This is part of a multi-entry series covering each class of Geek Culture in Therapy, a course at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, which aims to help therapists embrace the healing qualities of geek culture.
Playing games can be a great way to both strengthen rapport with clients as well as provide fun, memorable opportunities to learn desired skills. In this week's class, we examined ways to help kids and teens develop social skills through gaming, beginning with a discussion about gaming personalities and concluding with an excellent tabletop game and a wildly popular video game.
GAMING PERSONALITIES Students took a sort of "personality test" designed around character classes commonly found in role-playing games. These classes include Defender, Fighter, Mage, Scout, and Support (other names for these classes may be more familiar, which you will see as we go over each one). The purpose of this exercise is to provide context for discussing roles within a game, which, in itself, naturally includes tasks a player must complete in order to achieve an overall goal. Consider working on group projects with coworkers or family members. There is usually a leader, a plotter, a supportive person, someone who acts quickly, someone who takes time to gather information before acting, and so on. Kids play around with these roles within games, too. However, kids also have the lack of experience to understand the importance of each person in the role they play and often think their own preference (here, gaming personality) is naturally the best option for anyone to choose. By exploring different personalities, kids can understand the value of taking on different roles and how a team can become weak if weighted too heavily on one side.
Defender - Defenders love to be the leader. They are strong-willed, but need teammates to lead in order to be successful. They are also known as Paladins, Tanks, Guardians, or Protectors. Some Defenders include Superman and George Washington.
Fighter - Fighters are adaptable and love being recognized for their success. They don't plan well for others, but they make up for this by being successful on their own. Fighters are also known as Brawlers, Scrappers, Berserkers, or Warriors. Wolverine and Aragorn are two examples of Fighters.
Mage - Mages consider the consequences of their actions before stepping in. They are masters of adapting to new situations and yet prefer to work from a difference, lacking the desire for recognition that a Fighter might seek. They are also known as Rangers, Nukers, Archers, or Artillery. Two commonly known Mages are Green Lantern and Legolas.
Scout - Scouts love to gather information to pass it on to allies before striking. Though they often work alone, it is for the purpose of quietly understanding the situation. Scouts are also known as Snipers, Spies, Rogues, or Stealthers. Nightcrawler and Bilbo Baggins are Scouts.
Support - Supports love helping others achieve their goals. They are the glue that keeps the team together and put others' needs before their own. They are also known as Healers, Medics, Sorcerers, or Engineers. Two Supports are Gandalf and R2D2.
Kids and teens who have participated in this activity typically grasp the idea of how important it is to have every role present for a successful group encounter. We usually ask them to guess what might happen to an entire team of Scouts, a team of Defenders and Fighters, or a diverse team lacking Support. While there is usually some objection ("I got Mage but I always play as Snipers/Scouts in games!" is common), this is typically due more to game mechanics and competition rather than how the young person sees him- or herself. The goal of appreciating role diversity is still met through discussion.
CASTLE PANICFrom there, we moved on to playing Castle Panic, a tabletop game that requires cooperation among players for success. There is an excellent that shows viewers how to play and provides an example game to observe, I highly recommend watching it. In this game, a board, pictured below, is divided into three colors and five rings - red, green, blue, and forest, archer, knight, swordsman, castle. Monsters of varying fortitude enter the board and move inward in an attempt to destroy the castle. Players draw cards combining color and ring (blue archer, red swordsman, green swordsman, blue knight, etc) as well as special cards to play in each of their turns to try to stop the monsters from advancing. Each player has an opportunity to trade a card with another player and, since players know the monsters move inward one ring at a time, players can plan ahead to strengthen other players when they know monsters will reach a particular ring during that player's turn (that is, if a monster is currently in the blue archer space for me, and there is no monster currently in the blue knight space, I know the player whose turn is next will have to face that monster in the blue knight space if I do not kill that monster. Therefore, I may want to trade my blue knight card to them so they may use it during their turn). As a result, communication between players and planning ahead are paramount for the players' success.Castle Panic brings out much of the gaming personalities we see above. Some people like to plan quietly, some like to act quickly, some want to consult the entire team before making a move, others love to be celebrated for clearing the board. Of course, some people show a mix of these as well. Group facilitators can observe group dynamics and intervene when necessary, just as in other group settings. A facilitator can highlight a particularly prosocial move, become curious about a player's action when it seems to lack consideration for how others will react, and track how players respond to each others' successes and failures. Additionally, as the name of the game implies, anxiety can be heightened when many monsters are close to the castle ring. Do participants soothe one another? How do they respond to such anxiety? Does the self-appointed leader, once brave and confident, now become paralyzed with decision when he or she faces a swordsman ring full of monsters and few cards to play? While it is not a well-known game outside of social circles where tabletop gaming is common, most people, young and old, usually love playing Castle Panic and will ask to play again and again. Even the Geek Culture in Therapy class, students asked to continue playing it during their 10 minute break, with some even commenting that they planned to purchase it in the next few days!
MARIO KART WIIAfter Castle Panic, students participated in an activity designed to increase frustration tolerance, develop self control, and raise awareness of the benefit of planning ahead: Controllers Down. For Controllers Down, we used a Nintendo Wii and the video game Mario Kart Wii. In the simplest format, participants experience two phases of play with one player per controller and each phase described to the players to ensure clarity and compliance. Participants are told that a group facilitator will be calling, "Controllers down!" at random points throughout the race. When this is announced, players must place their controllers on the table in front of them and remove their hands from the controller without pausing the game. The facilitator checks to ensure all hands have been removed from all controllers, then invites players to resume racing. They will see their racers drop from 3rd, to 4th, to 5th all the way, perhaps, to 10th place, before they can resume racing. Mario Kart Wii has a mechanic within that somewhat averages computer racers' speeds to match that of human players, so players can quickly get back into the pack when they resume play. Because races typically last just a few minutes, facilitators typically only call Controllers Down one to three times per race. If there are participants who have not yet raced, they take the place of someone who has raced. Another round of Phase A is conducted to ensure everyone has had similar experiences.
Phase B is then initiated. In Phase B, the facilitator tells participants, "I will now give you warnings prior to announcing, 'Controllers down.' I will say, '30 seconds until controllers down,' '20 seconds until controllers down,' '10 seconds until controllers down,' and then I will announce, 'Controllers down!'" A similar pacing and number of races to Phase A follows. Players are then asked to discuss their experiences of the two phases, sharing what they liked and did not like about each. Common responses include some who do not like the added anxiety that comes with the time warning (essentially, knowing you only have 10 seconds to race until you have to stop), while others note appreciation of being able to plan ahead and get to what they might consider to be a "safe spot" to stop their racer. We then connect this with experiences at home - does your parent tell you to stop playing video games right now because it is dinner time, or does your parent warn that you have 10 minutes? Would you rather stop cold, or get to a save point before stopping? Additionally, when the facilitator chooses to announce Controllers Down can be helpful in stirring conversation. In class, I called, "30 seconds until controllers down!" about 10 seconds prior to the race even starting. This led to a discussion of how a child may just be sitting down to play a game when Mom or Dad inform them that they must leave to go to the grocery store in five minutes, and how the child may feel and react to such an interruption.
Gaming, both tabletop and video, can provide a wealth of opportunities to find fun, engaging moments that encourage growth. There is a difference between a game that is fun and not useful, and a game that is useful and not fun, so finding the right kinds of games can be a challenge. But with a little patience and curiosity, a therapist can create group experiences that are both fun and memorable to further the overall goal of skill development.
Next week - Doctor Who!