Peter Jung is a Community Mental Health Agent Working in Seattle. Peter earned his M.Ed in Curriculum Design and has combined his experience, education and passion for TTRPGs to assist children in developing social skill through the art of playing Dungeons and Dragons. Peter founded Roll for Kindness
to help educate others on “running games for good- whether that be developing kindness, being inclusive, or encouraging healthy socialization.” I was privileged to speak with Peter about what he does and his experiences with TTRPG!
Photo Credit: Peter Jung M.Ed
Berry (she/her): Who are you and what do you do?
Peter (he/him): I’m Peter, and for my day job, I work as a mental health worker doing family stabilization and crisis deescalation for at-risk families in the Seattle area. On weekends I run D&D social skills groups for autistic teens. I have a BA in psychology, and a Master’s in education focused in curriculum design, and I’m working on designing a few games that focus on nonviolent gameplay and building targeted social skills. I’m really into using pedagogy for intentional game design and making nonviolent games that promote social skills and empathy.
Berry: How did you get involved with building social skills through TTRPGs?
Peter: I’ve been playing D&D for over 20 years, and I remember the benefit it had for me when I was growing up and feeling isolated. It gave me an escape where I could be a hero and have a narrative that contrasted with the bullying and isolation I faced at school, while also providing a rich social environment for me to make healthy, long lasting friendships. As an adult, I began running pick up game one-shots at my FLGS, and the owner, aware that I worked in the foster care system at the time, invited a bunch of his foster care parents to have their kids play in my games (unbeknownst to me.) Afterward, a number of them came up to me and told me how much it meant to see their foster youth opening up and really expressing themselves. At that point, I realized that there was a lot of potential in this field, although I wouldn’t really start seriously until a few years later when I met Dr Boccamazzo, who hired me to co-facilitate his D&D social skills groups through Aspiring Youth . I’ve since been running that same campaign for 6 years now, while also running a number of D&D social skills groups in the Tacoma and Seattle area, including a girls group that was a partnership with the UW autism center, and also a D&D campaign as a part of family therapy in my day job. I also do a lot of work with Minecraft as well, although that’s a very different beast. That being said though, I think that there are a lot of pathways to build social skills through D&D. While you should leave the therapeutic and social skills groups to people who are specialists in that field, there are many passive benefits to D&D. I think the applied RPG field is growing in really exciting ways, and we are going to need all the help we can get for 2021 as people start to come out of quarantine and have to get comfortable being in groups safely. I think (and hope) we’re going to see a lot of applied RPG groups cropping up focusing more on learning goals, fitness, or sort of weird themes: Like a hiking group that goes on a hike, plays D&D at the peak, then hikes back, or a foreign language learner group that has a lot of the NPCs speaking a foreign language. Everyone has some special skill they can utilize to turn a normal game of D&D into an applied RPG group, and I want to see more of that.
Berry: What does Session 0 mean to you?
Peter: It’s entirely context-based. The session 0 you would do with your best friends of 20 years is going to be focused more on the plot stuff, as you already know all your social dynamics. But the session 0 I would do for a social skills group might be more oriented towards building relationships between the characters and assessing the player interactions at the table. It’s important to have a baseline of appropriate behavior and safety tools, but that can become a lot more important when you’re entering a game with people you don’t know very well. I remember one experience in a pick-up game, where one of the players was really into 40K and decided his character was going to be a torture happy inquisitor, and he was getting really into describing all the violent stuff he wanted to do. There was this 8-year-old at the table who was playing his first character, and while the DM wasn’t doing anything to set some boundaries with this guy, I decided to create a buffer by creating this super goofy fitness-obsessed cleric that kept on shutting the torture guy down. So, always set some boundaries if you don’t know everyone at the table, as there will always be a chance that someone is going to want to get really dark with the game and drag it into a place where others don’t want it to go. But overall, it’s completely contextual, so you need to think about what the goals of session 0 are before hand and be intentional about that.
Berry: I’ve seen you Tweet a lot about lowering the entry barrier for TTRPGs. What does this look like to you?
Peter: There’s a lot of cultural gatekeeping that has happened over the years, and while it is getting better, there’s a lot of work to do. Outside that, though, I think a huge part of lowering the barrier is a shift in perspective from seeing the game as an end goal and more as an educational process, which is why I get so excited about all the teacher DMs out there. At this point, a lot of them are running D&D clubs rather than applied lesson stuff, but I think as this becomes more normalized we’re going to see a rise in situations where you see D&D being used to teach reading, math, or even physics and history. And that is really exciting because instead of penalizing a kid for struggling to read the rulebook, they see it as part of the learning experience and it is normalized.
I think the other part of it is a cost perspective. I know you can get the D&D books online for free pretty easily, but the fact that the D&D PHB/MM/DMG tends to be waitlisted in many libraries tells me that Hasbro can and should be doing more to get the PHB out to players who can’t afford it. D&D is a great social activity that passively builds a lot of positive social skills, and the fact that it is limited to kids that can afford it is wrong. So I firmly believe that Hasbro should be donating a bunch of PHBs to libraries.
Berry: Where did the inspiration for Speak with Monsters come from?
Peter: It’s actually my second game I’ve been working on. My first game, The Caravan Endures, was a blatant rip off of a system I created for my D&D social skills group where they were managing a castle and had to meet every evening to strategize on how to deal with this assassin who was killing off NPCs. It was great for building teamwork and collaboration, and I felt like I had to turn that into a stand alone RPG that used collaborative dice pools as a mechanic. After I finished that, I saw a random phrase, “Social workers in a dungeon” and that stuck with me. Then, I read this article article, that ends with the phrase: “A monster is a symptom that somewhere, somehow, the world has gotten fucked up.” That really stuck with me, and I became fixated on the idea of communicating with monsters.
Over time, it began turning into a game about understanding communication styles, love languages, and context, as well as thinking more broadly about intelligence, understanding The Other, and how you can love something and have meaningful communication without having to humanize it within your own perspective. A lot of it is inspired by my love of bees and my short time keeping a hive, as well as just observing my cats and how they express affection and love. There’s also a lot that comes from my work in crisis, just as far as understanding a family culture and home situation that may be very different than what I am used to, but having to rethink how I go in and my own perspectives on that front.
Berry: What can you tell us about Speak with Monsters?
Peter: At this point, I’ve got an alpha that is almost done. The part that’s turning out to be the most challenging is the monster manual, where I’ve got a bunch of different monsters I still need to polish. Interestingly enough, the ones I’m the least happy with are the most humanized monsters, ie: goblins, orcs, etc. So I’m thinking of just removing them, and focusing on the weird monsters like slimes, spiders, mushroom folk, etc. Each one has a different angle where you need to figure things out- for example, with the spiders, you need to decipher how their webs are incorporated into their communication, whereas with the slimes, it’s all about understanding their relationship with the geology of the caves they are in, as well as tactile communication as opposed to verbal communication. In every situation, the monsters desperately want to befriend you, but given how different their communication styles are, it’s a puzzle. The one exception with this is, and I really am excited about this, an undead colony, where they can understand you just fine. But if they like you too much, they straight up murder you so you can be with them forever. Bit of humor there.
There’s also a romance mechanic, as I was initially very much against the idea of the horny bard sexing up all the monsters in my game, I realized in a game where you’re sort of winging communication attempts, mixed signals could make for some humorous moments. And there’s a monster template to create your own monster settlement and society, so I imagine all the people that want a monster dating sim out of this game can make that happen.
And I’m actually very much okay with that. Games are all about having fun, and I don’t want to tell people how they can enjoy my game. Just so long as everyone is having a good time.
Berry: Primarily, you’ve written about your experience with teens and social skills. Are their other areas of Applied Gaming you would like to explore?
Peter: Four groups:
1. Men’s anger groups: I came out of a place in high school and college where I could have very easily ended up going alt right. Thankfully, I had a lot of friends who were diverse, inclusive people, and the dissonance between what I was burying myself in with online groups and my friends pulled me out, but I still saw a number of friends who had a lot of struggles with anger go down that path, and I think a lot of that is fueled by isolation and lack of meaningful community. I’d like to create a game that works with that group of adult men, and slowly turns them from wanting to play The Punisher and into a more kind character. I’ve actually done this a bit with side groups and addressing toxic masculinity through my games. I just want to do more (and maybe get paid to do it because capitalism and bills are a thing.) And a lot of this comes out of my frustration that for so many kids I work with, services stop at age 18, even though their mental health problems are still very much present, and so many of them struggle with controlling their anger and that perpetuates some really awful cycles. Being able to create groups that work on that would be awesome.
2. Queer teen groups: I came out fairly late in life, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to run a very queer-inclusive social skills group where a number of players have come out of the closet. I want to continue in this work and creating a safe space for queer kids to express themselves safely.
3. Geriatric groups: This would be so much fun, I think. I don’t have a lot of experience with geriatric populations, but it’s an area I’ve been wanting to get into if I ever have time.
4. Education groups: I want to see more teachers explicitly using D&D as a teaching tool, and personally, I want to improve my Spanish, so anyone running a Spanish teaching group, that would be awesome. Sadly I don’t have any time to game for myself, but I would love that in the off chance that I ever do have time.
Berry: What non profit/charity can we help you promote?
Peter: Take This . They raise mental health awareness in the gaming community, and are awesome people. They run the AFK (Away From Keyboard) rooms at conventions where, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can hang out in a quiet place that is staffed by mental health volunteers. I’ve volunteered there countless times and taken advantage of the AFK room during many a PAX. Peter’s Contact Information