequitur. I didn't think about that anymore. We just put people in the right places that they can blossom and shining and bring benefit to everybody, including themselves. Speaker 1 00:24:57 You've been listening to breaking barriers, a podcast production from MatchWorks Australia's trusted employment specialists and with 140 sites across Australia, whether you're looking for a job, all looking for staff match works quite simply brings people together. If you found value in this episode, subscribe and share. So we can keep telling these inspiring stories and for more on MatchWorks log on to matchworks.com.edu forward slash breaking dash barriers. I'm Nat Jones. Thanks so much for listening.

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