Cardstock and containment: exploring therapeutic affect in magic: the gathering for adults
Hauser, Holt James Sheridan
The field of mental health and gaming has grown with the surge of the digital gaming industry in the last thirty years. While research on video games in regard to mental health, especially their effects on children, concerns about pathological use, and potential applications health interventions, is becoming a known field of study, there are many more avenues for approaching games that have yet to be explored. There are three nexuses in which research into games and their relationship with mental health are underrepresented: 1. Qualitative, experience-focused research; 2. Research focusing on adult populations; and 3. Research on traditional games. Where these three nexuses meet, there is an absolute dearth of research. Given substantial previous work into the impact of games on human culture and society, and promising results from other populations and types of games, this thesis considers whether this might be a worthwhile subject area for future mental health research to expand on. With this epistemic gap in mind, this thesis uses an ethnographic approach grounded in social realism to provide a foundational inquiry into whether traditional games can be considered therapeutic for adults. The hope for this research is that its results may be applicable and usable by further academic work from a wide breadth of different disciplines and onto-epistemic approaches. Using the game Magic: The Gathering as a case study, this work analyses the digital artefacts and experiential accounts offered by players, the design elements that are worked into the game, as well as the personal experiences and insights of the author as a Magic player, therapist and researcher. By marrying observations and experiences from the ludic field of Magic: The Gathering with theories from counselling and psychotherapy, the author outlines a process by which we might determine whether an activity is therapeutic. By applying this definition to narratives and outcomes offered by players online, this research concludes that traditional games can be therapeutic for adults, and further inquiry is needed to fully understand what impacts and potential benefits traditional games could have on the field of mental health for adults. With this conclusion in mind, this thesis also offers an understanding of how one might theorize or conceptualize the ways a game can be therapeutic. This thesis maps out a potential path through which therapeutic affect evident in outcomes may develop in relation to game-play interactions, through a process of working with culturally established boundaries and expression both in-game and in the community that constitutes a process of contained reality-testing. This process is also explored alongside the complex relationship and entanglement of wider social discourses and contexts that Magic is a part of, such as assumptions made about games as a whole as well as issues of difference and diversity in gaming. In doing so, this research offers a model of how mental health research into games can be applied at an experiential level, as well as creating a reference point for the potential further application of counselling and psychotherapeutic theories in game.