Ego Check with The Id DM – Dr. Rachel Kowert on Video Games & Mental Health

Dr. Rachel Kowert
Rachel Kowert, PhD

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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Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 46 – Ryan Kelly, Ph.D.

Ryan Kelly
Ryan Kelly, PhD

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:

Listen here!

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. 

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month!

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 20 – Duane Sibilly

Duane Sibilly bio pic
Duane Sibilly

Duane has been cultivating Hammer Gaming, a community for like-minded players who wish to avoid the toxicity that is often found in online games. He speaks about consulting with other gamemasters like myself, and we talk through an example of how we collaborated to flesh out various characters in my Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

Duane then delves into his experiences as a person of color playing video- and tabletop games, and the obstacles he has encountered over the years while trying to engage with the hobby. Here is a brief segment of this discussion:

I’m a person of color and… finding groups of gamers that are diverse continues to be a challenge. It can be very difficult to find other folks who look like me. And that’s not a huge problem; I’ll play with whoever wants to pull up to the table. It would be nice to have a bit more diversity in gaming. And I’ve encountered that on both ends – both as someone who helps run a community and have new gamers come to us, and as someone who goes to conventions and wants to sit down at tables with strangers and play games with them. It doesn’t happen very often but every now and then – I’ll get a funny look. Like, “Oh, hey, don’t see people like you very much at the table.” And I just shrug and play, because I’m there to play…

The representation problem isn’t just at the tables. It’s also in the content. I have a very difficult time finding folks who look like me or who represent stories outside of the Western European norm in the content published by tabletop RPG creators… To quote Avery Brooks who played Ben Sisko on DS9, “It is very important that brown children and brown people in general can see people who look like them in contemporary mythology.” And I really hope more effort is made… In addition to being at the table, it really needs to start showing up in the content. And I think it’s not going to start showing up in the content until more creators like Quinn [Murphy] are employed by the publishers or contracted by the publishers and say, “Hey, look. We need to tell these kind of stories. Let’s go ahead and hire the people that can tell them.”

He offers advice for other players and content creators to make gaming a safer space for a wider audience. He details how Hammer Gaming came to be created, and how it has evolved from a World of Warcraft guild to a vibrant community of 40-50 friendly gamers. We close the show by talking about Destiny 2, and he tries to convince me to dive in when it releases for PC.

Enjoy the 20th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

You can also listen to the show right here:


Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show.

New episodes are released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month. The next episode will post on November 7th, 2017.

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

Achievements in Campaigning

With a great deal of dismay, I learned last week that our local Smoothie King is discontinuing their customer loyalty program and replacing it with something to be determined at a later date. It was a simple and standard program – buy a certain number of smoothies and you get one free. But this comes on the heels of them eliminating their $1.00-off coupon attached to each receipt from a purchased smoothie. Suddenly our friendly, local, neighborhood Smoothie King seemed to give in to corporate pressures. As I reluctantly enjoyed my Mangosteen Madness (Make It Skinny) smoothie, I pondered what their next customer loyalty program would entail. Giving myself periodic brain freeze, I wondered why more businesses did not try an achievement-based customer loyalty program.

Achievement Unlocked – Read 1 Post by Iddy the Lich

For those of you who do not play video games on a regular basis, Achievements are a predefined goal a player must reach. A game such as Mass Effect 3 will come with a list of achievements a player can earn throughout the course of one or multiple playthroughs of the game. Some of the achievements are earned during the normal course of playing the game; a player will earn multiple achievements simply by playing through the standard single-player campaign mode. But many achievements are meant to entice players to continue playing the game to earn more rewards – even if those rewards are primarily a means for self-gratification and impressing other gamers. I fell into the “I need to increase my Gamer Score trap” for a time and played games that no longer interested me for the sake of earning achievements; thankfully, those days are behind me.

Below, I present thoughts on how achievements can be constructed to be more enticing, meaningful and tangibly rewarding for customers of a business – even if that business is a D&D campaign and the customers are players attending gaming sessions. I conclude with how achievements could possibly be used with players in a D&D campaign to increase loyalty and overall participation in the campaign.

Continue reading “Achievements in Campaigning”

Game Night Blog Carnival: Kingdom Rush

In the past, my entries in Roving Band of Misfits’ Game Night Blog Carnival series have featured multiplayer games. However, this month I wanted to focus on a single-play experience that recently rocked my world. During my trip to New Zealand last month, I had a 13-hour plan ride to fill with various activities. I received several suggestions to download Kingdom Rush for my iPad. I decided to give the game a try for a mere 99 cents, and it was a fantastic decision!

Since I could not sleep well on the plane, I played the game on and off for the better portion of eight hours. The game is incredibly addictive, and I cannot recommend it enough for those looking for a fun game to eat up minutes and hours of their time. Below, I describe the allure and charm of Kingdom Rush.

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Disposable Heroes: What Does Save Or Die Really Kill?

Earlier this month, a spotlight was shone on the save or die game mechanic by members of the development team for Dungeons & Dragons Next. The vast majority of my experience with D&D is through 4th Edition, which is built with less lethality as the default option compared to earlier editions. For example, our group played a BASIC D&D game last year and the character I played died while I was away from the table during a 90-second roundtrip to use the bathroom. I left the table while the character had full health only to return to a corpse riddled by zombie teeth and claw marks. The lethality of the game has certainly shifted over time, and the developers of D&D Next are now seeking input about the utility of the most lethal aspect of D&D – save or die effects.

As a relative newcomer to D&D and tabletop roleplaying games, I find the save or die mechanic fascinating for all that it means for the game and those playing it. I have been playing computer- and console-based RPGs and other videogames since Atari and I cannot think of an equivalent mechanic to save or die. I have never played World of Warcraft or similar games, but I have learned if a character dies, his or her progress is not lost forever. The player – and character – continue to adventure another day. Even thinking about punishing games like the original Ninja Gaiden on the Nintendo Entertainment System, which resulted in a multitude of deaths, they still featured the same protagonist after the character died. No matter how many times the player was punctured by throwing stars or knocked out of the sky by birds, the player still continued Ryu’s journey set forth by his father.

Ignoring Raise Dead and other options, D&D is one of the few games I’ve played where character death is FINAL. Save or die effects add an element of chance to the finality; saving throws in 4th Edition, not factoring in any relevant modifiers, will fail 45% of the time. In earlier editions, the fail rate was less favorable to the player. Fail a save, and the adventure was immediately over for that character forever. This strikes me as an odd way to manage a roleplaying game in terms of fostering a level of attachment and emotional investment from a player.

Continue reading “Disposable Heroes: What Does Save Or Die Really Kill?”

The Sound of Silence

DMs have a variety of tools at their disposal to set a scene for players. First, there are the core rulebooks and other resources featuring campaign settings, story hooks, NPCs and monsters. The core books set the stage for the DM and the players to execute published adventures or lay the foundation for homebrew campaigns. Second, there are visual stimuli ranging from the very crude – a flat map grid sheet of paper – to the very elaborate – terrain pieces like those sold by Dwarven Forge. DMs can find many useful visual aids for their gaming sessions in craft stores; in the past, I have used cheap mosaic tiles, Play-Doh, colored plastic sheets of paper, and decorative stones to bring the visual element of the game to life. In the past, I relied too often on visual stimuli both as a player and a DM. But there are four other senses, which should not be overlooked.

Earlier in the year, I was influenced by a post by Benoit at Roving Band of Misfits discussing the importance of storytelling for the five senses. Benoit states in the article:

As a DM, when I describe a scene to my players, I generally start with what the PCs see.  Unfortunately, I often stop there as well, assuming that my visual description is enough to draw the player into the scene.  This is a problem because when we enter new environments, our bodies give us a lot of sensory input that is non-visual.  In order to truly draw the player into the scene, we need to play to these other senses as well. So we ask the question: how can we start to describe scenes more fully?  I’ve begun using a “blind characters” approach.  By that I mean, assume that the characters are entering an environment with their eyes closed, and at the end, they open their eyes.  With that in mind, I describe the visual last.  By filling in all the other sensory input before giving the full visual picture, I am forced to think about what the characters experience rather than what they see.

It is a very useful strategy for DMs to implement, and I must be honest that I have strayed away from doing this lately. I encourage everyone to read the full article. Visual stimuli are likely the easiest sense to engage with your adventuring party, especially if you have elaborate terrain, but the four remaining senses – smell, taste, touch and hearing – can be a challenge.

Soundwave superior. Constructions inferior.

I continue to experiment with bringing the various senses to life. For example, I am thinking about searching for specific incense candles for upcoming encounters and locations. In the past, I gave out a bottle of blended scotch-whiskey to the party after they defeated a dastardly pirate. The prop doubled as a healing potion in-game, but required the person to consume some of the “Rot Gut” out of the game. I have not incorporated the sense of touch into the game, unless you consider props such as burnt parchment and other documents created for the campaign.

Below, I focus on the sense of hearing, and provide suggestions for bringing this sense to life during your sessions. I have been wanting to discuss my thought process regarding music and sound for D&D sessions for some time. I finally set my mind to it, and have posted some ideas that may help other DMs out there as they plan for gaming nights.

Continue reading “The Sound of Silence”

Ego Check: Anna Kreider of Go Make Me A Sandwich

I have been an observer of numerous discussions about sexism in gaming in recent months. My plan was to write a post about the subject, but I could not decide on a specific theme for an article. I did not want to be just another male writing about the topic, but I though it would be interesting to have an in-depth discussion about sexism and the gaming culture with a person quite knowledgeable and passionate about the topic. Thankfully, Anna Kreider of Go Make Me A Sandwich agreed to spend time discussing a variety of topics related to sexism and the greater geek culture.

I first became aware of Go Make Me A Sandwich after listening to a DM Roundtable Podcast. I visited the site and was impressed with the content. Anna has supported her assertions that the gaming culture is sexist with analysis and often hilarious comparisons of how male and female characters are dressed and portrayed in games. During the past month, we had an extended conversation about sexism in the gaming culture. Specifically, I inquired about the individual gamer’s responsibility in changing the culture and how Anna continues to enjoy sexist games and continue with her blog in the face of great resistance from sects of the gaming community. We also discuss sexism in other realms of geek culture and how some games move closer and closer to a form of pornography. I believe the two of us were quite honest throughout the discussion, and encourage readers to pay close attention to the segment on cognitive dissonance, which is a subject I will return to in future posts.

Please enjoy the interview with Anna Kreider; I realize this is a topic people feel strongly about and I encourage you to keep your Comments and questions respectful.

Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. Could you please introduce yourself, and talk about how you first became interested in gaming?

Hi, there. The canned introduction I usually give goes something like: My name is Anna, though online I mostly go by Wundergeek. I write a feminist gaming blog called Go Make Me a Sandwich, in which I explore issues of sexism in gaming. In addition to being a cranky feminist blogger, I am an artist, photographer, and somewhat half-assed writer living in the wilds of Canada with a wonderful spouse and two slightly broken cats.

I’ve been playing video and board games pretty much my entire life, but I didn’t start roleplaying until my then-fiance (now husband) introduced me to gaming and got me started. Sadly, our tabletop group has long since fallen apart, but I still do LARP. So I guess I don’t completely fit the stereotype of the woman who didn’t start gaming until her significant other introduced her to it, but I think it’s fair to say that my husband definitely made me nerdier. (Not a bad thing.)

Continue reading “Ego Check: Anna Kreider of Go Make Me A Sandwich”

Ego Check: Lyndsay Peters, Owner of Dragon Chow Dice Bags

I have five sets of dice for gaming, and four of them are currently crammed into a small bag, which is now bursting at the seams. Thankfully, someone else out there has solved the unwieldy dice-bag problem – Lyndsay Peters, Owner of Dragon Chow Dice Bags. Lyndsay was kind enough to spend some time with me for an interview. In the interview, she discusses how she started her business, the origins of her mascot, Chompy, gamer superstitions and why she never stopped playing Dungeons & Dragons 3.5.

Can you please introduce yourself, and discuss how and when you were introduced to gaming?

Well, I’m Lyndsay. I live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with my husband and my pet snake Orwell. On Twitter, I’m @GeekyLyndsay and people generally know me because I run Dragon Chow Dice Bags.

Lyndsay Peters & Chompy

I was introduced to gaming around 9 years ago in high school. I joined a circle of nerdy friends and they taught me how to play D&D. It was around the time 3e turned to 3.5e, because I remember that I was the first one to get the 3.5 books. I played a Cleric.

We played d&d off and on, and in the post couple of years I’ve discovered board games. I’m really loving board games now, too. I like how easy it is to introduce my family members to games like Settlers. Next up, I’ll be teaching them Carcassonne.

I’m in a regular d&d 3.5 game on friday nights. I’m a grognard, it’s true.

Continue reading “Ego Check: Lyndsay Peters, Owner of Dragon Chow Dice Bags”

Brainstorming Solo Monsters: Bayonetta

“I’ve got a fever, and the only cure is more dead angels!”

Solo monsters and the way they play in D&D 4e have been on my mind lately. First, I ran a small set of encounters that culminated in the party coming face-to-face with an Orium Dragon. Second, I was throwing ideas back and forth with David Flor about the notion that solo monsters could possible be given more standard actions to make them more epic foes. Third, I’ve played through the first third of the videogame, Bayonetta. Trust me, the last point will tie into my thoughts on solo monsters!

First, the battle with the Orium Dragon was meant to be a challenge for the party, and it turned out well enough, but the dragon did not seem cool enough. Part of the issue was we only had four players that night, so I had to scale down the creature a bit. But overall, the dragon seemed to be limited to the breath weapon and the Draconic Fury, which basically gives the dragon three Standard Actions (2 Claw, 1 Gore attacks). Draconic Fury is a nice attack the first round or two, but the dragon does not have many other options if it’s breath is spent. PCs attack, dragon attacks with Draconic Fury, rinse and repeat. At least for me, the battle felt stale after a couple of rounds. There was likely more drama for the players because several PCs were dying at various points in the battle, but in terms of playing the dragon, it wasn’t as entertaining as I thought it would be.

After that, I was thinking about the next time my group runs into a solo creature and how I could make it more entertaining for them and for me. Between getting Monster Manual 3 in the mail and having some discussions online, I started to think about solos in a new way. Yes, they are a big, bad monster, but they should feel different from the monsters I play as a DM each week. Besides the extra hit points and high-damage attacks, playing a solo should just feel different. I thought about granting solo monsters more standard actions, and that idea seems to have merit. Around this time, I started to play Bayonetta – and strangely enough – that is when something clicked in my brain.

Continue reading “Brainstorming Solo Monsters: Bayonetta”