Mental Health Benefits of Role-Playing Games
“Can role-playing games create a better reality for people with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or PTSD?“
Role-playing games, or RPGs for short, include popular games like Magic, The Gathering, and Dungeons & Dragons. These games are not only fun — but they offer unique benefits that can improve mental health — something significant in an age of social-distance and world pandemics.
Role-playing games are different from traditional video games, like Minecraft, in that they are traditionally played in person. Although regular video games are beneficial for mental health —— role-playing games can offer an even more significant benefit because they provide face-to-face interaction with others and facilitate a deeper connection.
Themes of capability, self-confidence, and heroism are pretty familiar with role-playing games.
These are themes that promote positive mental health and coping, which is one of the many
reasons why RPGs are so helpful in mental health. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the impact of RPGs on mental health.
Role-Playing for Mental Health The idea that role-playing offers benefits aren’t exactly a new concept. For decades, therapists and educators have used role-playing to promote self-reflection and facilitate communication. A 2019 review of the literature published on the use of clinical role-play found that this practice enhances therapeutic and communicative skills when used in classroom settings. Role-playing is also commonly used in phobia therapy. However, accepting role-playing in virtual environments that would be considered “fun” and “entertaining” is relatively new. Experts and care providers specializing in mental health increasingly use games and technology to help their patients overcome anxiety, make social connections, and develop self-confidence using “game therapy.” The gaming sphere provides a safe, controlled environment where people can socialize while simulating real-world coping techniques. For people dealing with depression stemming from feelings of isolation due to the pandemic, role-playing games can be beneficial. Role-playing games are currently being used in telehealth group therapy. RPGs are especially useful in therapeutic settings. That is because they provide a structured and safe space where players can experiment with “becoming someone else” for just a short period. So, what does role-playing offer for mental health? Let’s take a look…
Fantasy Grounds face to face, hybrid, or online! A Connection... Humans crave connections. However, it’s not always easy to make those connections. COVID-19 has made it especially difficult to nourish relationships. Social anxiety, depression, and other issues can impact a person’s ability to form connections, as well. Role-playing games help facilitate relations with other humans. Often these games are played for long periods, which allows players to develop deeper relationships with others who share the same interests.
A Way To Become “Someone Else” for a Day
In taking on a “new” identity in a gaming landscape where it’s necessary to take on challenges to win
missions, people can feel like part of a “team” that depends on their contributions. The “shared goal” aspect of role-playing games can be important for creating a sense of connection that is absent in the world; by modeling the experience of being integrated into a social group while gaming, a person can develop tools to incorporate the norms of online interaction into real-life interactions.
A Path to Achievement
Role-playing games provide gratification by way of successful missions, badges, and other measurable
achievements. For people who feel that they can’t “achieve” anything in real life, the sense of accomplishment from mastering a game world can be important for proving that goals can be achieved. When we achieve goals, our brains release the feel-good chemical called dopamine. One of the “hacks” for building dopamine naturally is to set small goals continuously. Each time we meet a dream, the brain
releases a flow of dopamine that allows us to feel satisfied in the moment while also motivating us subconsciously to seek more achievements.
A Way To “Get Away”
While it’s important not to think of gaming as a way to “stay too distracted to feel” when a mental health crisis pops up, the value of gaming provides a way for a person to get things off their mind for a bit shouldn’t be dismissed. Everyone can relate to the idea of simply needing to “step away” when things get too intense. RPG provides an active, constructive channel for staying occupied when complex thoughts and emotions surface. For people recovering from the mental effects of physical and emotional trauma, RPGs can be soothing while also providing an active outlet for working through the thoughts and sensations that are occurring.
The Confidence To “Do Anything” Many people can only find their “true selves” after entering a world where they can be anyone! On role-play gaming platforms, players can slip into different identities with different personas. People who may have a hard time expressing their voice in real life can “act out” the experience of being an outspoken, extroverted leader leading a group on a mission. The immersive qualities of the gaming experience allow people to work out “social muscles” to explore different elements of their personalities.
A Means To Stay Mentally Sharp Nearly every part of the brain is activated when playing role-playing games that require problem-solving, strategizing, and high-level thinking. Even our bodies are engaged as we manipulate the screen or controller to make precise, agile movements in our virtual world. As a result, gaming helps with brain development, motor skills, and talent. Role-playing games can also be great for critical thinking because players can plot out potential scenarios and cause-and-effect relationships in real-time.
The Path to Resilience Roleplay Gaming boosts resiliency by demonstrating that failure is a part of the process. This is especially important for younger children and teens who may struggle with intense fear and anxiety about trying new things, being vulnerable, or not meeting standards of perfection. By going through frustrations and disappointments in a controlled environment, players can experience the emotions associated with failure in a low-stakes way. This can be an essential tool for learning how to process feelings, regroup and use what was known to move forward.
The Takeaway Role-playing games are more than just a good time. They offer a host of benefits to mental health, from improved confidence to a community. Integrating gaming into a plan for mental health is something that educators, therapists, parents, and self-assisting individuals can begin doing simply by becoming familiar with virtual tabletop RPG games like DnD5e. Where Should a Person Begin With Using Gaming to help Support Mental Health potentially? One of the most popular options for accessing role-playing games is the Fantasy Grounds app. At the Fantasy Grounds Academy, we help provide the guiding blueprints for using the entire Fantasy Grounds platform. We offer one-on-one guidance or instruction in a group setting. Our supportive community of experienced users exists here to help you utilize gaming resources.