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  • Alja Janc

Unlocking the Magic of RPGs: From Fun to Function in Therapy and Workplace

In today’s world, spending time online on laptops, mobile phones, or other digital gadgets has become an unavoidable part of our daily routine. Sometimes, when we log off from work, we might choose to spend a bit of time playing online games to relax and divert our minds. The list of online games seems endless, and it's common to view these activities as unproductive or a waste of time, especially for those who are not actively playing. However, for the players themselves, this is not necessarily the case. Yet, other members of the household may hold different views. Regardless of the type of games we play, excessive screen time is not recommended. However, there is a specific type of game role-playing games (RPGs) that can have various beneficial factors for an individual’s psychological well-being. 



Instead of solely focusing on the negative aspects of online gaming, this blog aims to shed a light on the positive sides of gaming. Perhaps this perspective might intrigue those who feel guilty about playing online games, as certain types of games occasionally have more positives than negatives.


Moreover, its essential to note that RPGs are not limited to online play. Even though digital platforms tend to be more convenient, especially among younger generations, the first RPG developed in 1970 was played in person. Even these days, in-person RPGs tend to be a great way to come together and play face to face. They are also gaining popularity in therapy settings and working environments as tools to enhance employee’s productivity and problem-solving.




Brief history and introduction of RPG


The first well-known RPG Dungeons and Dragons was developed in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. In the beginning, the game faced criticism due to disappearance of James Dallas Egbert and suicide of Irving Bink Pulling, as well as religious condemnation over alleged links to satanism. However, research has disproven these claims, showing no connection between D&D and psychopathology (Kelly, 2019). Studies, such as by Carter & Lester (1998), have found no significant differences in depression and personality scores among RPG players in comparison to non-players of RPG. In fact, several scientific studies have highlighted the benefits of RPGs across various demographics, from children to the elderly, including those with learning or physical disabilities, and even aiding certain mental illnesses (Hawkes-Robinson, 2008). We will delve into these benefits later in the blog. Now, let’s explore the main aspects of RPGs and what these games entail. 


In RPGs, the players create, enact, and govern the actions of their characters, defining and pursuing their own goals with great freedom in what actions they apply (Zagal & Deterding, 2018). The key aspect is role-playing, where players think, speak and act as their characters, often even experiencing their emotions. Unlike competitive games, RPGs are cooperative, with no clearly defined winners or losers, and consequently no defined end to the game. Like other social games, every RPG has at least a few instructions about the rules of the game. However, the biggest difference in RPG is the complexity of the information detailed in the book of rules. There are various information players need to know before taking part in the game, such as descriptions of the universe, the history, geographic characteristics, characteristic of the character’s abilities, gifts, etc. Therefore, preparation and careful instructions are essential.

However, RPGs used in therapy, education or at workplace are not as complex since they are more focused on spontaneity, therefore there are not any rigid rules.



RPGs as a part of therapeutic interventions


RGP tends to overlap with psychodrama which originated in 1921 by Moreno. Clients use guided role-play to work on their personal and interpersonal issues, and possible solutions through actions rather than words alone (1,2). Psychodrama allows clients to experience reality where feelings, thoughts, and behaviours can be explored, and insights can be observed into past issues, present challenges, and future possibilities. In addition, clients are encouraged to express their feelings directly and in the first person, to talk to rather than about their significant others (who are normally played by a group member or an empty chair), which facilitates high levels of in-session experiencing. 

Furthermore, the principles of psychodrama, such as direct emotional expression and role-playing, resonates beyond therapy sessions. These techniques mirror elements found in RPGs, which are increasingly recognized for their potential psychological benefits. Whether utilized within therapeutic contexts or in everyday life, activities akin to RPGs can lead to significant psychological outcomes and personal growth.

Some of the reported outcomes of role-play in clinical practice are the following:

  • Higher levels of reflection (Rønning & Bjørkly, 2019)

  • Higher appreciation for people, leading to better understanding (Caltabiano et al., 2018)

  • After a game of D&D a patient suffering from an obsessional, schizoid personality, worked through his emotions in a safe way, describing RPG as self-therapy (Blackmon, 1994)

  • Game of D&D was also linked to psychological benefits such as creativity (Chung, 2013), empathy (Rivers et al., 2016), confidence and the ability to confront situation, and cope with unexpected events (Abbott et al., 2022). 


Overall, the great thing about the above-mentioned benefits is that the gained skills were transferred from clinical settings to the real world. 


Furthermore, RPGs are not only limited to clinical setting, but can be done in community-based setting, and can equally play a role on our mental health and wellbeing. An analysis of a D&D groups’ s chat logs highlighted themes such as friendship, democracy, and moral dilemmas, showing how in-game interactions fulfil real-world needs (Adams, 2013). Another common finding was reduction of social anxiety, fostering a sense of community and improving social skills (Sargent, 2014). Overall, the above evidence suggests that D&D is not just a game, but it is also a by-product of improved mental wellness and stronger social connections. 


RPGs offer a valuable approach for treating in-patients, providing a playful and interactive method to access their unconscious, facilitating a safer transition from unconscious to conscious awareness at the client’s pace. In outpatient settings, RPGs bring people together for enjoyable social games whilst fostering self-discovery. Engaging in RPGs with others creates a sense of belonging, where players can get into their role and express themselves freely.



RPGs boost skills at school and work


Role-playing games (RPGs) have gained significant traction within university settings as effective tools for fostering skill development among students. In these games, participants embody characters within a given scenario, akin to the decision-making process in case studies. This aspect of RPGs, cherished by players, presents unresolved challenges where students must navigate diverse solutions. Unlike traditional decision-making models with predefined rounds, RPG environments dynamically evolve based on player decisions, fostering natural emergence of situations (Alves, 2015).


Extending the utility of RPGs beyond academia, workplaces can integrate such immersive gaming elements to enhance professional development. By incorporating RPG mechanics into training modules, employees can simulate real-world scenarios, enabling them to practice decision-making in a risk-free environment. Through assuming various roles and confronting diverse challenges, individuals can hone crucial skills such as critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving.



Moreover, RPG-based training encourages collaboration and teamwork as participants work together to strategize and achieve common objectives. By immersing employees in dynamic, unpredictable scenarios, RPGs cultivate adaptability and resilience, preparing them to effectively navigate complex and uncertain business landscapes.

In essence, leveraging RPGs in professional settings offers a novel approach to employee development, fostering experiential learning and skill acquisition in a manner that is engaging and immersive.




List of online and in person RPG 


If you are itching to try some RPGs, here are some online and in-person lists for you. ☺


List of some online RPG:

  • Undecember: is a cross-platform hack and slash cross-platform action RPG where players take on the role of Rune Hunters on a quest to toward the plans of an evil god. The game features an open class and skill system that allows players to freely combine skills and runes to create their own fully customized builds.

  • Neverwinter: set in the epic D&D world of Forgotten Realms. The game features skill-based combat that requires players to aim individual attacks and dodge incoming attacks. 

  • Lost Ark: the game offers a feature-rich gaming experience combined with stunning visuals and skill effects.


List of some in-person RPGs: 

  • Fantasy: 

  • D&D

  • Agone

  • Avalon

  • World of Warcraft 

  • Historical/period adventure genre:

  • Deadlands

  • Dark Ages

  • Boot Hill

  • Tibet

  • Humour and satire:

  • Bunnies and Burrows

  • Diana: Warrior Princess

  • HackMaste

  • Underground




References:

  • Abbott, M. S., Stauss, K. A., & Burnett, A. F. (2022). Table-top role-playing games as a therapeutic inter- vention with adults to increase social connectedness. Social Work with Groups, 45(1), 16–31. 

  • Adams, A. S. (2013). Needs met through role-playing games: A fantasy theme analysis of Dungeons & Dragons. Kaleidoscope: A Graduate Journal of Qualitative Communication Research, 12(6), 69–86. 

  • Alves, P., Vicente. (2015) Jogos e Simulações de Empresas. Rio de Janeiro, Alta Books.

  • Blackmon, W. D. (1994). Dungeons and Dragons: The use of a fantasy game in the psychotherapeutic treat- ment of a young adult. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 48(4), 624–632. https://doi.org/10.1176/ appi.psychotherapy.1994.48.4.624 

  • Caltabiano, M., Errington, E., Sorin, R., & Nickson, A. (2018). The potential of role-play in undergraduate psychology training. Asian Journal of University Education (AJUE), 14(1), 1–14. 

  • Carter, R., & Lester, D. (1998). Personalities of players of Dungeons and Dragons. Psychological Reports, 82(1), 182–182. https://doi.org/10.2466/pr0.1998.82.1.182 

  • Chung, T. S. (2013). Table-top role playing game and creativity. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 8, 56–71. 

  • Deterding, Sebastian, and José P. Zagal. 2018. “The Many Faces of Role-Playing Game Studies.” In Role-playing Game Studies: Transmedia Foundations, edited by José P. Zagal and Sebastian Deterding, 1-16. New York: Routledge.

  • Hawkes-Robinson, W. (2008). Role-playing Games Used as Educational and Therapeutic Tools for Youth and Adults. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237074784_Role-playing_Games_Used_as_Educational_and_Therapeutic_Tools_for_Youth_and_Adults

  • Kelly D. (2019) The controversial history of Dungeons & Dragons. Retrieved from https://www.grunge. com/179063/the-controversial-history-of-dungeons-dragons/ 

  • Moreno JL. Who shall survive? Foundations of sociometry, group psychotherapy and sociodrama. 3 ed. Beacon, NY: Beacon House; 1978

  • Rivers, A., Wickramasekera, I. E., Pekala, R. J., & Rivers, J. A. (2016). Empathic features and absorption in fantasy role-playing. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 58(3), 286–294.

  • Rønning, S. B., & Bjørkly, S. (2019). The use of clinical role-play and reflection in learning therapeutic communication skills in mental health education: An integrative review. Advances in Medical Educa- tion and Practice, 10, 415. 

  • Sargent, M. S. (2014). Exploring mental dungeons and slaying psychic dragons: An exploratory study. [Master’s Thesis, Smith College]. Smiths Scholar Works https://scholarworks.smith.edu/theses/837/


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