In this first of its kind research project, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology partnered with The Bodhana Group to run an exploratory study on whether intentionally introduced cognitive behavioral therapy, delivered through the medium of Tabletop Role Playing Game (TTRPG) groups, could positively affect social skills, reduce anxiety symptoms and behaviors, and enhance the mental well-being of participants.
On average, the data collected from five different TTRPG groups over the course of 10 months suggests that TTRPGs, both as a casual form of entertainment and modified for cognitive behavioral therapy can reduce general anxiety, reduce social anxiety, and improve social skills.
The study, “Exploring the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy and role-playing games as an intervention for adults with social anxiety,” appears in the journal, Social Work with Groups. The co-authors are Matthew Varrette and Jack Berkenstock of the Bodhana Group, and Adams Greenwood-Ericksen, Anthony Ortega, Faith Michaels, Veronica Pietrobon & Marc Schodorf of Harrisburg University.
Research has been done on the therapeutic benefits of tabletop role playing games for social skills and mental well-being, however, the available data is qualitative and anecdotal without supporting quantitative data or mental health screening.
Since this was an exploratory study, the focus was on a small number of participants (25) between five different RPG groups (three therapeutic and two non-therapeutic) meeting once a week for 12 weeks. More research is required, and The Bodhana Group hopes to continue this research with additional participants over a similar or longer period. Additionally, the hope is that this research encourages other institutions to follow similarly robust (or improved) research methodologies to add to the pool of qualitative and quantitative data.
The research was funded by an HU Presidential Research Grant– funding awarded annually to professors who partner with and engage students in ground-breaking research projects.
Greenwood-Ericksen is with Activision and a member of the corporate faculty at HU. Pietrobon was a data analyst for the study. Schodorf is the User Experience Center Lab Manager. Michaels was an HU undergraduate student at the time, and now a staff member at the University. Ortega is Production Coordinator at the Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies & Corporate Faculty in the Interactive Media program.
The study is found at https://doi.org/10.1080/01609513.2022.2146029
The Bodhana Group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that advocates the use of tabletop gaming as a directed therapeutic and clinical practice that can benefit personal growth as well as enhance social and educational services to individuals and families. More information on the group is found here https://www.thebodhanagroup.org/
Harrisburg University offers a concentration in Purposeful Game Design as part of its B.S. Interactive Media program. The Purposeful Games Design (PGD) concentration provides an opportunity to focus on creating games that serve a broader purpose than pure entertainment. Students who take this concentration will lead the way in learning creative and innovative ways to deliver purposeful content through creating engaging games designed with a specific goal for player audiences of all ages. In conjunction with the skills required to make video games more generally, purposeful games require an additional focus of study on the different contexts and aims of a specific project, as the purpose (meaning, message or goal) is the guiding design principle of the game. Combined with foundation courses in games studies and design, this concentration focuses on the different types of purposeful games, the different contexts and design requirements to create games for specific audiences and the development of the ability to evaluate the effectiveness in communicating the purpose of a game while maintaining a level of fun and engagement for the player. More information is found here https://www.harrisburgu.edu/programs/bs-interactive-media/
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