Folks, strap in because the following article is going to connect some threads that may leave you thinking, “Wow, he’s really thinking too much about Cobra Kai.” In fact, I already received this feedback a few months ago while writing about my enjoyment of the show on Facebook:
I was seven-years-old when The Karate Kid was released in 1984, and like many others I grew up with it being a touchstone movie of my childhood. I certainly saw The Karate Kid Part II in the movie theater and I enjoyed various callbacks to the series in pop culture over the years such as Sweep The Leg by No More Kings and the video essay presenting the case that Daniel was the real bully in the original film. And I still get fired up whenever I hear ‘You’re The Best Around’ by Joe Esposito.
Resurrecting those characters and that franchise over 30 years later should not work. It did not work out well (for some) in Star Wars last month, and as Randal remarks in Clerks, “Let the past be the past.” And yet, Cobra Kai works on multiple levels and I remain delightfully dumbfounded by how effective it is. In an era of sequels, reboots and retcons, Cobra Kai manages to pay homage to the source material and give a slight wink to the audience while also taking the current premise seriously.
How do they manage this feat? And why did this show resonate with me?
Dr. Rachel Kowert is a psychologist with years of published research examining the mental health effects of video games. She details how her research has NOT supported a variety of commonly-held and spread myths about video games. She discusses her role as Research Director for Take This, whose mission is to decrease stigma while increasing the support for mental health in the game-enthusiast community and inside the game industry. She talks about her history as a video game player and how she manages her personal use of games and that of her young children.
Enjoy the 55th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM!
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Elisabeth de Kleer is an award-winning documentary producer and director that has experience working in the true crime genre. She has been working for the past two years on the subject of Dungeons & Dragons in prisons, and is attempting to Kickstart a documentary on this subject. She joins me to talk about the inspiration for this project and shares some of the stories from the 100s of inmates and prison personnel that she has interviewed thus far. We also discuss the purpose of prison, and the challenges that exist for reintegrating back into society.
I share with her my background as a survivor of a violent crime as my father was shot and killed in the line of duty when I was eight-years-old, and we discuss the murky waters of how society deals with individuals that commit violent crimes after they have served their time in prison. We explore the potential rehabilitative powers of D&D for inmates, and the extraordinary lengths they have gone to play the game while incarcerated.
Enjoy the 52nd episode of Ego Check with The Id DM!
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Dr. Ryan Kelly joins me this week to talk about his work on how to use geek passions to grow. He is a psychologist and speaks about his work with a variety of clients including those that use videogames in problematic ways. He presents his thoughts on how the power of videogames have increased as technology has improved and wades through some of the available data about links between videogames and problematic behavior.
We discuss the potential benefits and consequences of gaming and other hobbies, and offer suggestions for how to find a healthy balance. He highlights that games can be a useful tool and coping strategy, though that can become a problem if it is the only tool used by someone.
Enjoy the 46th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
Greg Leatherman, founder of VRECast, joins me to talk about his life as a gay man and what it’s been like for him playing tabletop RPGs since the 1980s. He details the origins of the Very Random Encounters podcast, which randomizes as much as possible for character creation and story lines.
He explains the concept of safe spaces and how his life as a gay man forces him to consider changing his behavior to blend in to decrease the chance of violence against him. We talk about the lack of male affection in popular media, and he offers a suggestion to listeners to begin to change this culture.
Many, many thanks to Greg for being willing to share his experience and life with us.
Enjoy the 45th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
Adam Johns and Adam Davis from Game to Grow join the pod to talk about their years of experience running games for children on the autism spectrum and how their experience was funneled into the Critical Core tabletop roleplaying game. Critical Core is designed to teach children on the autism spectrum confidence and social skills, and it is now live on Kickstarter. Their Kickstarter runs for two more weeks and is knocking off Stretch Goals; the game is for any parent or educator that would like to use a RPG to teach skills to children. And stay tuned until the end of the episode for a bonus song by Dr. Ryan Kelly — trust me!
Enjoy the 44th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
It’s been a while since I read something that inspired me to respond with an article of my own, though that is just what happened after reading Susan J. Morris’ musings on internal tension in characters. I previously interviewed Susan on the Ego Check podcast back in January 2017 where she spoke about her work as a fantasy author and editor for companies such as Wizards of the Coast and Monte Cook Games. Her article this month on character tensions uses wonderful imagery to demonstrate how characters are affected by internal tensions and external forces:
Imagine for a moment everything your character cares about—Love, Friendship, Family, Country, Ideals, Religion, Tradition, Self, and Things More Specific—as a string, wrapped around your character.
The more your character cares about that thing, the tighter that string is pulled—the more tension on the line.
The more strings? The more interesting it gets.
She provides numerous examples of how characters can be tied up, and then offers this clear advice, “I think [the] most useful application is troubleshooting spots in your story where the tension drops or feels off.” By diagramming the tensions pulling a character in a story, a writer could identify when the tension sags and adjust accordingly.
Susan’s article provides useful suggestions for writers, though it struck me so strongly because it relates to an exercise I often complete with patients in my clinical work as a psychologist. And it is an exercise that can cut quickly to the heart of problems in one’s life.
Gaming Informs Work and Work Informs Gaming
A task I take on early when working with a patient in therapy is to clarify his or her values – in other words, why does that person want to live? What is important? It is a question I typically preface, “This may sound like an odd question…. why do you want to stay alive?”
In addition to listing the 10 values, it asks for the individual to first rate how important each value is in their life at that moment. The second step is to rate how satisfied they are with each value in their life at that moment. The third and final step is to answer some open-ended questions about each value.
The Valued Directions Worksheet gives a patient and I a great deal of information to discuss in therapy. For example, Parenting could be identified as very important while the satisfaction level with Parenting is low; this would be a good place to 1) explore and clarify why Parenting matters to the patient and 2) determine strategies for raising the satisfaction level of Parenting. One key thing we know from decades of research and clinical practice is that our mood typically improves when we engage in activities that are connected to our values. The first step for us is identifying what values are important, and the next step is taking actions that are connected to those values.
Many (if not most) of us struggle with this, and that is okay!
Susan’s article made me realize that the homework exercise above that I often give to my patients is something that my players or I could also use to create characters in role-playing games with more depth! What would it be like to complete a Valued Directions Worksheet as my Bard, The Stone? How could that exercise potentially add to my ability to “know” The Stone and role-play him effectively?
How important are these values to the character, and how satisfied are they with those values? Discrepancies between importance and satisfaction naturally lead to potential plot hooks – and as Susan detailed in her article, tension.
For example, if the NPC strongly values Education/learning and is not satisfied in that area, then how could the players interact with that NPC to increase his or her satisfaction level? Regardless if the NPC is a queen, guard, innkeeper or monster – the exercise could give the NPC additional depth for the GM and PCs to play around with as the game unfolds.
Finally, consider taking a moment (ideally, after several long, slow, deep breaths) and complete the Valued Directions Worksheet for yourself. Self-monitoring and externalization can be wonderful tools to enhance our awareness and improve our mood. If this exercise highlights an area of your life that is important while the satisfaction is low, then consider methods to increase the satisfaction.
More exercises like this can be found in The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety, which is a solid resource if you’re looking for a self-help option. In addition, considering speaking with a friend, family member and a professional clinician to work on areas of your life that might be a concern.