GdR Lab: the project that combines psychology and role-playing games

On the occasion of this year’s Treviglio in Gioco, we met a new interesting project related to RPGs. It is about RPG Lab, an initiative aimed at applying role play for therapeutic purposes.

At the head of the project there is Demetrio Martorano, psychologist and trainer, with whom we had the pleasure of speaking during the Bergamo event and who told us how GdR Lab was born, its developments and future projects (while in the background different groups were playing!).

Let’s discover GdR Lab, a project between piscology and role-playing games

Here is a short interview with Demetrio Martorano to understand RPG Lab a little more:

What is the GDR LAB project and how was it born?

GDR LAB is a project with therapeutic purposes that combines my main hobby and my job, that is role-playing and psychology. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at sixteen and, over time, I noticed the many facets of this tool and its possible applications in the therapeutic field. Studies at the Faculty of Psychological Sciences at the University of Bergamo encouraged me to pursue the idea; so, after the master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, I got to work: there is already scientific evidence of the advantages of role play, but mine is the first study carried out in Italy.

How does GDR LAB work?

Each session consists of two moments: the game itself and the briefing. In the first part, the children experiment with the interpretation of a role following the narration of the conductor and, through improvisation, project traits of their own personality onto their character. Subsequently, certain moments of the game are resumed to bring out the themes to be reworked in the group. The therapeutic side of GDR LAB lies in giving the possibility to each individual to experiment in a protected context, drawing inspiration from it for personal reflection.

How can GDR LAB help in the development period?

GDR LAB is based on the idea that the peer group is fundamental for the development of the adolescent’s personality. Sharing a fantastic adventure with strangers has the extraordinary “side effect” of creating unity. In the case of GDR LAB it is a protected group, under the supervision of a psychologist: an opportunity for relationship mediated by the contribution of the professional and by the presence of a reference adult, or the conductor of the game.

Where did GDR LAB start?

The testing ground for GDR LAB was at a day care center for adolescents with psychiatric disorders. I was afraid that going from the real to the fantastic could be dangerous for kids who, due to their pathology, had difficulty distinguishing them, but it didn’t happen. Indeed, as I had hoped, thanks to the adventures at the gaming table, a nerdy microcosm was created made up of shared languages, memories, stories and the boys began to socialize. This gave me the strength to continue to believe in it; it was then that I started thinking about a more defined format.

After this positive experience, have you thought about expanding the project?

Absolutely yes. Given the success achieved at the day center, I thought of re-adapting the project to address the problem of social withdrawal. I proposed it to a group of Hikikomori boys who were already following individual therapy paths with a specialized team. At the beginning there was no lack of difficulties, but, over time, the boys began to interact with each other, both at the game table and outside. Some have even brought Dungeons & Dragons into their non-therapy group of friends. Our biggest success was seeing them all participate together in a themed festival full of people: from the protected group of GDR LAB to society!

What’s in the future of GDR LAB?

The project is expanding and I am thinking of new collaborations. For the 2021-2022 season, my goal is to give an even more psychological imprint: to introduce a measurement of life skills, the emotional skills of children, before entering the laboratory in order to be able to compare them with what will emerge at the end of the year. I will mainly focus on changes and improvements in the areas of empathy, self-confidence and relationship skills.

What helps improve GDR LAB?

The first factor that can be developed through role play is self-esteem, a sore point in many young adults I meet; and, again with regard to personal affirmation, assertiveness (the balanced affirmation of one’s own needs) and empathy (the ability to tune in to the emotions of others). We then move on to more practical aspects, such as the perception of difficulties and one’s ability to generate solutions suitable for overcoming them, or problem solving. Finally, in an age when the demands of society reverberate in young people as a burden, one cannot fail to mention the management of stress and the control of the resulting frustration: role play helps to control aggressive impulses and to cope with optimism to the difficulties of life.

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