What is Question/Hypothesis of the RPG Research Observation Group 1?

by Hawke Robinson published 2013/03/27 12:45:00 GMT-7, last modified 2022-11-12T09:27:00-07:00
I had a recent question on Facebook about my posting: "Finished session 5 with RPG Preliminary Observation group 1, using Ea d20 RPG in a Tolkien Middle-earth setting." The question was from Sarah Lynne Bowman, author of The Functions of Role-playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems and Explore Identity. She asked: "What's the research question/hypothesis?"


The lengthy hypothesis is listed on the front page of the RPG Research website http://www.rpgresearch.com in detail regarding the potential therapeutic and educational benefits of participation in tabletop RPG's.

A blog of the adventure is posted on the Spokane RPG website: http://spokanerpg.com/forum/rpg-group-discussions/456025782

The short version is the question, Does participation in the recreational activity known as role-playing gaming have measurable short and/or long term effects on participants? Can causality be established? If so, can RPG's be modified for use as a controlled specific therapeutic treatment from the Recreation Therapy perspective/discipline? Initially I am focusing on tabletop RPGs, but over time will include live-action, computer-based, and other formats.

This first preliminary observation group doesn't really address those overarching issues directly, the preliminary aspect is referring to just working out the administrative process for bringing complete strangers to the tabletop RPG sessions in an office/facilities setting (rather than a game store, or someone's home), and dialing in the variables of the environment conducive to participation. This was initially with experienced role-playing gamers, but over time I hope to achieve the same with those that have never participated in RPGing previously.

Initial Setup

I arranged for facilities that balance the friendly environment of a home settings, though in an office building, so as not to be too austere (like a plain office or medical setting), while still having a more "professional" setting.

I experimented with using Meetup.com to find gamers (posting in January), and this is where most of the participants were found, though two walked up when we had our first session at Merlyn's (those were the two I later had to encourage to leave), and another joined on the second session. It took several weeks to get enough people with coordinated schedules to arrange the first session. 9 people said they would be there, only 5 showed up.  Last week the third that joined on location during the second session at Merlyn's contacted me to indicate his wife, schedule, and health prevented him from continuing, so we are now back to a more reasonable size of 5 players (not counting the GM).

I have had to develop a number of documents including "Participant Code of Conduct", Contact Information/Emergency Information, very short questionnaires about Length of time involved in RPG, age, zip code, etc These are generally not necessarily things I would do (other than basic contact information and discussion) with a "normal" TRPG group.

When the group was so large, I was planning to implement the use of 30-60 second sand timers (mini-hour glass) to keep the game play flowing quickly enough, and I am still holding those in reserve if game play is slow during combat or other settings.

Unfortunately I also had to "encourage" two participants to leave since this was not a therapeutic group, and these two showed signs of significant emotional and cognitive impairments observed that were very disruptive.


This is all in preparation for the first full observation groups that will actually fill out IQ, personality, mood, demographics, and other information as a baseline, then they will participate in RPG once per week for 8-12 weeks (will try longer and shorter periods over time), for about 1-8 hours per session (will try various time periods as well, this is just a starting range), fill out short pre-and-post-game questionnaires each week, and then take the full battery of tests again for any potential differences noted. This will still NOT be therapeutic groups, so participants that have very disruptive behavior will unfortunately not be included in early studies. I will have to keep those people in reserve for later when I have achieved the necessary degrees, certifications, and licensing necessary. For now these studies are purely observational.

Before undertaking those more detailed studies, II wanted to start with fundamentals of the most basic level of organizing these groups, the tools to use for finding players, the level they would tolerate regarding observation, game session frequency and duration, etc.

For example, I am currently GMing 3 groups, only one of which is "observational" in a loose sense, while the other two I am not undertaking any of those tools (questionnaires, etc.) To my surprise, all 3 groups have been okay with my recording the entire sessions on video and audio. 1 group is my homebrew "World of Beru" campaign, another is Tolkien-based TOR RPG (The One Ring Role-playing Game) by Cubicle 7.

This has been done via a laptop set at the side of the room. I have not observed any behavioral differences between the sessions that were not recorded, and those that the participants agreed to the recordings.  I thought I would have some push back, or at least noticeable behavioral differences from this aspect.

I am also attempting to determine the minimum amount of time each session can be, and still seem to be rewarding enough to the participants (achieve state of "flow"), that they still wish to continue with the sessions.

I have started out with this group at 4 hours. Typically it takes about 30-45 minutes for everyone to show up, shoot the breeze, etc. Gathering/start time is 6:00 pm each week. During the previous sessions, folks were fine with wrapping up at 10:00 pm, however last night, since things were really on a roll, they begged for more time. One player wanted to stay later, but could only stretch it to 10:30.  I hope over time to try to trim this down to 2-3 hours (would 1 hour even work for anyone?), but I don't know that this group will tolerate such short sessions.

So these are the fundamentals I am attempting to address, before I start to really target the more therapeutically-related aspects.

I will generally be approaching from a Therapeutic Recreation perspective by the way.

I hope to have the first "real" full observation group by early summer. I have about 30 people signed up so far, now I'm trying to work out their schedules and demographics (mostly age), to form actual groups. I am attempting  to get those that have not gamed before, that I think will show the most noticeable effects (if any) between the baseline, and exit tests.

Setting & Game System

For the setting, I am currently using a Tolkien-based setting in the Second Age of Middle Earth, S.A. 1198. The core adventure begins on the peninsula of Andrast, based on adventured I wrote for MerpCon/Tolkien Moot 2007 "The Gift Bearers of Numenor". Since it is difficult to find players that like TOR RPG, MERP/RM, and other less "main stream" game systems, I am using the Ea d20 3.5 RPG - http://www.earpg.com  as the lingua franca of RPG systems.

When I am ready for the full research study groups, I will probably (to avoid any copyright, trademark, licensing costs, or other annoying intellectual property issues), use my own RPG system (Ea RPGS, different than Ea d20), in a campaign location that is free of trademarks and copyrights, but accessible to people in general (Robin Hood, Shakespearean, Arthurian, Greek Mythology, etc.).

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