Interview with Save Against Fear

Save Against Fear holds an annual event that benefits The Bodhana Group, a local nonprofit organization that supports children, adolescents, and families impacted by sexual trauma through treatment, training, and consultation services. It was previously mentioned in June and we had the honor of speaking with one of their founders so we could get a better understanding of their values and goals.


Can you please give a brief description of what The Bodhana Group Inc does?

The Bodhana Group is an Ephrata based 501 (c) 3 non profit organization that has two missions.  One is the reduction of the impact of sexual abuse.  Our other mission is the use of tabletop role-playing and board games as therapeutic tools.  In support of the mission we offer trainings for professionals in topics such as working with sexually problematic behaviors, dealing with compassion fatigue, as well as talks with parents on how to help empower their children to prevent abuse.  This is a more powerful method than the normal route of using fear based stranger danger approaches.  At Save Against Fear this year we will be debuting some of our trainings on the therapeutic aspects of gaming.  This will be the intro of a series which will focus on helping people use games with positive benefit.  One of the target groups is families.  We are actually working with some local foster care agencies to help introduce them to the potential of gaming beyond just fun.  In fact never removing or downplaying the fun is a key part of our philosophy to therapeutic gaming.  


Why role-play games? A lot of people don't have a positive view of them or think that  brings no good and are just a hobby. How do you think that role-play is different?

Role playing games are a very unique form of recreation. It is stimulating to people who play in many ways and has so many access points that are a part of what RPGs are about. One of the philosophical underpinnings is that role playing games are steeped in a lot of the creative arts, which is an analog to what they call Expressive Arts therapy where you use creative arts like drawing, dance, writing, and acting to work through emotional material.  Role playing games are a hobby where you have the chance to create a character that can act as an avatar for you.

You can use this character to explore aspects of personality, rehearse or replay difficult situations, and gain skills.  The benefit is that the character also exists in a bubble of sorts where you know the world is imaginary so you can choose your level of immersion to material and engage it safely.  The fiction of the game gives you a layer of comfort and safety that allows you control of the experience.  The Bodhana Group actually makes a distinction in our exploration of therapeutic gaming between therapeutic benefit and clinical benefit.  We look at therapeutic as beneficial by the basic nature of the hobby.  Simply playing a game with other persons is working on social skills, the materials enhance reading and math as well as self-expression.  These benefits as mostly inherent to the hobby and can be used in a lay approach by anyone.  For example, you can use a system to help reading by using a property that is appealing to a child.  Parents can even use things such as characters resolving disagreements within the context of the game environment.  The party discussing the breakdown of duties in the guild can be an analog learning experience to dealing with sibling squabbles.  

On a higher level, and in the hands of a trained therapist, the use of gaming scenarios as life analogs can go much deeper, dealing with issues like depression, anxiety, or even trauma.  On a simple level, someone who has suffered say physical abuse can go on a quest to protect children from a fictional abuser.  This can allow the player to have a fictional catharsis yield feelings of confronting their inner demons.  Depending on the level of comfort, characters and scenarios can be made to resemble more directly the troubles and situations they are working through.  

Thirdly, role playing games are a narrative experience, and we learn by the stories we create.  Characters, while not us, are created from us, and in telling their stories, we tell stories of the things we would like to do and the people we either want to be, or do not want to be.  That shared narrative experience is an aspect of community and stretches back to traditions as old as tribal shamanic storytelling.  Further, teaching people to craft stories that aid in personal growth while not sacrificing the enjoyment of it on the most basic level.  Additionally, I know from personal experience and in speaking to friends of mine who game and we have examined the types of characters we have played over the years and when in our lives we chose to play them.  We have examined how our storytelling has grown with us and within us.  This narrative within that is shared outside of ourselves is a staple of self-discovery. You have the added bonus of other players to help throw out variables and curves that help us adjust on the fly. This helps our ability to adapt outside of the game.  


I read that you're working on a therapeutic role-play games. What about this appeals to you? What do you hope to achieve by it? Who else is working on this?

There are many people doing work in the field with gaming and therapy.  The RPG Advocate, Hawke Robinson of, Sarah Lynn Bowman, who introduced Bodhana to the world of live action role playing and how they are working with the therapeutic and educational potential of that part of the hobby, and many others.  There is the Wheelhouse Workshop from Seattle who uses D & D for social skills groups.  Therapeutic gaming as a focus area is happening more than people realize.  It's just great that there is more attention and focus on it.  

We actually are working on a book designed for parents, youth group workers and players interested in using gaming for self-improvement.  The book will act as an introduction to the hobby while at the same time drawing attention to how the aspects of the hobby can be enhanced to yield personal gain. This book was born out of conversations with a lot of our friends who were gamers in their youth who are now parents and how they want to bring the hobby to their children.  

Areas we are going to cover specifically in the book take people from the choosing of systems to making your character, forming your party and designing sessions and campaigns.  We have a writing staff that includes parent gamers, therapists and some vignette pieces that showcase some of the applications of gaming around the globe.  For example, the Butterfly Project in Kampala, Uganda teaches kids to be social entrepreneurs through the use of Pathfinder.  Recently some of their more experienced players/GMs took trips to other villages to spread the word.

As far as making therapeutic games, part of the thought we had was that systems are fairly spread out and complete in their own right, so making a system would be reinventing the wheel.  So we thought it would be better to instead write a guide that people could use as a resource to help augment and better use whatever system they prefer.  Also, the current trends in gaming becoming more narrative with aspects like motivations, and more specifically the aspects of the FATE system, lend themselves directly to the core of behavior - why we do what we do.  After we learn why we do things, we can move to doing something different, or planning our actions to match our goals.  


There is also mention of therapeutic board games. What games have helped in your mission?

We also feel that board games are beneficial in more ways than fun.  Obviously learning math, reading are kind of par for the course and working through differences (ever argue rules with your friends?) is very natural to games.  But other skills and developmental milestones can be found through board gaming.  Cause and effect, consequences, taking risks, budgeting, managing resources, and creative thinking are all ancillary to most games offered in the market.  One of the other goals for Bodhana is the development of a therapeutic board game.  This came from our use of therapeutic gaming during the early parts of our careers where we learned that most therapeutic games were the games that therapists thought were great, but the kids didn't really want to play.  Mostly because they were kind of flat.  So we started toying with the idea of using modern game design to teach therapeutic concepts.  Our idea is a deck builder surrounding the theme of teenage superheroes who have to balance their super lives with their everyday lives.  We are making an analog for dealing with stress, using coping skills as superpowers, but keeping the flavor and excitement of a deck builder.  We are early in the process of playtesting, so a lot may change, but so far we have been very happy about the design and hope to have a playable version soon.  


This year's theme is WWYCD: What Would Your Character Do? I really love this as a role-player considering how many times I've tried it. Why this theme?

Going back to some of the concepts from earlier, WWYCD exemplifies how we can think in terms of choices and options in any situation.  So if you are in a difficult situation, use what you have been through with your character.  Will you respond like a brash warrior, a noble paladin, a streetwise runner, or a smart aleck hot-shot pilot?  The choice is always up to you, and every character that you create is an aspect of you.  So tap into that knowledge and explore your choices.  We feel that by living through the character you play you test out and practice the choices you have to make.   

Ariana Ramos is a curly-headed award-winning sass monster who wears glasses. She identifies as a Latina Feminist, owns two pit bulls, married to a public school teacher, and tries to be a good person. You can follow her on Twitter as @vesseltosea.