Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Dungeons and Dragons as Therapy


An article in our local newspaper one again reminded me just how far Dungeons and Dragons has come since the days of Jack Chick’s Dark Dungeons tract. Although the store never had any protests in our early years, I do remember one of our (former) customers who decided to abandon the darkness of Dungeons and Dragons protesting the game at a game convention in town in the early 1990s and sending a letter to the local newspaper telling readers how evil the game was and how his 1st edition books had screamed when he burnt them.  I used to have the letter laminated and posted on the wall of the store. Sadly, it got lost when we moved a decade or so ago.  Still Dungeons and Dragons remained a niche interest. Even during the late 90s Pokemon boom, parents bringing their children in for cards commented on how the store was “not what they expected” and that they never would have come in if their kids did not want cards.

Contrast that with today, when shows like Stranger Things incorporate Dungeons and Dragons as a major part of the storyline, celebrities play D&D and educators recognize it as a method by which younger players can improve their reading, math and problem solving skills https://icv2.com/articles/columns/view/40166/rolling-initiative-six-reasons-you-should-play-dungeons-dragons However a recent front page article in my local newspaper struck me with just how “mainstream” the game has become .

A counselor for Centerstone,  a local facility offering outpatient services for those experiencing mental health and substance abuse issues, noticed the ways that friends on the autism spectrum has been helped through playing RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons. That, along with reading about other therapeutic programs using mechanics similar to Dungeons and Dragons’ character building and dice rolling, led her to create a virtual Dungeons and Dragons group for therapy. From the press release announcing the group, the councilor who developed the program, Dani LaPLant, said “From playing D&D even outside of a therapeutic context, I’ve seen the way it can serve people as a comforting creative outlet. A D&D group provides a safe environment for people to talk through and process relationship issues, grievances and successes, and can even help boost self-esteem.”

During the course of the game, LaPlant takes personal details from client’s histories and weaves them in to their characters’ histories and the world and story they create. Such things could be something such as a place the player misses visiting during quarantine or a previous life situation they want to revisit through the character’s viewpoint rather than their own. Unlike a more traditional Dungeons and Dragons game though, if a character “dies” during the game, the player briefly removes the character from play, then, after a short respite, brings it back into the game. Though similar Dungeons and Dragons based therapy groups can be found in larger cities, LaPlant says finding such a program is very unusual in a comparatively small town like ours.

Next time you sit down at the table and pick up dice and pencil (or laptop), remember how far the game has come. Actually, don’t remember. After all, you are there to have fun.

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