Rolling With It: RPGs as Post-Injury Therapy

A couple of months ago, a close friend of ours dislocated both of her knees. A doctor and aspiring orthopedic surgeon, this accident has been, to say the least, a source of much frustration. If you’ve never suffered a similar injury before (even if just briefly) then I want you to imagine what it is like to lose your personal mobility and have your career ambitions forestalled.

At first, it seems alright: your friends pay you visits and your family puts in their support. But as the weeks go by, things become increasingly difficult. You don’t want your family to restructure their lives around your injury, and the sympathy of friends can become a constant reminder of your predicament. Trapped in a hospital room, no amount of visitations can submerge the feelings of helplessness which threaten to inundate you.

On a lark, we decided to introduce our friend to Dungeons & Dragons. An extremely competitive individual who wants to put ‘become an orthopedic surgeon’ on top of ‘passing the medical board exam’ on her list of accomplishments, she had resisted previous attempts to get her into the game. She indicated a fear of sucking at play and losing in a game that not even Vin Diesel can win. The first adventure was a simple one, filled with airships, zombies, robots and pirates – all the stuff that makes for wonderfully carefree gaming.

Once she got over the fact that D&D is not a game of competition, that D&D is not (entirely) about math, and that roleplaying does not require you to talk in funny accents while bartering over bolts of silk, she emerged to become the most passionate player of our group.She studies the rules with all the fervor of a med student on pre-exam crunch-time. She builds high concept characters like watersoul genasi beastmasters. She even maps islands and records all the little fiddly bits of the world that emerge each session.

Make no mistake, role-playing games are not the cure, but in the case of our friend, it’s a meaningful coping mechanism in the form of light-hearted recreation. Such stuff may seem frivolous, but you don’t need to be a doctor to know that attitude is half the recovery process and that quality recreation helps significantly in that regard. Role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons allow us to work together as a team, fighting monsters and overcoming challenges.

What our friend gets is a platform of interaction that we can share with her, one that transcends her present physical limitations. Seeing her eyes light up at a critical hit and the fierce demeanor she takes from taking action points and using elven accuracy is definitely rewarding. I think it says something about how, even in our late twenties, retreating together to a space of play is the best way to get through it. When a family’s energies are directed entirely towards bills, therapy and medication and things like leisure become a lower priority, games like Dungeons & Dragons are the best support mechanism that friends can give.

6 Responses to “Rolling With It: RPGs as Post-Injury Therapy”
  1. Dr. Janberry says:

    Thanks again for writing about this. It really means a lot, just as much as having you guys come over and playing let’s pretend with me even at a great inconvenience to all of you.

  2. Peej says:

    The real battle is in the mind. D&D frees us, at least for a while, of all limitations: physical, financial, emotional; and let’s us play these paragons of strength, power, and virtue. It’s a transcendental experience. I hope your friend gets well soon.

  3. I found D&D in college, and it soon became a great, healthy outlet for me to help manage my stress levels. An opportunity, however brief, to escape from difficult problems can make a huge difference to your morale when you return to real life to deal with those problems.

    Thanks for sharing this story. And best wishes for a speedy recovery, Dr Janberry.

  4. Velasco says:

    Man, I’ve almost cryed. Great writing.

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