Tabletop role playing has been part of my life and a core part of my identity for decades. It fills many roles for me personally including as a creative outlet, a method to meet people, and simply as a fun hobby. Role playing will always be these things for me, but I also see a higher goal for role playing games.
But let me step back for a minute.
I’m in four role playing groups and each group scratches a slightly different itch. One of my weeknight games is a great way to decompress after the work day. We eat snacks, sling some dice, and have a great time killing monsters and saving the world. On alternating Sundays I’m in a campaign that has run for more than five years with primarily the same group. I’m deeply invested in the story and have notebooks full of session notes and intricate machinations. I love each of my groups for different reasons. I also love the diverse game systems and settings wherein I live my other lives.
In May 2016 my mother suffered and died after several years of battling cancer. Logically, I know this isn’t my fault. That doesn’t change that I have struggled with guilt for things I could have done or should have said in the preceding months, years, and decades. Since her death each of my RPG characters has taken a role in exploring the themes of redemption, atonement, and ultimately forgiveness. Role playing is the forum I’ve used to prod and process my sense of failure from a safe distance. I have gone through this exploration with relative privacy thanks to the overt storyline.
The other night, I played in a game where exploring the human condition and building empathy was the core experience.
It is not every day that a game makes me -as a player- feel real emotion. After the game, as I lay awake, I finally decided to forgive myself for my shortcomings related to mom’s death. I realized it was up to me to absolve myself of the sense of guilt and to accept my powerlessness over the situation. I have been working towards this for a year and a half and it is thanks to role playing that I came out the other side.
Real world growth can come from imaginary situations. Mountain Dew, dice, and a side of empathy. For me, that is the true power of role playing, and something I hope everyone experiences at least once.
Tabletop RPG can be an effective tool and framework for personal growth and personal psychotherapy, provided:
– the group has a safe social contract,
– bleed and de-roling and debriefing are well managed,
– and there is enought Mountain Dew of course.
– Ascherman, L. I. (1993). The Impact of Unstructured Games of Fantasy and Role Playing on an Inpatient Unit for Adolescents. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 43(3), 335â€“344. [Non-structured play of TRPGs can disrupt the treatment of serious psychopathology patients]
– Blackmon, W. D. (1994). Dungeons and Dragons: The Use of a Fantasy Game in the Psychotherapeutic Treatment of a Young Adult. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 48(4), 624â€“632. [TRPG can overcome the resistance of a patient to relate to others and self]
– Bowman, S. L. (2015, March 2). Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character [Blog]. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from https://nordiclarp.org/2015/03/02/bleed-the-spillover-between-player-and-character/ [Bleed: how emotions moves from player to character and vice versa]
– Daniau, S. (2016). The Transformative Potential of Role-Playing Games: From Play Skills to Human Skills. Simulation & Gaming, 47(4), 423â€“444. [how ludic TRPG and extensive debriefing can lead to personal transformation] http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1046878116650765
– Gualeni, S., Vella, D., & Harrington, J. (2017). De-Roling from Experiences and Identities in Virtual Worlds. Journal For Virtual Worlds Research, 10(2). [how to safely manage de-roling ie. “exiting a character from a role play experience”] https://jvwr-ojs-utexas.tdl.org/jvwr/index.php/jvwr/article/view/7268
More evidence-based (and non-evidence bases) resources on TRPGs: http://zotrpg.blogspot.ca/
I am lucky. I trust and love my game groups, and that is returned in kind. I know I am safe with them. That is definitely the place to start if you are purposefully doing self-exploration.
Thank you for sharing these resources. This is the first time I have heard of “de-roling” finding a way to shed your character. I do a ton of in-character journaling after intense game sessions, that helps me to identify what the character feels. Afterwards I can step away from the journal and the emotion associated with their persona.
Wait. De-roling? Does that mean Rona Jaffe wasn’t COMPLETELY full of shit with Mazes and Monsters?
Thank you for shaking up my bias: after a short research on the main scientific databases (Web of Science, Scopus, PsycInfo, PubMed), I found out there is NO empirical study on “de-roling” that can back up any claim on this topic.
Furthermore, the only paper I found is a very low evidence-based 3 pages article, classified as “commentary” in an education journal [Stafford, F. (2005). The significance of de-roling and debriefing in training medical students using simulation to train medical students. Medical Education, 39(11), 1083â€“1085. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2929.2005.02312.x%5D.
Most of the other documents I found are books (beware of books! they tend to avoid any serious expert peer-review), all the books and and the majority of the other type of documents are on the topic of psychodrama/psychoanalysis (with a lot of non-evidence case-based studies… = not very strongat all).
It seems we can suddenly run away from the game table to catch the last train, we will not cast spells in the wagons…