Interview with Hawke Robinson, Part I
I've known Hawke Robinson, Washington State registered Recreation Therapist (#RE60526204) for some time but haven't gotten a chance to interview him before.  Hawke is the founder of The RPG Research Project, the Eä Tolkien Society (an official Smial of the U.K. Tolkien Society), The Tech Talk with Hawke Show, The Synthetic Zen Show,  the Middle-earth Talk Show, the Spokane ASL Study Group, Spokane 2600, and other projects and communities. He is an undergraduate student at Eastern Washington University, working part time on an interdisciplinary degree in Recreation Therapy, Music Therapy, Neuroscience, & Research Psychology. That summary doesn't do him justice, so I'll let him introduce himself in his own words below. There's so much in this interview that I broke it down into three parts.

MT: Tell us a little about your gaming background and how you use it to as part of community outreach.

HR: I have been involved with role-playing games since 1979, starting with a cousin introducing me to D&D when I was 9. I slowly became more involved with neighborhood friends with AD&D 1st edition, and then was gaming regularly by the mid-80s, running 3 groups each weekend (each paid $1 per person per game to help pay for supplies, books, minis, etc.). Though I was only a younger teenager, most of the players were college age or older. I also learned to develop software for various computer platforms when I was 9, and had my first paid “gig” when I was 11/12 (wrote POS & Inventory software for a local video store) for a few hundred dollars. I also wrote a number of my own text-based and primitive graphics computer-based role-playing games (and “music”) around this time, similar to Zork, Wizardry, King's Quest, etc. that friends, family, and I would play. I was a student instructor, teaching about Role-Playing Gaming for the school Realms of Inquiry “A school for gifted & talented children” and an organizer of RPGA conventions around ~1986/1987. My first RPGA event had about 12 players, and my second event the following year had around 50 participants. I was 15-16 years old respectively).

Founder of the Tolkien Moot annual gaming & literary convention since 2005, Other Minds Magazine (Tolkien-based gaming and literary online zine), the Eä RPG and Númenor Project, The Spokane Roleplaying Gaming community, The Middle-earth Role-Playing Community since 1998, Dungeon Master for The Spartan Show's Adventurer's Guild, co-host and founder of the Middle-earth Talk Show with Michael Martinez, and nominated as organizer of the Inland Northwest Role-playing Gaming Meetup group for the greater Spokane, Washington, and Couer d'Alene Idaho areas. When I took over the Meetup group about a year ago, they had less than 300 members and membership growth was stagnant/declining, it is now about to hit 500 members and growing.

I usually run multiple weekly or semi-weekly RPG groups, without charge to participants, including both regular “diversionary” sessions for “regular” groups, as well as adaptive RPG for special needs individuals and groups. Also my annual Tolkien Moot gaming convention is free to participants. Nowadays I am mostly running groups, and one-on-one, non-adapted role-playing games. I design adapted role-playing games using recreation therapy methodologies, for various special-needs populations, all without charge to participants for about 10 years now. For years I have been doing this throughout the greater Spokane & Cheney, Eastern Washington areas, and trying to do so (intermittently) in other more distant locations.

During the past year or so I have been running games using: Basic D&D (1983 red box), A Song of Ice & Fire (Game of Thrones), The One Ring RPG, Babylon 5 RPG, Call of Cthulhu, Eä RPG, D&D 5th Edition, Twilight 2000, Thieves' World, Oriental Adventures AD&D 1st Edition, Original D&D (white books), Rolemaster/MERP, Firefly & Serenity RPGs, Paranoia, and others.

I have developed and/or implemented tabletop, live-action, interactive Choose Your Own Adventure, and computer-based role-playing game programs for various ages and groups including under-served and special needs populations from toddlers to elderly.

Since the 1980s, and to the present day, I continue to educate individuals and groups about the “truth” of role-playing games and gamers, debunking the many myths about RPGs.

I regularly volunteer in various ways, including recreation therapy, music therapy, archery instructor, activities coordinator, camp counselor, etc. This takes place at a variety of facilities and organizations helping various populations including toddlers, youth, adults, seniors, Boys Scouts, Campfire USA, Hippo-therapy (horses), music therapy, TBI, SCI, ASD, CP, Parkinson's, stroke, deaf & hard of hearing, various other rehabilitation groups, at-risk youth, and other special needs populations. In some cases I have been able to implement utilizing various forms of role-playing games to help participants achieve therapeutic and educational goals.

I have been running an annual convention dedicated to Tolkien gaming since 2005 named Tolkien Moot, this includes tabletop, live-action, and computer-based games.  Recently, in less than a year I have spoken at three conventions regarding the effects of participation in role-playing games, and their potential uses for education and therapy goals.

Presentation at Seattle Children's Hospital for the Washington State Therapeutic Recreation Association's 16th annual Conference on “The Therapeutic and Educational Uses of Role-Playing Games (RPG) as Intervention Modalities for Individuals and Groups from the Therapeutic Recreation Perspective”. The live version of my presentation was certified for Continuing Education Units (CEU's) by the American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA). 

Panels, Presentations, and Research Poster at the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon 73 / Sasquan):

I presented a somewhat informal audience-interactive discussion on role-playing games for therapy and education at Zombie Orpheus Entertainment's ZoeCon II. I was "Pirate #2" in their movie "Gamers 3: Hands of Fate", among other small roles. You can view the video, with subtitles here.

Earlier this spring I was interviewed by a member of VICE media, Elise Coker, the documentary group for HBO, she was asking for more information regarding Autism and LARP, for a documentary. Just last week I was interviewed by another member of VICE regarding the Danish school Østerskov Efterskole that teaches 10th & 11th grades completely using LARP, and he wanted additional information about the benefits of various forms of RPG for various groups, including ASD.

MT: What groups can most benefit from role-playing games?

HR: As I detail in more depth in response to your other questions, a wide range of populations can potentially benefit in a variety of ways. I have been actively working with, and designing program plans for, populations including but not limited to:

  • Autism Spectrum (ASD) / Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD)
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • At-risk youth
  • The Deaf and Hard of Hearing community
  • Cerebral Palsy (CP)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Many others.

Each population (and individual) can derive different benefits from the various formats and adaptations to meet their needs. I have a summary here of some ASD related programs.

For example, the ASD populations benefit significantly from working on the social skills, communication skills, working cooperatively, etc. The narrative “telling” aspects of tabletop RPG really seem to help those with facial recognition of mood/attitude issues, work on improving those skills. Also the “taking turns” of a well-structured game is helpful for many in this population.

The TBI participants can benefit from activation of “neuro-plasticity” related concepts, by engaging as much of the brain as possible in controlled and increasing stages, as they progress through their recovery process. For example a patient that is just coming out of coma, if meets various criteria of awareness and interaction, could potentially start as early as Ranchos Los Amigos Stage II using interactive Choose Your Own Adventure books, then progress to turn-based computer-based RPG (may need palmar or other adaptive equipment), then tabletop RPG, and LARP as the client progresses in their recovery. I have an entire presentation

on this topic here.

At risk youth, the Deaf community, and many other groups can benefit both from participation in “regular” non-adapted RPGs, as well as adapted RPGs to target specific group and individual needs.

MT: You have a GoFundMe for the RPG Trailer. What is it?

HR: A custom-built wheelchair friendly mobile office trailer, built on an RV “toy hauler” frame, to provide all forms of role-playing games to regular and special needs populations and under-served locations throughout North America. RPG formats include tabletop, live-action, interactive choose-your-own-adventure, and computer-based (including bio & neuro monitoring and/or feedback technologies). It will solve a lot of challenges I have encountered attempting to implement program plans for various special needs populations, and make it possible for me to do so across all of North America instead of limited geographically to just “little ol' Spokane”.

It is far less expensive to build the trailer to order, rather than try to get a standard trailer and adapt it. Most RV trailers have a lot of other accessories that I have no need for, and those extras they include greatly raise the costs.

The GoFundMe goal of $6,500 will cover the costs of the down payment and transportation costs of this portable office that is more than just wheelchair accessible, it is designed from the ground-up to be wheelchair-friendly for participants. Any additional funds beyond the base goal will be used to pay down the principle on the loan.

This trailer would completely replace the need for my home and office gaming rooms. After the down payment, the monthly cost of the trailer is less than my monthly office costs. I already have a vehicle designed to handle this size trailer. The trailer will be custom-built by a company in Mesa, Arizona that specializes in wheelchair accessible RV construction. Once they receive the down payment, it will take them 6 to 9 weeks to complete the build.

For those wanting a little more of a “techie” response, here are some of the specifications on the trailer:

  • Built-to-order bumper-pulled 20' RV “Toy Hauler” 7,000 to 9,000 lbs GVWR.
  • Enlarged ADA accessible bathroom door, shower, bathroom sink, and toilet.
  • Spring-assisted rear ramp door, that can also be raised to become an extended enclosed platform.
  • Lower Trailer Stance (makes ramp less steep and makes driving in canyons less scary).
  • Self-contained quiet generator.
  • Large capacity water and waste tanks (and heaters to keep liquids from freezing in cold areas).
  • Air Conditioning/ heating.
  • Comfortable elongated fold-away sofas (that can also flip over to become to beds), that seat 4 on each side of table (plus can seat one on each “head” of table) for a comfortable total of seating 10 (or 6 with wheelchairs).
  • Easily removable elongated table.
  • Complete kitchenette with sinks, stove, oven, microwave, cabinets, refrigerator.
  • Ceiling pull-down bed. The bed when in ceiling still provides at least 8' of clearance.
  • 7' to 10'+ ceilings (I'm 6'7”, so this is important that I'm not banging my head all the time).
  • Lots of shelves and cabinets for gaming materials storage.
  • There are many other features, but those are the key aspects.

The interview continues in Part II.

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