What is an RPG?
RPG stands for Role Playing Game. There are many different role playing games with various themes. Table Top RPG's are games played at a table like a board game that also involve role play. Dungeons an Dragons is the specific table top RPG that I use therapeutically.
What is Dungeons and Dragons (TM)?
Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a table-top RPG that has been played since the 1970's by many throughout the world. Dungeons and Dragons is a collaborative story telling experience in which players create characters who go on adventures. The adventures can span a wide range of experiences and stories, but often involve puzzle solving, social relationships of various kinds, beating monsters, and finding treasure or other valued items.
The Game Master (GM) tells a story and the players tell the GM what they want to do within the story. Both the GM and the players roll dice to help determine what happens, so there is always a surprise. The players have a lot of input into how the game progresses, turning it into a collaborative story telling experience.
For example, the GM may tell the players that a rumor begins to circulate in the town where they are staying that people are going missing. No one sees them disappear but one day they are just gone. The players decide to investigate, and after asking questions of townspeople, tracking some footprints in the woods, and fighting through a giant spider nest they discover that there are a group of elves stalking the townspeople and taking them away at night. The elves’ motives are unknown, but once the players find the missing townspeople deep in the woods, they are surprised to find that the townspeople don’t want to go home. This is not what they were expecting! So, now the players have to figure out why the people don’t want to leave, and if they should do anything….
Benefits of Role Playing Games
Individuals playing these games use and learn a huge variety of skills during play, which can transfer out into the rest of their lives. Below is a sampling of the kinds of skills people use and learn in this type of game.
Executive Functioning Skills
Attending to relevant details Staying focused on extended tasks
Shifting attention Breaking tasks into smaller parts
Recalling relevant information Synthesizing information
Imagining possibilities Anticipating potential consequences
Flexible thinking Sustaining effort
Delayed gratification Time sense
Self monitoring Inhibiting impulses
Emotional Awareness and Regulation
Noticing emotions at lower levels Telling others about your emotions
Stress management Tolerating anger
Managing excitement Tolerating sadness & loss
Noticing emotions of others Facing fears
Tolerating unexpected change Tolerating undesired outcomes
Tolerating the unknown
Critical thinking and Problem Solving
Curiosity Asking relevant questions
Analyzing complicated information Drawing good inferences
Deciding between two bad options Evaluating effects of one’s actions
Learning from other’s mistakes Creativity & Improvisation
Social Thinking & Social Communication
Reading others facial expressions Guessing other’s emotions
Anticipating what others might do Asking about others thoughts
Tailoring your words to the listener Self advocating
Asking about other’s feelings Emotionally supporting others
Empathy Social “rules”
Being a good team member Working with people you dislike
Noticing social faux pas Recovering from social faux pas
Establishing new friendships Enhancing sharing in relationships
Self Awareness and Identity Development
Recognizing personal strengths Recognizing personal weaknesses
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable Acting braver than you feel
Trying something risky Recognizing we can all play “roles”
Learning to change roles Learning our limits and boundaries
Trying on philosophies of life Existential issue exploration
Exploring & accepting uncomfortable/undesired parts of self
Reading complex material Speed reading
Arithmetic Speed arithmetic
Writing Taking notes effectively
What is Therapeutic D&D?
There are additional benefits to participating in role playing games with a therapeutic game master. There is an added layer of emotional safety provided by the therapist's presence and management of issues that can arise. The game itself is modified to encourage work on particular skills that each player needs. The therapist provides questions or prompts for the players at the beginning or ending of each session to promote self reflection. In addition, mental health themes can be explored in safety as well as learning and practicing methods for dealing with mental health concerns.
Most people who play D&D or other role playing games can tell you that their characters reflect parts of themselves- sometimes parts they like and sometimes parts they don't like. Other times characters may reflect ways of being a player wishes they could have in their regular life. The game setting gives people a chance to try out being different in a safe way. Because if it goes badly, it was your character who did that, not you! Therapeutic game masters help modulate players' experimentation with new ways of being so that it is more likely to be a positive or healing experience.
For more information about therapeutic D&D check out the following resources:
Clinical Role on Twitch. A D&D group composed of therapeutic game masters who discuss this work and play D&D. https://www.twitch.tv/videos/443804144
Game to Grow. A Seattle area nonprofit that provides services and education. Multiple videos on the site including interviews with TGM's.
About the GM: I first played D&D 25 years ago at the kitchen table. I play every Saturday with friends where I have characters including: a 5th level Human Monster-Slayer Ranger, a 5th level Half Elf Sorcerer and a 3rd level Gnome Arcane-Trickster Rogue.
NOTE: Dungeons and Dragons is a Trademark of Wizards of the Coast (Hasbro Subsidiary). I am not affiliated with, nor endorsed by Wizards of the Coast or Hasbro.
1. Girls and Great Swords
Girls D&D group age 10-14. Wednesdays 4:00-5:30 pm.
2. D&D Teen Group
Age 15-22, co-ed.
Thursdays 5:30-7:00 pm.