Friday, January 18, 2013

Games as Therapy?

I love playing games. All sorts of games - board games, role playing games, card games, video games; even kickball! While competition is an integral part of most games and tempers can flare, I've found that they can also be very therapeutic on both an individual level and in a group.

A few weeks ago we played a game of Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre and I was decidedly the loser. A few days later we played a few games of French Tarot. I was again not victorious. Not only did I lose the games, but I was a pretty bad sport about it. I didn't throw the cards across the room or anything, I was just... grumpy.
Don't worry, it was a good thing! On the drive home I was forced to confront my own poor sportsmanship. I wanted to say, "I don't like those games. They are stupid anyway." but my brain knew better, they are great games and I was being a doofus. It may seem like a small thing, but it's important. I asked myself, "Self, do you really want to be that guy? The guy who only has a good time when he's winning?"

I apologized to my friends for my behavior and although they assured me they didn't think anything of it, I felt relieved and maybe... just maybe... I learned something.

A hand of French Tarot

I find pen and paper role playing games to be an excellent vehicle for self therapy. They offer a variety of means that allows one to throw off their normal inhibitions and let loose. You may see a great deal of people who poke fun at RPG gamers. The stereotypical interpretation of scrawny, bespectacled geeks pretending to be battleaxe wielding barbarians could not be farther from the truth. Even if it was the truth though, would it really be a bad thing?

I've played RPGs for the greater portion of my life now. In that time I've met players who create fantasy versions of themselves as a way to act out daring adventures and political intrigues that they could / would never consider in their day to day lives. I have also encountered players who use the game as a means to explore life outside their comfort zone. Young men who play as withered old crones; college educated and deeply intellectual women who portray mighty barbarian powerhouses; and even blue collar factory workers who take on the role of pious and devout priests or healers.

I must admit though, by far my favorite thing to see is rare, but not unheard of. Nothing is more pleasing than to see a quiet and shy person break out of their shell simply because they are playing as someone else and not themselves.

Looking beyond the individual, pen and paper RPGs often offer excellent opportunities for social interaction. In the simplest interpretation they bring people together and celebrate community, in reality though, there is much more to RPGs than 'a party in mom's basement with cheese doodles and soda.' They may seem like little more than games while being played, however each player is taking part in the writing of an elaborate and constantly evolving story. A group of people sitting together to create a tapestry that they can talk about for years to come. Most of these tales will never see print and won't have a great cultural impact but for those involved, they can rival even the greatest literature.

Wait a sec... sunlight? windows? That doesn't look like a basement!

I've forged a great deal of friendships and bonds through games over the years. What's better is being able to re-forge those friendships later on. There have been plenty of occasions when I've run into an old friend and invited them to a game. Like many shared hobbies, games can break down those awkward social barriers that would prevent some people from socializing. It's easy to run into an old pal and give an obligatory "Yeah, we should catch up sometime" yet with games we can just as easily ask "You wanna hang out and play a game?" They offer a great deal of versatility and can provide some redirection of focus should the conversation get stale or uncomfortable.

Maybe that's what bridge has had going for it all these years?

Do you think games can be therapeutic, or are they just kid's stuff? Do you think they have real social value? I'm interested in your opinions.

Until next time, happy gaming!       

1 comment:

  1. I definitely believe in the therapeutic possibilities of role-playing gaming. Thus the RPG Research Project at
    There is an attempt to establish the causal effects, and learn to control the variables for specific therapeutic goals using principles from recreation therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy concepts.