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Michael Tresca Interview of RPG Research's Hawke Robinson - Part 2 of 3

by Hawke Robinson published Sep 24, 2015 10:55 AM, last modified Oct 15, 2015 02:55 PM
Hawke Robinson is founder and Primary Investigator for The RPG Research Project, and the creation of the RPG Trailer. Michael Tresca: "I've known Hawke Robinson, Washington State registered Recreation Therapist (#RE60526204) for some time but haven't gotten a chance to interview him before." This is part 2 of 3 parts to this interview...

Michael J. Tresca

Interview with Hawke Robinson, Part II

This is a continuation of the interview with Hawke Robinson. You can read Part I here.


MT: You're currently running a GoFundMe for a RPG Trailer. How would the trailer work?

HR: The short version is that with the trailer I will be able travel to locations all over North America and provide wheelchair friendly role-playing gaming facilities and sessions of all types for a broad variety of populations. For a more detailed response, the best way to answer is to explain some example challenges I have encountered with some specific groups, and how the trailer addresses these issues.

ASD / PDD

There is a loose association of parents/guardians of around 30 “higher functioning” ASD youth and adults called the PAVE group in the Tacoma, Washington area. The male and female ASD participants range in age from pre-teen to early 30s. All are living with their parent(s)/guardian(s), and with the exception of only one, are completely dependent on their care-takers for all transportation. They do not have any dedicated facility, instead rotating between various homes and churches, often with very poor resources such as lack of space, lack of air conditioning, etc. They try to meet regularly (once per month at least) to provide activities to help the ASD participants work on social skills, and achieve many other goals. Their lack of facilities, funding, or formal organization has made that very challenging for them. These are “higher functioning” Autism spectrum, so they fall through the cracks of the support systems available for those with more significant impairment, but they obviously still have significant challenges to be addressed, and I have seen repeatedly that RPGs can address many of those challenges for Autism spectrum individuals.

As a student at Eastern Washington University, I created two program plans using Therapeutic Recreation methodologies to achieve specific educational goals for this group. The participants responses to a leisure interests survey indicated that their primary interests are (both males and females): computers, comic books, video games, super heroes, science fiction, and fantasy.

One program I created is a 1940s “gum shoe” style, purely tabletop-based RPG mystery, to help the players learn how to look up and make use of local civic resources including: theaters, doctor's office's, clinics, hospitals, police stations, fire department, etc. This can potentially be built upon to transition to a LARP style as the participants gain knowledge, confidence, and competence in finding and using such resources.

The second program is an alternate modern day transitional tabletop-to-live-action RPG based loosely on Marvel's Agents of Shield setting used to teach the participants how to use the public transit system. The participants are “agents” tasked with investigating (and hopefully thwarting) rumors of a plan to use the Tacoma public transit system to propagate a virus that will turn everyone into zombies.

The program begins as a tabletop using the actual map and route schedules of the Tacoma transit system to track down clues, and unravel the plot. They play in this tabletop format until all the players achieve both competence and confidence in using the transit system from a tabletop setting. Then on the second-to-last session, they determine the nearest route to take from their actual (player) home to a central meeting location.

For their final session, they actually use the “real world” bus to meet, and finish, the adventure in a LARP format, using several transit resources, and then either succeeding (or failing to various degrees) to stop the “bad guys”. Whether they accomplish their mission, or not, they benefit from participation in the program either way.

There is a final twist to this particular program that adds to the potential fun, the greater Seattle & Tacoma areas regularly hold day-long “Zombie Walks” with hundreds, even thousands, of people dressing up as zombies and walking through the city streets as a horde. This make it possible to allow for a fun twist if the PC's fail to some degree to foil the plot. :-)

While I have met and spent some time with this group on the other side of the state (a 6+ hour drive each way), their lack of facilities, and my being on the other side of the state, makes it problematic and too expensive for me to currently implement these programs (for free). The caretakers, participants, and I, very much want to implement the programs as soon as possible. The trailer will make this viable as specified later.

At-risk Youth

There is another program I have engaged with on the west side of the state, this one in the Seattle area, for in-patient teenagers struggling with substance abuse and/or mental health issues. The facility has a very spacious outdoor setting and large parking lots, but the rooms for group gatherings are a bit smallish, and are difficult to book for long periods of time. There is a recreation therapist there that was excited by my presentation at Seattle Children's hospital earlier this Spring, and she is trying to implement role-playing gaming at first on a one-to-one basis, introducing the client to tabletop RPG (D&D 5th edition in this case), and then helping develop resources as an exit strategy to get the player(s) joined to a regular gaming group at local gaming stores or near where they live, so that they have a healthier peer group to engage with after they are discharged from the facility. It is hoped they will focus their socializing on the gaming groups, rather than going back to their previous peers that are often heavily involved in substance abuse, gang-related violence, and other dysfunctional behaviors.

Unfortunately, though she is an experience Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS), she has never played in an RPG previously. She used my guidance by phone, and the videos on The Spartan Show's Adventurer's Guild to help train her in some fundamentals, but she (and the other clients) would greatly benefit if I could come out there regularly to help run game sessions. I could pull up with the trailer in the spacious parking lot, and implement the tabletop, computer-based, and live action role-playing games as needed. The trailer's kitchen, bathroom, shower, and bed, would allow me to keep my hotel costs very low, making it easier to continue providing services without charge to more people.

The Deaf & Hard of Hearing

I have over the years spent a fair amount of time with the Deaf community in the area. I have run American Sign Language (ASL) study groups since 2006 in various locations throughout Cheney and Spokane, Washington. I also developed a tabletop RPG program plan for the Deaf. Some key issues the Deaf community struggle with include: isolation, communication, transportation, and poverty.

Unfortunately many/most of those in the Deaf community are often greatly isolated by their disability, and many find it very difficult to maintain sufficient work, especially the many that have other associated disabilities. Even those that aren't technically Deaf, but can only communicate via sign language, such as those with certain types of Cerebral Palsy (CP) find themselves often isolated by the lack of others that can sign. Many end up having to live in rural locations that do not have, or have very limited, public transit. The community can also be sometimes a bit “clique-ish”, with different groups avoiding others. Providing tabletop RPGs can help overcome this isolation, and increase their levels of social satisfaction, making new friends, getting beyond the cliques, etc.

Unfortunately, for even those that can make it to the Eastern Washington Center for Deaf & Hard of Hearing facility, it can be challenging to organize and run RPG sessions at that facility which has very little space to spare. Then there are the many others that have great difficulty getting to the city to participate. A large number are also wheelchair dependent.

Abled” Gamers

Even gamers, or potential gamers, that do not have any disabilities can benefit from the trailer and the many benefits of participation in role-playing games. Many of the local hobby gaming facilities in Spokane and elsewhere are often extremely too hot or cold (lacking sufficient air conditioning), uncomfortable (cheap/dirty tables/chairs), noisy from other competing groups such as collectible card games like “Magic the Gathering” or noisy war-gamers such as Warhammer 40k. This leads to an unpleasant environment that only the most dedicated gamers endure to get their gaming “fix”."

Most smaller rural towns do not have a “Friendly Neighborhood Gaming Store” (FNGS) that supports a gaming community, nor affordable public transportation. Many in these communities have lower incomes and can't afford a weekly drive to “the city” to participate in a face-to-face tabletop game. Some can't afford video game platforms such as PCs or consoles, especially with the ever increasing game and subscription costs, or do not have sufficient broadband Internet for online multi-player gaming.

They do often have great locations ideal for Live-Action Role-Playing (LARP), but do not have the money, experience, or support for the equipment (costumes, weapons for boffer-style LARP, etc.). Even if they do have some resources for gaming in their town, much of the lingering stigma against roleplaying games and gamers is stronger in these rural locations, and makes it challenging to find somewhere to meet “safely” without harassment, with other fellow gamers.

Many Christian-based church members/leaders I have encountered in these areas are significantly anti-RPG. But after conversations with some, showing them the research, I have sometimes been successful in turning around those opinions to become supporters. Often these discussions are started because my vehicle's license plate is “RPG”, and I have bumper stickers stating “Role-Playing Games build character”. People will walk up to me in parking lots and ask about it.

The trailer can increasingly help address these issues, and potentially provide an opportunity for education and reduction of the stigma caused by misinformation and ignorance about the facts of participation in role-playing gaming.

 

Traumatic Brain Injury

Yet another group includes the TBI patients here in Spokane. I have program plans for patients recovering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). I recently volunteered for several months at Saint Luke's Rehabilitation in their TBI and Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) departments, assisting the Recreation Therapists with their clients.

The challenges for implementing the RPG programs there include:

  • Though a large facility, it is exceedingly difficult to book any rooms for an individual or group for more than an hour.

  • They do not have the computer equipment necessary for the computer-based stage of my recovery program.

  • Facilities that are available generally have a no-noise policy so if players are having a great time, they aren't able to be loud about it (this was also challenging for the music therapy program they wanted me to implement as well).

  • They do not have any RPG related supplies for any format of RPG (choose your own adventure, tabletop, computer-based, or LARP), so I need to supply everything.

  • Many/most of their patients are wheelchair bound, at least during the early stages of rehabilitation.

 

The RPG Trailer Bullet List

The RPG Trailer makes it possible to meet the needs of all these groups, and many other individuals, groups, and facilities throughout North America, by addressing all these issues:

1. Optimal Gaming Environment

A comfortable, quiet, wheelchair friendly, gaming-focused environment free of distractions and competing demands, that includes air conditioning, self-contained generator, kitchenette, refrigerator, stove/oven (gamers and munchies of course), and a fully ADA/wheelchair friendly bathroom. This trailer can be easily transported and setup at locations convenient for the participants, such as a parking lot, as needed. The trailer will comfortably seat 8-10 participants, or about 5-7 wheelchair bound participants for tabletop and computer-based RPG, and provide other benefits for many more during Live-Action Role-Playing events. All of my gaming materials would be readily accessible, requiring very little setup and tear-down time, and no risk of “oh I forgot that book/resource back at the other office/facility/home”.

 

2. Efficiency, Wear & Tear

A fully stocked gaming office that addresses wear-and-tear and organizational issues. Currently I have several smaller dedicated gaming rooms at my house. Each seats between 5 to 8 players per game room. I also have an office in the downtown Spokane area with 3 different gaming rooms that can seat between 6 to 14 players. You can see photos and video of some of the game rooms and materials here.

To run my sessions, I have to pack up the gaming materials necessary for the groups scheduled, take them to the location, set everything up, etc. For example using a typical tabletop RPG session this would include:

  • Multiple copies of game system books, character sheets, client assessment forms, client/participant case files, writing utensils, dice or other randomization tools, various tokens, battle mats, miniatures, egg timers, cards, tape, glue, and other accessories.

  • Load all the materials into my vehicle.

  • Arrive at the location (my office, Saint Luke's Rehabilitation TBI department in Spokane, Nagios rehab in Seattle, PAVE group in Tacoma, etc.).

  • Unload the boxes of materials from the vehicle.

  • Set everything up in the room/facility.

  • Run the game.

  • Pack everything back up.

  • Load the vehicle.

  • Drive home.

  • Unload the vehicle.

  • Put everything back on the shelves.

This becomes even more involved when setting up computer-based gaming sessions, especially those with bio and/or neuro monitoring and/or feedback equipment. The trailer also helps increase the carrying capacity of a lot of LARP gear which can takes up considerable of space.

The trailer will allow everything to be located in the trailer, ready-to-go. This will reduce general wear-and-tear on the supplies, as well as my own back and knees, and greatly increase the number of actual “gaming hours” I can provide to participants, rather than hours of pre-and-post gaming requirements.

A number of Recreation Therapy organizations have trailers for hauling their many paraphernalia for their programs. For example the adaptive bicycle, kayaking, skiing, and rock climbing programs I participated in last year regularly makes use of trailers.

The RPG Trailer is a logical solution in this profession to provide recreation services to a broad range of people.

 

3. Fully Wheelchair-friendly ADA Facility.

My office is a shared law-firm building built long ago that is, while affordable, unfortunately not at all wheelchair friendly. Saint Luke's and other facilities often have trouble booking a room for a group any longer than 1 hour due to competing scheduling from other recreation therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists, music therapists, and general “diversionary” recreation activities. Most of the facility does not allow participants to be “noisy”. Many of these facilities do however often have plenty of spare parking lot space, and regularly take clients outside in wheelchairs. It was while I was volunteering at Saint Luke's that I came up with the idea of the trailer, and discussed the possibility of it with the lead Recreation Therapist at Saint Luke's. She agreed the RPG Trailer would be the ideal solution for their clients.

 

4. Portability, Expanded Coverage, & Affordability.

The RPG trailer will make it easier and more affordable to provide RPG services to rural locations that do not have facilities for gaming, as well as metropolitan areas requesting my specific services. Many small towns and rural locations do not have any kind of “Friendly Neighborhood Gaming Stores”. The trailer is not only a complete office and gaming facility, it also greatly reduces my costs for hotel and food expenses when travelling to provide RPG services, further the RPG Research Project, and attend conferences/conventions when on panels and providing presentations.

Currently, I not only have the gasoline expenses to drive to a location, but additionally the costs of a facility (for example an office) can add up quickly. Flying is not feasible with all of the equipment.

Additionally, if the location is more than a few hours from my home, there are often food and hotel costs that can range from $50 to $200+ per night/day. The trailer has a large bed in the ceiling that can be pulled down for use, a full kitchenette (water, sink, stove, oven, refrigerator, cabinets), bathroom sink, toilet, and shower, and both game table couches can flip over to become additional single beds for any assistants (especially when running LARPs).

This means I can continue to provide free services to far more people over the next several years, and when I do begin to transition to a billable service, will be able to keep the costs, and thus the rates charged to participants/insurance, at a much lower price point.

This will also make it more affordable to attend conventions/conferences throughout North America, since it will greatly save on my hotel/motel costs during 3 to 5+ day events. The goal is to attend up to 4 events per year. I have spoken at 3 conventions/conferences in the past 9 months. I am slated to attend the Living Games Conference in Austin, Texas in May 2016, and the HBO Documentary group “VICE” indicated a desire that I come to New York and New Jersey to see the LARP groups that have Autism spectrum participants if possible.

 

5. Planning for the Future.

Though I am a Washington state registered Recreation Therapist (though not yet CTRS), I currently provide all sessions without charge, and will continue to do so until I complete my degrees, internships, and additional certifications. I am currently an undergraduate student working on interdisciplinary degrees in recreation therapy, music therapy, neuroscience, and research psychology. After my internships in recreation therapy and psychology, I plan to sit for the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification (NCTRC) Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) certification tests, and hope to continue toward at least a masters degree in related disciplines.

The trailer initially will help me be able to afford expanding my provision of free gaming sessions to more individuals and groups across a broader geography. It will also help me to keep expanding the scope of my research on the effects of role-playing games.

 

The interview continues in Part III.

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