Tomo Moriwaki talks about his career in videogame design and how his experiences led him to the latest endeavor, Epic Tavern. In Epic Tavern, players are tasked with building up a tavern to cater to adventure needs AND with sending those adventurers on quests. Tomo talks about his goals to design an engaging gameplay loop that encourages players to spend more time with Epic Tavern; it was fascinating to learn about the decisions that are made to create a successful gameplay loop that cultivates that “one more turn” feeling for players!
He discusses obstacles to creating a game “like fantasy football for fantasty fantasy” and how the small team has overcome those challenges. Tomo educates me about the logic behind Epic Tavern gameplay, including the encounter system involved in questing.
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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:
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.
NOTE: There are spoilers for The Last Jedi in this article. Please stop reading if you have not seen the movie yet.
When I started writing this article, the first paragraph detailed my excitement for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and how the only expectations I had were that it would be a good movie. At one point in the original article I wrote, “I was happily absent of expectations before the film.” It felt true when I wrote it; it really did. As I kept writing, I realized it was not true. It was actually far from true! I had many expectations for the film beyond it being good. I was just unaware of them all.
There is a moment in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda warns Luke not to take his weapons into the cave. Luke asks, “What’s in there?” And Yoda responds, “Only what you take with you.”
Consciously and subconsciously, we all have expectations about what Star Wars should be. And when The Last Jedi challenges those expectations – or openly subverts them – it triggers an anxiety reaction. How we monitor and process that reaction likely goes a long way to determining if we thought The Last Jedi was a “good” movie or not.
I’m not here to tell you how to react to The Last Jedi. What I am suggesting is to review the expectations you had about the film and franchise because I was unaware of many of my own expectations. Overall, I thought the film was brilliant, and I would like to harness the nervous energy I experienced during those two-and-a-half hours while watching the movie on opening night.
Because that feeling of plunging into the unknown was pure electricity.
My response to the Rorschach test of The Last Jedi is below.
I’m joined this week by Dr. Megan Connell, a licensed psychologist who is currently using Dungeons & Dragons in two therapy groups to teach children social skills and empowerment. She speaks about motivations for pursuing a career in psychology, including her decision to join the military after the events of 9/11. Dr. Connell provides her insights into how dungeon mastering is essentially people management, and how DMs can use specific skills to improve gameplay for all involved. She covers how important it is to talk with your players to establish ground rules and resolve potential conflicts. She details her use of a Session 0 for all new campaigns to accomplish these goals. We review how mental health symptoms can manifest for players at the table, and present some strategies on how to address these situations. She talks about her Psychology and D&D video series featured on YouTube and her stream, Clinical Roll, which features numerous mental health professionals playing Dungeons & Dragons.
Enjoy the 22nd episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
This week I’m joined by Chris Benefield, a longtime friend I first met during our days in graduate school way back in 1998. Chris has a masters degree in Educational Psychology, and is now working toward an advanced degree to become a school counselor. In the episode, we discuss our history of arguing, “Who is the bigger nerd?” and explore how social comparison theory affects geekdom, “Sure, I’m a nerd – but I’m not THAT nerdy.” I ask Chris why he cannot get into tabletop roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons, and he asks me why I’m unwilling to dive into Magic: The Gathering (MtG). He discusses the merits of MtG, and we explore how games like Hearthstone, SolForge, and Eternal scratch a similar itch. We delve into our approaches to mindfully engage in our hobbies and time management, which leads into our use of social media – for better and sometimes worse. Along the way, we review our trip to GenCon 2012, and talk about trying to remain a nerd while parenting young children.
Enjoy the episode, and please provide feedback if you would like Chris and I to continue recording similar discussions as we are considering spinning this off into a separate podcast.
Enjoy the 14th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
I’m joined by Brian Patterson, Co-Owner of Exploding Rogue Studios, and Creator of the webcomic, d20monkey. He completed a successful Kickstarter to fund his efforts to create Karthun, a campaign guide. I previously interviewed Brian in 2011 and 2014 for my blog, and he talks about his work in the gaming industry in recent years, including his role as Art Tsar for Evil Hat Productions. He spends the first portion of the interview talking about his experiences meeting with a therapist for assistance with mental health issues, which have been partially influenced by the lifestyle connected to freelance work. We discuss how therapy works, and dispel some common myths about the interactions that take place between a counselor and a client. Brian later discusses his struggles to produce Karthun, and the emotions related to completing the project. Near the end of the interview, he briefly covers upcoming projects for d20monkey and Exploding Rogue Studios, and educates listeners on how best to incorporate Karthun into any roleplaying game system.
Enjoy the 12th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
I am joined this week by Dr. Janina Scarlet, and we talk about her upcoming book, Superhero Therapy – A Hero’s Journey Through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Dr. Scarlet shares her fascinating origin story and how her personal journey with negative emotions led her to pursue a career in psychology. She describes how she has used various elements of geek culture in her work as a therapist providing care to Veterans and other individuals struggling with shame, anxiety, fear, and anxiety. She educates people about the purpose of therapy, and elaborates on several skills listed in her book. Near the end of the conversation, she shares her personal experience as a refugee to the United States, and how recent political events have been challenging. We also talk a bit of hockey before closing down!
Enjoy the 11th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:
My guests for Episode 5 of Ego Check with The Id DM are Adam Johns and Adam Davis from Wheelhouse Workshop, a two-man operation whose mission is to help youths in the greater Seattle area build social skills through the intentional and targeted use of tabletop role-playing games. Both Mr. Johns and Mr. Davis have advanced degrees and use tabletop roleplaying games to teach social skills to children with a variety of mental health concerns. During our conversation, they discuss their professional background and how they use games like Dungeons & Dragons to teach children perspective taking, frustration tolerance, creative problem solving, and cooperation. They demonstrate a method to increase collaborative storytelling during a RPG session, which leads to us all wearing carved-out pumpkins on our heads! They explain the business model for Wheelhouse Workshop, and their plans for expansion in the future.
Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. My plan is to release new episodes the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month. The next episode will post next year on January 3rd, 2017.
As I read through Patrick Rothfuss’ The Slow Regard of Silent Things, I found myself thinking about many of the patients that I have worked with over the years in my role as a psychologist. Some of those individuals I have seen in an office setting, and others I have met in their homes. The patients have ranged in ages, shapes, and sizes – and they all presented with unique mental health concerns. I remembered many of them while reading through the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions of Auri – a character that brilliantly illustrates and humanizes the qualities and struggles of those coping with anxieties, compulsions, and symptoms along the autism spectrum.
I also thought of my personal mental health challenges while reading.
If I taught a class in psychology, then I would have students read and process the material. As it stands, I encourage everyone to read the book – even if you haven’t read The Name of the Wind or The Wise Man’s Fear. Those books provide some context for Auri’s story, but they are not required reading to benefit from the content in The Slow Regard of Silent Things that struck me on such a personal level.
Mental health, and by extension mental illness, is unfortunately stigmatized. Going to a therapist is viewed by too many as a sign of weakness. I discovered at age 16 that I wanted to be a counselor, and I was fortunate enough to start down that path early in college and never really look back. I have also been in therapy as a patient at times in my life and consistently during the past two years, primarily getting assistance with symptoms of anxiety.