Different realities, different approaches to digital youth work

Hannes Pasanen during his keynote on eSports as a form of youth work.

The programme of the seminar “Developing Digital Youth Work” was structured in a way to try to illustrate the point that digital youth work has many different available approaches. Like previously stated, digital youth work methods have been developed very differently in different countries. This goes to show how youth work, whether online or offline, is always grounded in the society and reality they are implemented in. While some countries have embraced social media as their chosen method of youth work, some countries have taken a different path. It is always refreshing to take in the new – for yourself, at least – realities and ways of implementing digital approaches.

One of those approaches is digital gaming, a method that has solidified its legitimacy in the canon of youth work over the last few years. As a method of youth work it isn’t necessarily widely known yet, but it is nevertheless gaining more and more traction all the time.

Youth work – whether online or offline – is always grounded in the society  and reality it is implemented in.

Marko Tiusanen from Oulu defined in his keynote presentation digital gaming to be “a natural and modern continuum for traditional games”, which youth workers have applied as a method (or at least a leisure activity) for ages. According to Marko digital gaming includes – but is not limited to – computer and console games, browser based games and for instance mobile games. For a long time digital gaming has been seen only through the negative effects; Marko says, however, that the benefits of gaming can include development of social skills and for example positive experiences of success. These goals and benefits probably sound familiar to anyone who has ever explained youth work to a non-practitioner.

Youth work has also always been about identifying and understanding youth culture. “We need to see gaming much wider than just seeing young people playing games.”, says Marko. “There is a culture around the games and the gaming community. And this is important for youth work.”

Martin Fischer, a seminar attendee from Germany and the project “Gameoverhate” would probably agree; he spoke at length about how it is vital to combat the negative effects of gaming culture by influencing the gaming community from within. Martin also hosted a popular workshop in the sharing sessions about his projects method for digital game based learning.

Hannes Pasanen, the project manager from Helsinki’s gaming house “Pelitalo” outlined another approach in his keynote. Their project “Good game squad” uses an eSports team as a form of youth work group activity. The youth workers bring in their own professional skills working with groups while former professional players from the eSports community bring their eSports and gaming expertise to the table. In this joint venture young people playing in the projects four teams gain the best of both worlds. “Why do we do this?” asks Hannes from the attendees and answers: “One of the biggest reasons is that there is a lot of negative attitude towards gaming and gaming culture. However, for a young person gaming can be and often is a big part of their life.” Like Martin, Hannes says that they are “also aware of and work with the negative behavioural phenomenon, such as sexism, hate speech, etc.”

While gaming has gained significant traction over the years, many other forms of digital youth work still have to constantly fight for their legitimacy to non-practitioners. It would be great if we could confidently state in this article what the “next big thing” will be in digital youth work, but future trends are unfortunately very unpredictable; for digital platforms and apps the rise and fall of popularity can be extremely rapid. Our bet for digital youth work would probably still be in any digital approach that can implement the values of youth work in a fresh and relevant way. Things like makerspaces – an approach that seminar participant Nadine Schirtz from Luxembourg presented in her workshop to an excited group of “tinkerers” – are a good example; after all, youth work has a long tradition of employing crafts and arts.

Written by the seminar facilitators Nerijus Kriauciunas (Nectarus) and Juha Kiviniemi (Verke). Photo by Juha Kiviniemi.

This is the 5th part of the article “Taking youth work to the digital world”. This article is an outcome of the international seminar “Developing digital youth work”. The seminar was hosted 13 to 17 September 2016 in Oulu, Finland by the Centre of International Mobility (CIMO). This article was first published on Verke’s website. Continue to the previous part “Youth social media realities” or next part “Recommendations for developing digital youth work”.


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