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When Does Role-Playing Gaming Become "Bad" For Participants?

by Hawke Robinson published Jun 20, 2015 05:05 PM, last modified Feb 05, 2023 12:22 PM
What do you think is a reasonable baseline for "safe" RPG participation? With different populations, when is there "too much of a good thing"? Do you have any anecdotes, or better yet research data that validates any particular stance? I am slowly building up the background for extensive research on the potential therapeutic uses of role-playing games in various formats (tabletop, live-action, computer-based) for various populations (TBI, PTSD, Autism-spectrum, LD's, etc.), with the assumption that there is potential benefit. But what are the potential risks?

Over time, I will be testing thoroughly, so hopefully this question can be answered scientifically, but just curious what others think might be potential risks with participation in role-playing gaming?

I would conjecture that it will be different pitfalls for different combinations of RPG format (tabletop, live-action, computer-based), and different populations.

Hopefully over time, testing will reveal when certain populations are more at risk for any potential deficit, rather than benefit. A lot of testing has been underway with both benefits and deficits indicated in the video-game playing realm. McGonaghal is advocating for everyone in the world to play just 1 hour per day of video games for benefit. Some studies have shown that is possibly a "Sweet spot" for maximal benefit, before the potential deficits being to kick in around the 2+ hours mark. According to one study this doesn't seem to matter as far as game type, FPS, RPG, etc., though I'm a little skeptical about that particular conclusion from that study (where did I place it......).

At what point does computer-based RPG cross a threshold from benefit into obsession, and potential harm?

At what point does that happen with live-action and tabletop forms of RPG?

It is likely very different for different populations, so there will need to be a matrix over time, with assessment values taken into account when offering RPG Therapy as a potential treatment modality for a client.

I will be testing eventually, with different groups. Some groups will only participate 45 minutes once per week (seems too short to me, but typical of other therapy periods), while others will be 2,3, 4, 6, 8+ hour sessions, some once per week or two, while others several times a week, testing to see if a threshold is crossed.

This will of course take years of data accumulation to come to any real conclusions.

Typically in the psychiatric/psychological world, it needs to reach a subjective threshold to become a disorder, for example keeping in mind the themes of the "4 D's" of psychological disorder :

  • Deviance
  • Distress
  • Dysfunction
  • Danger


Clearly we don't want clients to go anywhere near that direction, the goal is the opposite, to alleviate any and all of those.

But where are the thresholds? There can certainly usually be too much of a good thing. Only time and testing can "prove" what the recommended limits are, but I'm wondering what others think they might hypothetically be. Do you think there are reasonable "hard and fast rules" that could be followed to keep RPG participation levels "safe" for all populations as a baseline, and then adapt for specific populations as needed?

What do you think? Do you have any anecdotes, or better yet research data that validates any particular stance?