Vision of the future
My working hypothesis is that it will eventually be possible to create specific adventure modules designed for properly trained game master therapists to use for addressing specific population needs as a defined therapy over a 6-8 (or other span) week process.
Over time it should become clear whether the RPG Research project will eventually gather enough valid data to clearly determine if, and how, gamers achieve a state of "flow" during a game session. This state of flow is a critical aspect in recreation therapy practices. It is a state where the participant has just the right balance of challenge that all his/her faculties are so focused on the activity that they tend to lose track of time, and can achieve a maximal therapeutic benefit through guided recreational activity. Projecting initially 5-10 years of trial-and-error questionnaire experimentation to figure out what the "knobs and dials" are in a game session that would help participants achieve this state. It is possible that the use of bio and neuro monitoring equipment, as well as active brain imaging techniques like fMRI and PET, may be useful in much more rapidly determining when a test participant is in a state of flow, and more quickly ascertain causality in achieving this state.
However long the process takes, the vision is roughly along the following lines:
Adventure modules will be created that are specifically designed to address specific population needs. For example those with needs related to PTSD, depression, autism, AD/HD, Asperger's, brain injury, or other groups, would be guided through a module specific to their combination of demographics and needs. Example: a module to address cognitive-behavioral aspects of female young adults with recurring depression, or a module for "Aspi" teenage males to work on better understanding of social queues and interactions, and how to better handle these situations.
In both the research and later therapeutic stages, the participant experience would be something along the following:
The participant candidate registers to be part of the activity. They arrive for a weekly 3 hour (exact duration to be established over time by research results) session at the facilities, say Fridays from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm. The very first introductory session might only be 30-60 minutes. After that, all the actual "sessions" will likely be longer (though if is possible to get the process down to just 45 minutes per session, that would be ideal).
During their first session they will likely just speak with the facilitator, answering various questions, providing any relevant background information and records.
Then the participant will fill out a series of evaluation tests along the lines of the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), MCMI, Rorshach, TAT, 16PF, Myers-Briggs, WAIS, Wechsler, and other questionnaire-style and/or managed metrics.
After the paperwork has been processed and analyzed, the participant candidate will be matched with other candidates and contacted with the schedule to begin their actual RPG sessions. For the first RPG session, the participants will actually begin gaming. The game facilitator, maybe eventually called a GMT (Game Master Therapist) for therapeutic settings or GMI (Game Master Instructor) for educational settings, will use an adventure module specifically designed for the population type appropriate to this group. There may optionally be a two-way mirror approach with a therapist/psychologist observing and taking notes
Continuing with the hypothetical group of young adult females with recurring depression, some participants will likely be receiving other treatments, to address their depression. As many studies have shown medication is far more effective, and has far less recidivism, when used in conjunction with another therapy such as cognitive-behavioral tools. Also, they should at least be in a state functional enough to participate in the the role-playing game therapy session. This particular adventure will have been designed to address many of the common cognitive-behavioral logical fallacies that often lead to a downward spiral back into depression (in addition to biological issues of course). The adventure will present situations and interactions that directly addresses these kinds of "maladaptive thoughts and behaviors", and provide opportunities to learn and apply new skills for successful resolution.
At the end of each game session, the participants will quickly fill out a short questionnaire asking them about their thoughts on the adventure that day, what they thought were the challenges, how they resolved them as a group and individual, and how they thought this might apply in their daily life. This helps them consciously analyze for themselves what they have learned, and how they might use it in their daily lives.
When they return each week for the next session, they again fill in a short questionnaire before game play resumes, asking if they thought of the game situations during the week, if any events occurred that reminded them of the various game scenarios, and if they were able to apply anything they learned towards their "real" lives.
This cycle then repeats each week for some set period of time until the conclusion of the module, or series of modules. In keeping with the industry standards, a 6-8 week estimate per module might be an appropriate target to work towards, but really it will be up to the research to determine what, if any, is the ideal amount of time for maximal therapeutic benfit. Participants with comorbidity of other challenges may still benefit even if the module does not specifically address all of the other issues directly, or else the participant may be involved in a different module at a later date to address any of the other issues.
There will need to be some means of developing these modules, and that will be the trickiest and most time consuming part of the preparation process for this entire concept (besides the causal research itself of course).
Another significant challenge will be determining what skills and abilities will be necessary to create, train, and establish a repeatable training (and certification) program for qualifying Game Masters to become Game Master Therapists or Game Master Instructors. The work around used by the the Israeli Lormach group with a skilled (but psychologically untrained) Game Master observed and directed by a trained therapist/psychologist observing through a two-way mirror might be a sufficient temporary workaround.
That's is a lot of "IF's" of course. It will be interesting to see years from now how this actually turns out, and how much has to be tweaked or completely overhauled based on the results of the research data and analysis.
I welcome everyone's feedback.
-W.A. Hawke Robinson
RPG Research Project Founder