In 2021 Dr Gary Colman won £20,000 from the London Homelessness Awards for the Camden Health Improvement Project, helping people who are sleeping rough in Camden. Since then he has gone on to set up Game Therapy UK, a new charity using role playing games to help people who are homeless, or suffering from addictions or PTSD. We asked him to tell us more about it.
Role playing games have been hugely popular since the 1970s. The most widely known is Dungeons & Dragons, but there are many games, played by men and women of all ages.
A role-playing game is played cooperatively amongst a group of players and a referee. The players take on the role of characters on an adventure, and the referee is there to describe the world and the consequences of the players’ actions.
A role-playing game has a set of written rules about how imaginary world works but when you start playing the game, you don’t need to worry too much about the rules. You just need to describe what you want your character to do. So together you, your team mates, and the referee cooperate to create this world, where the players’ adventure, solve problems, overcome obstacles, and fight monsters.
Playing games, as well as being fun, promotes good mental health and reduces social isolation. Sometimes playing the game itself, in a thoughtful, psychologically informed way is enough to help. But at Games Therapy UK we want the games to be used as a tool by health professionals, such as psychologists, occupational therapists or recovery workers to help with a wide range of social or mental health problems. Our first projects are with people experiencing homelessness, recovery from addiction, and military veterans with PTSD.
In the UK 85% of those in touch with homelessness services, substance misuse services or the criminal justice system have experienced trauma as a child. This can impact upon their ability to socialise as adults. 60% of people experiencing homelessness also reported feelings of loneliness and isolation. This isolation can also make it harder for people experiencing homelessness to develop and maintain social skills.
In addition to the therapeutic effect of the game, the players in the game can also be offered, or directed to, traditional psychological therapies or addiction services.
We are now in the process of setting up a pilot project to test out our ideas and see what positive impact game therapy can have. There is a fundraiser on Monday 16th May at The Comedy Store, starring Al Murray, Shappi Khorsandi, Nick Helm, Laura Lexx (with more TV comedian tba).
And we’re also looking, where possible, to provide evidence to allow AQA qualifications in social and creative skills to help people along the pathway of education into employment. The projects are evidence-based, and we gather data for research and publication.