A safe space to play

A safe space to play

Many parents think of gaming as a just a phase to grow out of. However, gaming is an important social space for many young people.

- We had to seek them out in their own field

In 2020, Erlend Tønnesen moved from Bergen to Oslo to further his youth support work, which involves seeking out young people and offering advice, care and support. However, once they were out on the streets, they couldn’t find many young people. The pandemic had kept most of them at home.

- As a gamer, it seemed pointless. We had to seek them out where they were. I told my manager that if I could get the money to buy a couple of gaming rigs, I would get them to come, says Erlend Tønnesen, specialist consultant for Oslo municipality.

It didn't take long for the experiment to show results.

- While those out walking the streets would meet and talk to maybe five young people, I had between 10 and 30 visitors in one evening, thanks to the gaming equipment, says Erlend.

This was the start of Stikkontakten Gaming Center.

The center, which is located in the Østensjø borough in Oslo, has been full ever since it opened. As a result, Erlend has had to find more space and acquire more consoles, PCs and other equipment.

- A space for the most vulnerable

Sometimes, Erlend is visited by young people who normally keep their doors shut when visited by youth support workers. They are there to play together.

- It helps them feel safe. This space, while also being a cool place to hang out, makes it possible to reach the most vulnerable. We see more and more of them, and especially now after the pandemic. It’s a growing concern, which is why places such as Stikkontakten are so important, says Erlend.

Gaming has become one of Norway's most popular hobbies, and it is only growing in popularity. Despite this, Stikkontakten is the first of its kind in Norway.

- My dream is to have gaming centers for youths in every district and municipality. Get gamers out of their rooms and into a social space where they can continue doing what they love, says Erlend.

- Freedom

Gaming is just as important to director Mats Bjerknes, who uses a wheelchair to get around.

- For me, gaming is one of the few platforms where I can meet people without feeling physically limited in any way. It's kind of nice, says Mats.

For Mats, gaming has been part of his everyday life since he was six years old, from Sega Mega Drive to modern gaming rigs. Today, his hobby makes it possible to keep in touch with people regardless of where he is, by chatting on Discord.

- For me, it means being able to enter a world where I can fly, or be super strong or super fast. It is a kind of freedom to be able to meet people and be physically equal, says Mats.

- People don't understand how insane the level is

Norwegians are good at skiing, and that's nice. However, it’s also where our money goes. There are undoubtedly few countries where skiing is as popular among young people. However, gaming is still much more popular in Norway as a leisure activity, and even bigger on a global scale.

- People don't understand how insane the level is. Just think how many people there are around the world who play video games, and how good those at the top are compared to cross-country skiing. People just have to learn to like video games. At some point it's going to become so big society has to open its arms to it, Mats concludes.

Apeks’ Breaking the Mold is dedicated to creating a safe space to play for everyone who loves gaming or cares about those who do. It is time for the world's most popular pastime to become more inclusive.