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Using Role-Playing Games to Treat PTSD at the VA Hospital

by Hawke Robinson published Sep 03, 2013 10:55 PM, last modified Nov 04, 2016 06:09 PM
Timothe Loya served six years as a U.S. Marine, also serving in Iraq, and has proposed using tabletop role-playing games to treat returning veterans struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System.

 first began interacting online with Timothe Loya through Facebook using my RPG Research account, on March 22nd, 2013.

This interview took place via email and Facebook, the full transcript follows.

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Sunday, May 5th, 2013.

 

[HAWKE] Greetings Timothe, Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Here are some rudimentary questions to start with. Depending on your responses to these, I could ask more specific and targeted questions, but hopefully this is a helpful starting point for you as well.

[TIM] Just Tim's fine, and thanks for asking the questions. I was actually kind of surprised when you originally asked if you could interview me period as I originally intended just to updated the RPG advocacy group on the status of the project and wasn't sure if the project would get much community support. PTSD is one of those things that seems to get a lot of media hype with very little actual fact behind it.

 

[HAWKE] Where are you currently residing (town/city)?

[TIM] Bremerton, Washington- right across the water from Seattle by ferry.

 

[HAWKE] What is your educational background?

[TIM] I hold an Associates of Applied Technology in Web Development, which I rarely use at all. It was at college I started writing at the student newspaper after writing a pointed letter to the editor that the current staff thought highly enough of the writing to ask me to join their staff.

 

[HAWKE] What is your military background (if any)?

[TIM] Six years as a US Marine, including two tours in Iraq for OIF and OIF II ('03 and '04). Also served as a PSC (Private Security Contractor) and did a stint in Pakistan for the US Department of State.

 

[HAWKE] What is your RPG (and related) background (how were you introduced to it, how much did you, and do you participate, and in what roles (GM, PC, etc.))?

[TIM] Well I started in middle school back in the early 1990s so I don't have a lot of the old school experience that some of the more knowledgeable people around the net might have. I was introduced via AD&D second edition (and still have some of those old books). Started as a player and quickly moved to being a GM as I always had a flair for telling a story. I also quickly left Dungeons and Dragons as it felt to generalized and moved to several different games looking for ones that fit. Shadowrun, Paranoia, Cyberpunk, Macross... quite a few.

[TIM] I didn't play all that much for the seven years I was "out of the world" (Marine and PSC time) but I quickly got back in to the hobby discovering two editions of D&D had come as well as some other editions of the games I used to play. But I quickly got tired of it, the commercialist aspect of mainstream RPGs, how they always strove to come out with new supplements and new editions just to continue sales. That pretty much pushed me in to the indie games market.

[TIM] I also play quite a few CRPGs and any electronic game with an immersive enough story to keep my interest. I have a few favorites there, but the tabletop variety will always be more important in my life.

[TIM] I've also recently gotten in to design. Well that term is relative, I've been designing games ever since I was a GM because the given rules were never "good enough", or at the very least could be improved upon. So now I'm actually at the point where I've decided that my ideas are may be at least someone's attention and money. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the company currently bares my name, but that's mostly because we want to make sure we're legal and do a business plan and all the paperwork before operating under a different name.

 

[HAWKE] What is your professional background?

[TIM] Well I've worked as a grocery store stock boy and a fast food clerk, but that was during high school. I was a US Marine, a Private Security Contractor, a regular security guard, a bouncer, a developmental assistant, a library aide, and a Roving Manager for a state-wide children's charity thrift store.

 

[HAWKE] Where are you currently employed?

[TIM] Most of the time. I currently write freelance and search engine optimization, my family is in a position to allow me to stay home and write and that also allows me to spend more time than I would normally with my son. We're lucky enough to all be doing what we actually want to be doing,or at least relatively close to it.

 

[HAWKE] What is your current title and role in this location?

[TIM] Well besides freelance writer I am also the Owner and Lead Designer for Tim Loya Games, but that really doesn't mean as much with a staff of four people and a bare bones budget and revenue stream.

 

[HAWKE] If this is not at the VA, what is your relationship with the VA?

[TIM] I am currently being treated at the VA for, among other things, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In their own parlance I am a service-connected disabled patient. This basically means in addition to the care I would receive from the VA anyway for being an honorably-discharged veteran, a lot of the costs incurred are differed because the conditions for which I receive a majority of my care for were incurred during my service.

 

[HAWKE] What is your background, relationship, and understanding of PTSD?

[TIM] Well, I hate the word victim and was recently introduced to the term "survivor". So I am a PTSD survivor. Unfortunately I am one that did not seek care immediately and went almost six years before getting treatment. This is due to a combination of both my own laziness and unwillingness to fight the government and the VAs initial insistence that I was simply "adjusting". I have also had the unfortunate experience of a major relapse.

[TIM] As for my understanding of PTSD, because of the variety of symptom that can present it's often difficult to explain, but the simplest way I've heard is this: PTSD causes survivors to begin responding irrationally to stressors That could otherwise be managed healthily by other individuals.

 

[HAWKE] What lead you to think about proposing using RPG for veterans diagnosed with PTSD?

[TIM] A few things actually, and not just for PTSD. In the military we roleplay a lot already. Every field exercise, every hand to hand training drill, every time we get in dress uniform for a ball or parade. So the foundation is already there even if most military members and veterans don't know it. So there's that.

[TIM] But the original thought actually came during one session where my friend and GM at the time was discussing how his therapist was wondering at his progress and recovery from his TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). It seems he was doing so at a rate faster than his peers. He suggested it could be his roleplaying, and of course had to explain what that was. His therapist agreed based on our hobby's dependency on certain areas of the brain that control speed of processing, creativity, etc that in the average person don't actually get that much day to day use.

[TIM] Then lastly there was the realization at one of my sessions with my own therapist that we were basically roleplaying. I was being given scenarios and being asked how I would react to them, and then how I thought I should react to them. I thought to myself, that's the basis of every roleplaying game I like (but then I don't like dungeon crawlers or hack and slashers). So I presented the idea.

[TIM] I was then asked to present the idea in written form, and I did that. Most recently I was told the idea is being considered but that it would have to wait until the Fall Semester when the fresh crop of Interns from University of Washington comes in. If any of them showed interest we might be allowed to collaborate. And then if we can put together a good presentation and get it by the board there (and then get participants) we'll be allowed to move forward.

[TIM] A lot of "if"s, but I'd rather have "if"s than "no"s.

 

[HAWKE] Where are you in the process of proposal stages, and what stages remain for actual planning, trials, and implementation?

[TIM] Well, no where really. Besides as mentioned in the previous question. I throw together notes here and there, mostly for the GM side of things, as that would be my role. It's hard without knowing who I'm to be working with and their knowledge of the hobby just what to prepare for as of yet. Hope this gives you some clarity as to my intent as well as the project's current status.

 

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UPDATE - Friday August 30th

[TIM] I have received an intern to work with and we have a phone meeting tomorrow (today) actually.

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UPDATE - Saturday, August 31st

[HAWKE] How did the meeting go?

 

[TIM] Pretty well, it was very preliminary. Ideas and thoughts being tossed back and forth. She and I will be meeting up next week at the VA to actually share notes and talk about proposals and planning.

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UPDATE - Tuesday, September 3rd

[HAWKE] Which VA hospital is this you are working with? Is there one in Bremerton? I only see listings for either Seattle or Roseburg.

[TIM] Well originally I was working with American Lake, Bremerton only has an outpatient clinic, but now I am working with the VA in Seattle proper, which has more access to UW students, and hence interns, but the entire Puget sound is one VA system.

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I will post additional updates to this page as more information becomes available.

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