Wheelhouse Workshop turns Tabletop Gaming into Social Development

Stephen Nettnin

So how does it work, once someone joins one of your groups?


A.D.: One of the main things that we do is provide a place where they can be themselves. Its kind of a paradox, because they get to be themselves while being a dwarf barbarian, or whatever. We provide kids who don’t have rewarding social experiences and opportunity to have inherently valuable experiences, and make them want to have more social experiences.


The parents we see are often tired and frustrated because there aren't a lot of resources available for socially challenged kids. There are after-school programs, but a lot of these programs aren’t geared toward thing that the kids are interested in. One of the things I often tell parents, is that what we provide is a lot like what after-school sports teams provide. Teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance are all skills they need while playing our scenarios.


Wheelhouse Workshop cofounder Adam Davis

I’m sure a lot of us could stand to use more teamwork and cooperation in the games that we play. Could you share an example of a success that you’ve had with a client?


A.D.: We had a young boy who was working on his self-advocacy. He barely whispered when he spoke, and had a hard time sticking up for himself. His body language was very off putting to his peers too. In our game, we let him choose the character he wanted to play. In our game, he chose to play a dwarf barbarian. We have a theory that people choose the character they need to have. Over the course of him playing his dwarf barbarian character, he began to show more confidence and taking risks. Over time, and with coaching, he became more immersed with the character, saying “I go do this thing”. Our culminating piece for this was that using gameplay we helped to address body language by having the players act out being at a dinner party and behaving like their characters would. Now the dwarf barbarian was sitting with legs spread out and his elbows on the table, banging on the table and demanding more of the fancy food.


A.J.: For this particular client, it was great for him to be able to be loud and feel like it was a fun and “socially positive” experience for him to have. It was really a great success for him to be a loud dwarf at this dinner party.


The gaming community tends to be pretty tight-knit, the community responded to the work you’re doing?


A.D.: We have had a very positive response from the community. We have all known for a while that gaming is inherently valuable. We all know that there is something captivating and kind of magical about this thing. It's been nice for the community to see what we do, as a way to validate what we already love. A lot of us who play tabletop games now started out as adolescents or teenagers


A.J.: We have had a positive response from the parents too. Even parents who have never played something like D&D are onboard with the idea, but people with a background in gaming immediately see how it would be beneficial. The response is definitely been positive.


That sounds like something a lot of people would be on board with. Do you have gamers from the community who want to come in and help out?


A.D.: We do. We get a lot of people who want to come in and volunteer and run groups. A lot of people want to be Dungeon Masters for us. We want to develop a training regimen to help our Dungeon Masters be as effective as possible. We’re actually going to be teaching a class at our grad school. Its a Master’s level drama therapy class about how to be a game master therapeutically. We want to develop a training program that can give people the skills and tools to do this on their own.


A.J.: As a business, we’re both big gamers ourselves and more than anything we would love to see more people doing this. We would love the opportunity to create some materials or write a training book, we are really big into encouraging other people to do this. We want to see more people out there doing similar work.


So whats next? What are your plans for expansion?


A.D.: What's so great about this, and what makes us so excited, is that we use this very specifically for social skill development, but we also recognize the value in this model. This model is very expansive and flexible. We have talked about how this could very easily be used to help people with depression, anxiety, ptsd, etc. Using proxy characters to work through issues and challenges that you are experiencing, while having a social experience and being supported by your peers, that concept could expand in so many other ways. Wheelhouse Workshop’s plan is to expand to really help start incorporating other people and giving them resources to get started.



Wheelhouse Workshop is making a real difference in the lives of young gamers, aiding their social development and helping them to discover a lifelong hobby. For more information on the incredible impact that Adam and Adam are having through Wheelhouse Workshop, can check out their website at: http://www.wheelhouse-workshop.com/