Wheelhouse Workshop turns Tabletop Gaming into Social Development

Stephen Nettnin

For so many of us, tabletop RPGs provide a much needed outlet to help us us to flex our creativity and share experiences with friends. Gaming is a therapeutic experience that we can all experience together. Realizing the positive impact gaming could have on young people struggling with social development, Adam Davis and Adam Johns of Seattle Washington started Wheelhouse Workshop to help young gamers work through issues and develop social skills. Adam and Adam are therapists who, over the last two years, have have created a place where young gamers can feel supported and make lasting friendships. Wheelhouse workshop is really having a positive impact on the community, and I spoke with Adam and Adam to learn more:


How did you two both meet and come up with the idea for Wheelhouse Workshop?


Adam Davis: Adam and I met while studying at Antioch University Seattle. We are both Master’s level therapists. I was doing some work as a dungeon master for an organization that was a drop-in group for some kids, letting them play DnD together. It was really a place where kids with social challenges were playing games together. Over time, I realized that with intentional facilitation of the Dungeons and Dragons experience, we could be really intentional with our set ups and give kids opportunities to confront their real-world challenges.


Adam Johns: Adam was working with these other groups, and invited me along. We would meet up beforehand and plan out our groups. That was really where we discovered that we could delve into specific problems that the players were experiencing and create challenges within the game to where they needed to be challenged. Adam’s background in Drama Therapy really helped to scaffold those challenges and create successes for the kids.


When exactly did Wheelhouse Workshop get started?


A.D.: We started Wheelhouse Workshop about 2 years ago. It took us a few months to get rolling with some groups. Now we run two groups per week in the Seattle area. We run one of our groups in Kirkland, and the other group is in Greenwood.



Wheelhouse Workshop cofounder Adam Johns

So even though you’ve been working with kids for a while, Wheelhouse Workshop is relatively new. Over the last two years, how many kids have you worked with so far?


A.D.: Over the years, probably close to 30 kids.


A.J.: Probably more than that [laughs].


A.D.: I’ve known some of our clients for, going-on, 5 years now. Our style of therapy is geared toward providing a consistent social experience, more-so than “fixing” a specific problem.


Getting the word out there is really important, how do kids and their parents find out about Wheelhouse Workshop?


A.D.: We starting to get referrals from therapists, who we have established relationships with as a company. We just got a brand new referral from a therapist the other day. We have all of the paperwork so now we can start using the therapist as a resource and create very intentional in-game situations to support this young person’s areas of growth.


We have gone to a few different events and fairs in the community where we talk to parents and educators, and show them how the gameplay works with some hands-on vignettes. We are going to be traveling to Harrisburg Pennsylvania to be presenting at the Save Against Fear conference. Our presentation is all about therapeutic gaming.


A.J.: We also recently gave a presentation at Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, talking about changing your gaming experience to “play”. That is, changing your game style to really be immersed in your character. We aren’t just rolling the dice and dealing with the gameplay mechanics, we are taking it to another level of immersion with our clients.