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Note: this is a transcribed interview, edited for ease of reading
Tell us a bit about yourself; who are you?
Sure, my name is Alicia Figluiolo. I am the director of education and training and Geek Therapeutics. I’m a social worker by trade and a hard core geek.
That kind of happened overnight after suffering a life altering brain injury in 2017. I was very much a closet geek to my very specific geekdoms, and then I had a brain injury. After that, the whole world opened up, and TTRPGs, Dungeons & Dragons, specifically, is what I pay a lot of and attribute to saving my life and bringing me to who I am today because of the way that it helped heal my brain.
I luckily found my way into geek therapeutics, and I’m here helping teach and train and educate individuals on how to use geek culture in therapeutic and more mindful settings.
Oh, I guess I’m also supposed to say I’m a United States marine. I forget about that, but I guess that’s important when talking about Geek Therapeutics, so there’s that, too.
You’ve already said you do play tabletop RPGs, so, do you have a favorite tabletop RPG moment? Or maybe a couple of favorite moments?
So, I play in a couple live cast playthroughs. One is a podcast and the other one is a streamed show on twitch.
I play in multiple systems, so I don’t just play in D&D. I’m currently playing in the podcast show I’m cast on, and we’re playing Index Card RPG, which is a really great system that is broken down in a basic d20 system. Then, I’m also dueling DM sessions on our show with Kids on Bikes.
It’s hard to answer this question, because there have been over the last 4 years a lot of amazing moments in tabletop RPGs for me.
One that is probably the most impactful, currently, is an event in our show called Ghost Mountain on the Dueling Dungeon Master’s Podcast where we are playing an Index Card RPG. In the game we’re playing, there are 4 individuals who found themselves on this train. There are like demons, and it really feels like you might have found your way into purgatory, and there’s a lot of things that happen.
In episode 8, in the last 23 minutes, there is a very impactful experience between my character, Lathe, and another character called Dr. Ludvig Todd, and there’s this real emotional moment of dual sacrifice (I don’t want to give it away in case you listen) – there’s this moment where I, Alicia, am so in tune with what’s going on with Lathe that I actively break down in character. Those really impactful moments are some of my favorites.
You are no longer just Alicia playing this character that you wrote out on the sheet. You are Alicia the actor embodying this character that has been created, and you are truly bringing and breathing life into them. That is one of my most impactful and favorite moments of role playing in the last year.
My most favorite types of moments are those experiences that our listeners get to engage with and see just how impactful role playing can be and how intense it can be to act out in free improv. That’s really what this all is, it’s just improv, and having those beautiful Emmy award winning worthy moments…
It’s magical! Especially if my players kind of start breaking down a little bit, we always check that everyone is OK, but it also hits that this really meant something to them.
What is the inspiration behind Geek Therapeutics?
I think that if I were to answer this for myself, the inspiration behind Geek Therapeutics is the impact of removing the stigma of geek culture and highlighting it through positive therapeutic approaches.
That is my definition. I think Dr. Bean would say really what the mission statement is at Geek Therapeutics. It’s the idea to bring evidence-based theory and practices to clinicians and social workers and professionals, as well as parents and teachers. Really we talk about kids – all those professions have influence on children, and, if I were to answer it on his behalf, it would be using evidence-based practices and theories to help educate those individuals on how to bridge the gap between geek and clinician or geek and teacher or geek and parent is the foundation of why Geek Therapeutics was created.
Dr. Bean is known as the video game doctor. He is one of the leading researchers in video games and therapy and the positive psychological impact that video games can have on children and teens and adults, as well as the flipside of how that same genre can be negatively impactful.
I think that this question is a little bit more loaded when you just look at it initially. The inspiration, I truly believe, comes from that desire to see geeks validated. It’s for geeks and nerds and those of us who feel like we have been excluded or isolated, or sat down at the nerd table. The inspiration is bringing it from the dark to the light, and seeing that there is so much beauty in our geekdom that if we can teach people how to utilize it and harvest it in ways that are evidence-based, we can the conversation of what it means to be a geek and make those moments that we just talked about into healing, happy, impactful moments.
I say that because Dr. Bean, when he would see clients before Geek Therapeutics was open as an agency, used geek culture and video games. If he was wearing a t-shirt that had Batman or Pokemon or Zelda, kids were able to open up to him. It would build rapport and trust with children, teens, and young adults, as well as adults, so much quicker.
I think that is what catapulted him into knowing that more people need to be educated in a way that is evidence based, impactful, and emotionally connected to be able to bridge that gap between provider or adult or professional to client, student, or friend.
But, I’m speaking on behalf of 2 different people. So I feel that bringing things from the dark to the light and ending the stigma is the inspiration to teach others, and I think Dr.
Bean would have a far more extended answer based on the mission statement of geek therapeutics.
I know like looking more into it the past year, I’ve seen how it’s helped me so much just with creating friendships and having that initial connection. There’s this common point that. People will connect with me because I like Pokemon or Zelda or D&D.
Yes! I don’t think we’d be where we are today if it wasn’t for Netflix and the team behind Stranger Things. I think that they brought Dungeons and Dragons into the forefront of these kids. That was how they connected, and that is where The Upside Down came from in the beginning story. What’s going on in Hawkins really is formulated around these kids in their childhood game.
I think that catapulted Wizards of the Coast and TTRPGs, specifically Dungeons and Dragons, into the mainstream, and, without that, I don’t think that we would see D&D and other TTRPGs in such a positive light. I really think the team that brings us Stranger Things was truly the catalyst for the open popularity of tabletop role playing games.
While they’ve been highly popular for almost 50 years (I’m not discounting Gygax, and what’s gone on in the historical TTRPG timeline), it did not have the global fandom that was outwardly expressing their love for Dungeons and Dragons because they were watching a TV show.
Most of these people didn’t know what D&D was until watching Stranger Things… and then they wanted to find out what it was. They played it, and were like. Oh, this is fun! It gave adults agency to justify their need for play.
Can you tell us a bit about Geek Therapeutics?
Geek Therapeutics is the global standard right now in geek education. We are certified with the four major accrediting bodies for mental health professionals. With that, we are able to provide continuing education to therapists, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, social workers, and drug and alcohol counselors, as well as teachers and community service organization workers, through accredited education hours. That allows Geek Therapeutics to continue the open conversation on evidence based practices on how to use geek therapy, specifically for mental health professionals.
On the opposite end of that, we also provide education to non clinical individuals or non mental health workers who are wanting to become or who already are advocates for mental health or continuous play and experiences. It’s also for the forever game master, dungeon master, or storyteller in allowing individuals to know what it is like to provide gaming that is full of consent, founded on evidence-based practices for mindfulness and how to be a more mindful and empathetic storyteller or guide, and so on.
On the education side of Geek Therapeutics, we have this amazing three-fold program for clinicians or sub-clinicians, so individuals like social workers and military family therapists who didn’t get licensed but are doing subclinical work with populations, as well as everyday laymen. We get to provide an educational experience on what it is like to look through a geek cultural lens and see therapeutic value. Because, therapeutic doesn’t mean therapy, therapeutic means experientially moving through something and having calm through it. We get to show that through a geek lens.
Geek therapeutics has an education side and also a therapy side. We provide therapy in 34 states, and we have 50 certified geek therapists who see all their clients under the umbrella of geek therapy and geek therapeutics. They are certified through our program and they are extensively and continuously in education that is always changing. We both know that nothing is staying the same in this modern world that we’re in, and so, as it continuously moves on, we’re moving with it and providing education to make sure that we are staying up with standards. Then, those individuals are seeing clients from all over the country.
We’re lucky because Geek Therapeutics is part of PSYPACT which is a team of clinicians that came together and created this psychological interstate compact to allow for telehealth because, after the pandemic, we realized we didn’t need to have therapy in person. They created this program where states are signing on to allow interstate compacts for services to be provided, and we do that in 34 states.
That is freaking awesome, because it’s so hard for people who don’t want to seek out traditional therapy to have a therapist that says:
“I’m a geek therapist.”
“Okay…. well, what does that mean?”
“Well, these are my geek specialties: anime, manga, Marvel, Dungeons and Dragons, TTRPGs, whatever…. if you feel like you fit in any of these sub domains, let’s meet!”
We’ve given more autonomy to people seeking out therapy through this amazing pact that the psychologists across this country have been able to create.
The last part of Geek Therapeutics is that we have an education publishing side where we’re publishing books in a “Psychology of…” series. We’re creating books that are like The Psychology of Pokemon about what went through Tajiri’s mind when he created this game out of his love for bugs and wanting to coexist with nature… and seeing the psychological impact of a young boy who ultimately shaped generations. He shaped the way that people wait and engage with the environment because we now have Pokemon GO. There was so much interaction between him and creating consent and creating the idea of Pokemon Trainers.
We wrote a book on the whole psychology of it, as well as on the psychology of Zelda and Final Fantasy, and we have two new books coming out on Elden Ring, which is going to be amazing because that game is one of the most psychologically impactful games out there. There’s also one on My Hero Academia and seeing how these anime characters process things going on in their own young lives.
So, Geek Therapeutics is so many things under the umbrella of removing the stigma of geek culture.
Geek Therapeutics is an education agency that provides continuing education to mental health professionals and laymen who want to better understand and be more culturally competent of geek culture and help be part of the movement of removing the stigma from geek culture, because it is one of the biggest bullying factors.
When it comes to kids, at least our age, I mean I’m close to 40, and that was the biggest thing ever. If you were a “nerd” or a “geek” traumatized for it.
Yeah, I remember being in middle school, and I was a big Star Trek geek, so that came up a couple of times, and there were others, like fantasy books and what not, and you shouldn’t feel bad for liking something like that. I’m glad to hear that you’re breaking down a lot of the stigmas for it and being able to see the benefits of it.
What types of TTRPG classes and games does Geek Therapeutics use, and how do they help kids?
The type of class that we have that are focused on TTRPGs is our therapeutic game master program. That certification is a 9 week program that provides 36 hours of continuing education credit that teaches individuals how to utilize Dungeons and Dragons, specifically, because D&D is the easiest and most accessible product to break the barrier to entry with. You can get the Player’s Handbook online as well as dozens of free one shots and programs to help teach or use or play Dungeons and Dragons in therapeutic settings.
The program itself does not specifically talk about kids, it’s more generalized and about how you can utilize this across all age spans. However, we have clinicians and mental health workers as well as teachers and social workers in schools and everyday laymen using TTRPGs in school settings, community centers, and their own private businesses with children specifically. They use them to teach time management skills for anybody who may have ADD or ADHD or for individuals who are struggling with time management, to have more effective communication skills and sharing mitigating time and circumstance. They also help with math, because, with these dice, there is a lot of adding and subtraction. So, those skills are taught to children, and the individuals, who work with us and who’ve been certified, are doing that in their daily lives as their own private practices.
There isn’t a specific way that they’re helping children, but the program is broadly built and taught to teach individuals how to utilize the evidence based practices and implant it in whatever facet of work that they are in. So, if they are working with children, I can say, confidently, that those people who are working with children are bringing knowledge from the program and are utilizing D&D.
I do know that some individuals have used Polymorph – it is a very simple system by 9th Level Games that is built for children. Each kid gets one die, and they only have to worry about the one die and their character sheet. So, I know that Geek Therapeutics individuals who are certified are using D&D and TTRPGs to help children learn and mitigate life lessons through roleplay and in a safe, fantastical space that is collaborative and thought engaging.
What advice do you have for people who are new to tabletop RPGs or who are looking to introduce a new player (kids, teens, or adults)?
So I think the greatest advice I could give to somebody who is looking to step into TTRPGs is to just do it and to find the system that you believe is worth spending the time to learn.
If you are looking for an easy system that is less crunchy and, in terms of what that means, rules heavy, I would look to something like Index Card RPG or something like Polymorph, to be able to learn what it means to roll dice or have checks against skills. Then, grab a module and see if it is something that you feel comfortable with rolling and being the guide or storyteller or game master. Then, find a group of people who you want to play with.
If you aren’t looking to be a guide or storyteller, you can seek out play in a plethora of places for free, like Roll20. There are organizations that allow you to find players. D&D Beyond has a discord that you can go to and find people to play with.
I do say that with a lot of caution to also remember that you have boundaries as a human, and when you play games, you continue to have those boundaries. Find safe places that are using things like Session Zero and are asking for a player’s consent form. Test it out, and if you don’t like it, gracefully bow out.
For those who are looking to introduce a new player, I would say, give yourself grace. It’s not easy. It is a skill to be a player or a storyteller, and remember that it is all about having fun. It’s not about having the perfect dice roll or remembering every mechanic or rule. It’s about being gathered around at a table with snacks and these funny little creatures that are made out of plastic and your maps… and you’re telling a story with your friends or people who might become your friends.
Give yourself grace and be aware that you might make mistakes. You might ask for the wrong skills check, but that’s the fun about learning how to roleplay, and it’s all improv. It’s just a collaborative story that you and your friends are telling, but you’re acting it out, and it’s a lot of fun.
You have to be able to be willing to learn something new and open yourself up to the idea that it might get really silly. It might feel awkward and weird in the beginning, but within the first session you will love it. You’ll be wanting more. You’ll find yourself playing every weekend with friends and making new friends wherever you’re playing, whether it’s in front of your computer on zoom or in person at your local game shop.
If you want to play, give yourself grace, have fun, and remember that it’s a game, and you are meant to be having fun not to be so focused on the rules that you’re not engaging.
When you start playing in the TTRPG world, everything opens up to you a little differently, and you start to view just your own everyday life in a new and unique way.
On December 2nd, Geek Therapeutics will reveal the world’s first D&D 5e compatible setting and module that is written by two neurodiverse individuals with the intent of removing the anxiety and the stress of being the game master as well as writing through a therapeutic lens.
We’ve had our Alpha and Beta tests, and it was amazing. We had children as young as 7 playing in the setting and while those kids were taught how to play D&D, which is mechanically heavy, the story and the themes throughout the story are appropriate for a 7 year old to be playing.
We will be launching on Kickstarter in February 2023, but the first look will be at PAX Unplugged in December. At PAX Unplugged, we will be unveiling through a panel and in expo game demonstration for 4 days, the setting and the module, which is going to be huge!
For individuals who are new to TTRPGs, Geek Therapeutics will be providing the most broken down way to play D&D. If you have no understanding of Dungeons and Dragons, you can learn the setting and the module within 60 min. It’s going to be amazing for new players and for seasoned DMs who have been playing for years.
Thank you Alicia for taking the time to do this interview! I look forward to the game reveal at PAX and seeing everything that Geek Therapeutics does!
You can find Geek Therapeutics and all of their books here on the Geek Therapeutics website!
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