Tabletop role-playing games (TTTRPGs), such as Dungeons & Dragons, may help to promote social growth in people who are neurodivergent or live with a disability.
TTTRPGs are games played in an imaginary world using characters created by players. In these games, participants describe the actions of an in-game character through narration.
Although TTTRPGs are usually played in person, the COVID-19 pandemic facilitated the delivery of these games online. The shift online allowed to increase the number of players and overcome challenges such as geographical distance and social anxiety.
One of the best-known TTTRPGs is Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), designed in the mid-1970s. The game's popularity sparked after it was featured in the Netflix series Stranger Things.
In their scoping review, researchers at the University of South Australia examined the literature on how TTRPGs can impact social growth in people who are neurodivergent or live with a disability. Social growth refers to an improved individual's ability to interact with others and can be achieved by increasing positive social experiences.
The research suggests that playing TTRPGs can help players maintain friendships and strong relationships even outside of the role-playing time itself. A sense of belonging developed by playing these games can also potentially address the rising levels of suicide in autistic people.
Moreover, the games promote empathy and respect for perspectives different from those we experience daily.
As online gaming communities have the potential to bring together neurodivergent and neurotypical people together in collaborative and imaginative ways, they can be especially positive for adolescent and vulnerable service users, including those who might be reluctant to engage in therapies.
For example, in a 2022 study, adults with social anxiety and a history of trauma and depression said that playing D&D was a better experience than group therapy as there was no focus on talking about their feelings. Additionally, players reported having increased confidence, learning a little about managing confrontation, and experiencing being able to move past the fear of making mistakes. There was some evidence that these skills were transferable to the real world.
Neurodivergent people have a brain that works differently from the average or "neurotypical" person. An estimated 15-20% of the world's population experiences some form of neurodivergence, which is driven by both genetic and environmental factors. Common neurodivergent conditions include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and Down syndrome.
The research was conducted in collaboration with Sydney-based social gaming company Minds At Play which runs online TTRPG sessions that provide a safe environment for neurodiverse players.
Dwayne Fernandes, Ambassador of Amazement at Minds At Play, says: "Improved communication is a key outcome, as players learn to articulate their thoughts, negotiate with others, and collaborate effectively."
- Minds at Play. How can tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs) promote social growth in their players?
- News Wise. Can Dungeons and Dragons help players build social skills?
- National Cancer Institute. Neurodiversity.