Pardon the Dust - Our Volunteers Are Scrambling to Move Servers, Content, and Fix Breaks
RPG Research: A 100% Volunteer-Run 501(c)3 Non-profit Charitable Research & Human Services Organization. Mission - Vision - Impact
Our Founders & Volunteer Staff Have Been Providing the Benefits of Role-Playing Games & Community Programs Since 1977!"
MANY THANKS to Dimension 20 / dropout.tv for
kindly donating 25% of their Crown of Candy Series Custom miniatures auction
profits to RPG Research!

Want to help? DONATE or VOLUNTEER
  

RPG COMMUNITY CENTER PUBLIC ACCESS HOURS BEGIN AUGUST 26TH

RPG (Role-Playing Game) Research - Various Thoughts on Current State of RPG Professionalism

An Immature but Growing Profession

 · 13 min read

Originally based on an FB posting here:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/roleplaytheorystudygroup/permalink/3815158521861332


Here are just a few highlights from RPG Research's Founder, Hawke Robinson's perspective. Take it as you will.


The currently growing popularity of role-playing games has been an evolution of many decades. Only in recent (5-10) years have they once again become increasingly popular.


In the late 1970s and very early 1980s, I formed and worked with huge "D&D Clubs" and other RPG groups, that grew in 3 years from a single group, to over 300 people per group, at multiple schools, libraries, and elsewhere.

Then as the anti-gamer movement caught traction with the popular media, these shriveled to nothing in just another 3-4 years, and then most were banned, either officially or by popular fiat.


Prior to the bans, many schools and therapists were on the bandwagon about the potential of RPGs. But very little research was performed. What little did get created in later years was mostly in response to the media claims of the "dangers" of RPGs.


I was fortunate enough to benefit from the first book as a paid professional GM. I ran 3 groups on the weekends, 2 on Saturday and 1 on Sunday, all of whom gladly paid me to be their game master.


As of 2020, we are now in another wave of popularity.

Hopefully this time around will have more staying power than the previous wave.

I have been involved with role-playing games since 1977. I started developing software in 1979 and some of my earliest programs were also RPG related, and DI began experimenting with different techniques to improve the RPG experience.


Since 1983 I have been more actively researching the effects of all RPG formats: tabletop, live-action, electronic, and hybrids.

I began developing and implementing role-playing game programs in and around schools and for educational goals in 1985. This started with a 5-days per week last-period course on role-playing games for "Gifted and Talented" high school students.


In 1989 I began working with incarcerated populations and found role-playing games a powerful modality to help this population cope with incarceration, and develop self-management and life skills to help with the transition back into life with the public.

I have been formally developing and implementing a broad range of therapeutic role-playing game programs since 2004, including the founding of the RPG Research Project, which would later be incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit in 2017.


The non-profit RPG Research focuses on global research (finding measurable results, using actual baselines, controls, and figuring out the knobs, switches and dials to optimize various RPG formats to achieve specific measurable, repeatable results with specific populations) and community programs, is run entirely by 100% unpaid volunteers across 6 continents, and shares all the research, theories, evidence-in-practice, and training for free, for anyone willing to either wade through the archives of thousands of content items, or participate in the free training as a dedicated volunteer. We are also building a large experiential historical and hands-on RPG Museum.


Whereas the for-profit RPG.LLC & RPG Therapeutics LLC provides services requested beyond the scope of RPG Research's scope and volunteers, and provides direct professionals services or accelerated training tracks for professionals across many domains, including but not limited to: education, entertainment, recreation, and therapeutic.  I have been a paid professional GM since 1983. It has been a very gradual evolution until about 10 years ago, and especially in the past 5 years. RPGs are once again back in vogue with some segments of pop culture, and a few years ago many people started to "smell money". On the up side acceptance has improved. On the downside, while the community used to share and collaborate very openly, in recent years many cliques and groups have formed that have lead to a fracturing and dramatic reduction of open collaboration.


This is a typical progression of a developing profession, and while from a researcher purist perspective it breaks my heart to see what has been happening, it was inevitable if this industry was to evolve as a profession. The irony is that while the activity (especially) tabletop is primarily a cooperative activity, in recent years much more competitive participants and jumped in and accelerated this fracturing. 


As for the theories, there are many from a variety of disciplines. We cover this freely and openly in our broadcasts, website archives, downloads, and in the new RPG training workbook. In 2004 there were only a few dozen studies on tabletop role-playing games, mostly ending up disproving the negative stereotypes. But now there are thousands of studies and other materials, and many different disciplines and organizations looking into these topics from all over the world. Since RPGs are a complex dynamic of many factors, it contributes to no single theory existing.


The views and theories references depend heavily on your disciplinary background. So unfortunately such a summary is currently a 900 page instructor's manual textbook (which we use internally but can't publish until the large number of block quotes are rewritten). We used to offer 4 tiers of training, and as we tried to break concepts down into smaller manageable bite-size chunks for different professional disciplines, found we needed to break it into 7 level, then 10, and now we're at 20 levels of training (this may very well increase now that we've broken things down into 16 session chunks), plus specializations, to address different levels of interest (how deep do you want to go, and breadth (how many professions/disciplines do you want to cover). Markus Montola - As cultural acceptance has once again improved, demand for RPG therapy, education, paid RPG parties, RPG retreats, and many other demands have accelerated beyond the ability to find and train staff fast enough to meet demand. This was true for RPG Therapeutics in 2014, and lead to having to focus on putting more effort into trying to establish the training needed to create the workforce we need. I found that almost no therapists were qualified. There are now multiple groups that are therapists with gaming background who cobbled together their two knowledge domains without proper research, experience, training, or peer review, and have lead to harm in the past two years. This is also an expected consequence of a rapidly developing immature profession. We are trying very hard to get the information out to anyone that will listen to try to reduce the increasing incidents of people being hurt by supposed licensed therapists. 


We have been brought in after the fact to help therapists and educators overhaul their outdated beliefs (unfortunately, from most of what we see in the current market offerings and publication, the majority of the industry is currently about 10-20 years behind, and making assumptions that are harmful for some populations, we're doing all we can to try to get the information out as quickly as possible to try to reduce these incidents, unfortunately there is a lot of white noise out there now, so this has become more a challenge in very recent years).


There are degrees of peer review in academic research, private research firms peer review, evidence-in-practice peer oversight, etc. IRB is one of several very important tools. Our archivists team has been re-organizing all of our research archives and trying to help people find the content that has undergone the various degrees of peer review, IRB, or no oversight. We hope in 2021 this process (and new catalog platform) will finally provide a reorganization that makes it easier to use the archives once again. When there were just a few hundred studies our CMS was sufficient, but now that there are more than 10,000 content items, it is too difficult for most people to find what they need, and we first and foremost are working to fix this. We are also trying to get as much information out about the validity and reliability of many of the tools and studies out there.


We have found that only one profession that is applicable to studying RPGs, fortunately has addressed far more of the issues of methodologies and assessment tools, with about 100 years of research and evidence-in-practice, so we have over time increasingly leaned in the direction of Recreation Therapy since they save us from having to reinvent the wheel, which so many other professions are currently running into as a problem in their fields. RT has a breadth and diversity of appropriate tools, methodologies, and literature that is missed by many of the other disciplines, and is turning out to map effectively to trying to get better qualitative and quantitative data as much as possible. This has lead to therapeutic programs achieving measurable goals, with sustained benefits, with shorter and shorter session requirements as the data guides towards the optimal approaches.


In our presentations, training, etc. we post as many hard numbers as can be found. There is a lot of this kind of content in the archives. Some of the earlier numbers only prove (albeit strongly) correlations, but do not prove causality (most of the research prior to 2004). But fortunately this has been improving over time. There is still a bit of a dearth in the mainstream journals, most of them keep refusing papers submitted because of continuing bias against RPGs at universities and the major journals, but this too is slowly improving. This is why so many researchers have joined RPG Research as an outlet for their research to be able to progress and be shared. They have run into a lot of resistance at many universities to even study the topic, again, this is improving in recent years thankfully. Meanwhile we have a ton of evidence-in-practice data that has been very helpful in shaping programs to be more and more effective.


rev: Oh boy, there is too much to cover for a FB posting. But here are just a few highlights from yet another perspective. It has been an evolution of many decades, but only in recent years has once again become popular (past 5-10 years). In the early 1980s, I formed and worked with huge "D&D Clubs" and other RPG groups, that grew in 3 years from a single group, to over 300 people per group. Then as the anti-gamer movement caught traction with the popular media, these shriveled to nothing in just another 3-4 years, and then most were banned. Prior to the bans, many schools and therapists were on the bandwagon about the potential. I was fortunate enough to benefit from that as a paid professional GM. We're in another wave of popularity now, hopefully with more staying power than the previous wave. I have RPG'd since 1977, researched their effects since 1983, implemented in educational settings since 1985, with incarcerated populations since 1989, and in therapeutic settings since 2004. 2004 is also when published the online platform dedicated to research on all RPG formats (and focused on RPGs), to make it easier for researchers to have a starting point.


We know this helped due to letters of thanks from researchers who made it clear that our site was exactly the tool they needed to get approval from their university, IRB, etc., This lead to a snowball slowing gaining momentum building the body of research. This is in parallel to our own many studies, some with universities, or other organizations, other with project-specific partnerships, and later as we grew as a organization with our own body of researchers, including Ph.D. and post-doctoral professors. The non-profit RPG Research focuses on global research (finding measurable results, using actual baselines, controls, and figuring out the knobs, switches and dials to optimize various RPG formats to achieve specific measurable, repeatable results with specific populations) and community programs, is run entirely by 100% unpaid volunteers across 6 continents, and shares all the research, theories, evidence-in-practice, and training for free, for anyone willing to either wade through the archives of thousands of content items, or participate in the free training as a dedicated volunteer. We are also building a large experiential historical and hands-on RPG Museum. Whereas the for-profit RPG.LLC & RPG Therapeutics LLC provides services requested beyond the scope of RPG Research's scope and volunteers, and provides direct professionals services or accelerated training tracks for professionals across many domains, including but not limited to: education, entertainment, recreation, and therapeutic. I have been a paid professional GM since 1983. It has been a very gradual evolution until about 10 years ago, and especially in the past 5 years.


RPGs are once again back in vogue with some segments of pop culture, and a few years ago many people started to "smell money". On the up side acceptance has improved. On the downside, while the community used to share and collaborate very openly, in recent years many cliques and groups have formed that have lead to a fracturing and dramatic reduction of open collaboration. This is a typical progression of a developing profession, and while from a researcher purist perspective it breaks my heart to see what has been happening, it was inevitable if this industry was to evolve as a profession. The irony is that while the activity (especially) tabletop is primarily a cooperative activity, in recent years much more competitive participants and jumped in and accelerated this fracturing. As for the theories, there are many from a variety of disciplines. We cover this freely and openly in our broadcasts, website archives, downloads, and in the new RPG training workbook. In 2004 there were only a few dozen studies on tabletop role-playing games, mostly ending up disproving the negative stereotypes. But now there are thousands of studies and other materials, and many different disciplines and organizations looking into these topics from all over the world. Since RPGs are a complex dynamic of many factors, it contributes to no single theory existing. The views and theories references depend heavily on your disciplinary background. So unfortunately such a summary is currently a 900 page instructor's manual textbook (which we use internally but can't publish until the large number of block quotes are rewritten).


We used to offer 4 tiers of training, and as we tried to break concepts down into smaller manageable bite-size chunks for different professional disciplines, found we needed to break it into 7 level, then 10, and now we're at 20 levels of training (this may very well increase now that we've broken things down into 16 session chunks), plus specializations, to address different levels of interest (how deep do you want to go, and breadth (how many professions/disciplines do you want to cover). Markus Montola - We have performed research with universities such as Eastern Washington University and Washington State University, and worked in partnership with many other universities and private organizations for internal controlled studies under NDA as well. As cultural acceptance has once again improved, demand for RPG therapy, education, paid RPG parties, RPG retreats, and many other demands have accelerated beyond the ability to find and train staff fast enough to meet demand. This was true for RPG Therapeutics in 2014, and lead to having to focus on putting more effort into trying to establish the training needed to create the workforce we need. I found that almost no therapists were qualified. There are now multiple groups that are therapists with gaming background who cobbled together their two knowledge domains without proper research, experience, training, or peer review, and have lead to harm in the past two years. This is also an expected consequence of a rapidly developing immature profession. We are trying very hard to get the information out to anyone that will listen to try to reduce the increasing incidents of people being hurt by supposed licensed therapists. We have been brought in after the fact to help therapists and educators overhaul their outdated beliefs (unfortunately, from most of what we see in the current market offerings and publication, the majority of the industry is currently about 10-20 years behind, and making assumptions that are harmful for some populations, we're doing all we can to try to get the information out as quickly as possible to try to reduce these incidents, unfortunately there is a lot of white noise out there now, so this has become more a challenge in very recent years).


The Accessible RPG Bus and RPG Trailers are tools to address some obstacles to full participation in cooperative music and role-playing game programs for people with disabilities and neurodifferences. They evolved in response to my work at rehabilitation centers for brain injury and spinal cord injuries and other facilities where the many obstacles preventing people being able to benefit from these activities in therapeutic and other programs. We especially try to reach out to those in underserved and un-served locations ignored by the vast majority of service providers unfortunately. They were created initially just for utilitarian reasons (I have different modes of operation, including a very engeering-problem-solving approach). Their efficacy has grown as new applications have been found. For example quiet space from "halfway houses" during covid. controlled stimulus environments for people on the spectrum and other sensory differences. The content answering all these questions are still on the old servers, but the most common questions are all posted (and answered eventually) here: https://rpgresearch.com/rpg-mobile (being moved from the older servers). Markus Montola I tend to take a very practical approach. I don't really get excited by geeking out on objects, instead I get excited about solving problems, especially where pain, harm, or exclusion is happening to people, that aren't being addressed. These tools have made it possible to reach out to people who get no services in distant rural locations. On top of that they have become useful for advocacy and raising general awareness, and having conversations to take on the ignorance dominant outside of the geek culture bubble.



We have data on that topic, yes. 🙂 But some of the best data is under NDA. 🙁 One thing we try to avoid, but sometimes have been forced to agree to, is Non-Disclosure Agreements. We really try to avoid those, but some organizations are adamant about them. Which then makes publication of the data really challenging, so we have to amalgamate them over time through evidence-in-practice data, for example.




The rough number, aggregated across multiple organizations, includinng some providing mental health services for more than 20,000 mental health youth (tiny fraction for our involvment, but just the scope of the control data) , so far monitored over 5-6 years now, is when integrating TRPG with appropriate evaluated clients, is a reduction from 80% recidivism within 18 months for other peers, to less than 20% in 3 years. Because of NDA, I can't publish the full formal data, we can only compile and aggregate over time, and keep watching for data differences and trends, and keep hoping for organizations that will let us share more of the data more publicly.






Hawke Robinson

A Washington State Department of Health Registered Recreational Therapist with a background in Therapeutic Recreation, computer science, neuroscience, cognitive neuropsychology, research psychology, nursing, play therapy, education, and role-playing gaming.
Hawke Robinson has been involved with role-playing games in community settings since 1977. Studying methods for optimizing the experience of role-playing games since 1979. A paid professional game master since 1982. Studying the effects of role-playing games upon participants since 1983. Providing role-playing games in educational settings and for educational goals since 1985. Working with incarcerated populations since 1989. Researching and using role-playing games to achieve therapeutic goals for a wide range of populations from 2 years old through senior adults since 2004.
Founder and CEO of the non-profit 501(c)3 charitable research and human services organization, RPG Research.
Founder and President of the for-profit <https://rpgtherapy.com">RPG Therapeutics LLC and RPG.LLC.
Author of the RPG Professional Workbook available on Amazon.
Creator of the wheelchair accessible RPG Mobile fleet.
Founder of the RPG Museum.

No comments yet

No comments yet. Start a new discussion.

Add Comment