258: Nerd Therapy with Michael Keady

November 10th, 2021 · 1 hr 16 mins

About this Episode

01:53 - Michael’s Superpower: Networking and Community Building

10:36 - Defining Mental Health

20:09 - Involving Gaming in Engaging in Talk Therapy

31:13 - “Age-Appropriate Horror”

38:45 - Social Media, Media, and Mental Health: Curate & Engage Responsibly

50:41 - The Geek Therapy Community

55:16 - Connect with Mike!

59:14 - Intergenerational & Epigenetic Trauma


John: Coyote & Crow Role Playing Game + Using Role Playing and Game Playing to treat mental health.

I’m Begging You To Play Another RPG (Facebook Group)

Mae: The pragmatic approach to seeing where people are and meeting them there.

Casey: Helping middle schoolers talk to friends in a structured way.

Mike: The hardest part about doing something is helping people know you’re doing it.

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Bristol Children’s Hospital: Oath of Accessibility: “Anyone can be a hero. Everyone deserves to go on an adventure.”

This episode was brought to you by @therubyrep of DevReps, LLC. To pledge your support and to join our awesome Slack community, visit patreon.com/greaterthancode

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JOHN: Welcome to Greater Than Code, Episode 258. I'm John Sawers and I'm here with Mae.

MAE: Hi, there! Also with us is Casey Watts.

CASEY: Hi, I'm Casey, and we're all here today with Mike, The Nerd Therapist.

Mike is a mental health counselor from Perth, Western Australia, and he does geeky therapy. He runs programs in which they use video games and tabletop games in therapy like Civ, Minecraft, Fortnite, and Dungeons and Dragons.

Mike also writes the Pop Culture Competence project, which is a resource for parents, teachers, and therapists and seeks to boost professionals’ awareness and understanding of the themes and applications of Nerd Culture.

Welcome, Mike.

MIKE: Hey, thanks for having me.

CASEY: All right. It's time for that question we prepared you for. We want to know, Mike to kick off the episode, what is your superpower and how did you acquire it?

MIKE: My superpower, I'd say I've been told by people whose opinions I trust is networking. In my last job, I was actually known to a few people before I even got there. And then in my previous job, when I worked in school counseling, I knew most of the applicants for new roles and I knew before the manager of our agency knew that they'd been picked up for jobs.

Yeah, I love community and I found this out after recovering from social anxiety, that I just love community and building networks and meeting people. And that's evolved very naturally into creating professional spaces and working in professional spaces and just getting to know and to meet people.

CASEY: That's awesome. How did you acquire this skill, networking and community building?

MIKE: When I see a need, I'm driven to fill it, which that may actually have been a better answer to begin with, but hey, we're committed to this answer.

So during my degree, we had an opportunity to do some training in a program called Mental Health First Aid. It's a really good piece of training, it's meant for like bystander civilian level people, but it's a professional grade training. It's really good. My university said, “You have to organize this. So just organize this on your own time, but we thought this might be cool to share with you.” So I contact the trainer and she goes, “Listen, it's 2 grand to book the weekend, but if you can get group of 20 people together, it's a 100 per person.” So I'm like, “Yeah, okay.” So I got 20 people together and we did that and then I sat there at the end of the second day of training. I'm like, “We could do this again.”

About three months later, we did some more mental health training. We did some severe critical mental health training. A couple months later, we did it again with a special victims’ ward of our local hospital and then we did probably about four training courses that year. We actually were all in our second, or third year of our degrees, but we were as qualified as graduates to actually deliver programs. It's kind of, I discovered that it is able to get out there and get people together to accomplish something.

MAE: I love that Mike, I find also sometimes I want to stay in community, but I'm so oriented to goals and outcomes [chuckles] that I try to do it around projects. So I'm a much more reliable buddy on keeping in touch if we're working on something together. I'm curious, it sounds similar to what you said, but maybe different. I don't know if it resonates with you.

MIKE: No, I hear you. If I'm in proximity to someone, or we're working on something, I find a way easier to keep in touch. Especially when we're with workmates, or studying, or something, I do find it better if there's kind of not a reason to give someone a message, but I find it easy to stay engaged if we're working towards something. That community of professionals that I'd actually built up, the long-term goal was to become a volunteering agency. But unfortunately, just being university students, what we had planned was a little bit it out of our scope and no one would insure us.


R: The bureaucracy bites.

MIKE: It does. It was also my call because the original plan was to put mental health workers. So we've got a part of our city is just devoted to nightclub and the overall plan was to put mental health crisis workers in the nightclub district so that some drunk girl gets kicked out of a club, one of our team can make sure she gets into a taxi safely, or just someone's having a moment as a former nightclub bartender—nights don't always go well.

So just having some Mental Health First Aid trained people in the city that can deescalate and bring people down to a safe place, that was the goal. But unfortunately, that also involved putting a whole bunch of 18- to 22-year-olds in the nightclub district on weekends and it was a logistical nightmare to do that ethically and safely.

CASEY: I think I've heard of bartender training, or professionals. Oh, the specific story I heard of was training barbers, I think it was in New York City, to have this Mental Health First Aid triage, or connecting people to services that would be helpful for them. So this idea is really powerful, I think.

MIKE: It is really good because it's really helpful because there's two types of people that people tell everything, that's barbers, or hairdressers and bartenders and that was kind of the goal. We actually have a similar program here in Australia where we're teaching hairdressers and barbers, we're actually providing them domestic violence training so that they can recognize signs and know who to talk to next.

Because if there are people in society who are being told everything because it's very intimate physician, it would be a missed opportunity to do some good, but also to provide these people some training so they can handle it because as a bartender, I heard a lot of stuff that would be challenging to hear if I wasn't already an experienced mental health professional while I was doing it. So these programs, I love that they're recognizing this is a thing that happens and I'm also really hoping that they're teaching these people how to actually support themselves when they're hearing the rough stuff.

CASEY: Yeah. I wonder what percentage of bartenders and barbers get any kind of training? 1% would be better than I would've thought a year ago.

MIKE: Honestly, I wouldn't know. I haven't been something I've been engaged with. My city, Perth, we've got a big focus on mental health at the moment. There's a few charities working in the industry, trying to support people from an employee perspective, but also from an industry perspective because bartending doesn't lead to the healthiest lifestyles.

JOHN: I was thinking, it reminds me of there's an organization called MAPS that does research into psychedelics and they provide counselors for example, at Burning Man, or at other places where people are going to be doing a lot of these things, trained in dealing with people having problems while they're on psychedelics and so, they were able to talk people down and keep them centered and get them into a good place. I think it's so powerful to acknowledge that people are going to be doing these things.

MIKE: Yeah.

JOHN: People are going to be doing drugs, they're going to be going out in the evening, they're going to have a night out. But they're not always going to go well and having a support system right there is, I think so important versus waiting till it spirals so much more than it would otherwise. And then police are involved and every goes downhill from there.

MIKE: Oh, a 100%. It's all about the harm reduction. I actually didn't know they did that. That's a really great initiative.

MAE: Love it. I was going to bring up Burning Man. Mutual Aid and so many different community conveners are in touch with how much mental health is connected to all the other things. My dad owns a biker bar and I'm 5 feet tall and it has been interesting to bartend there in rural upstate New York, figure out how to navigate the after-midnight hours. [laughs]

MIKE: That would be interesting. I was once contacted about providing mental health and emotional support at a BDS&M night and that would've been a really interesting – unfortunately, I was busy because when you are bartending, you're already working weekends. But I liked that the organizers were looking for some support for these events and they ended up doing the Mental Health First Aid training as well.

JOHN: Nice.

MIKE: Which was really cool.

CASEY: That's awesome. Yeah. I'm thinking about all this in the sales funnel framework so like, how do you get people into the top of the funnel in the first place.


It's often the missing step.

MIKE: Yeah.

CASEY: You’ve got to get people exposed to the idea that they could, take the training, and then they have to be interested and they have to decide to do it and go to the barrier of scheduling and paying. And then same for applying it; it’s like a process. I love that we're talking about the top of the funnel because a lot of the conversations in the bottom of the funnel, like go to a therapist. I mean, as a series of funnels but.

MIKE: Yeah.

CASEY: Very top of the stop post one.

MIKE: And that's the big part of the conversation is a lot of people don't know these services exist. Like Mental Health First Aid, if you go to any given Mental Health First Aid training course, it will doubtless be mostly filled with people who work in mental health, or be people who work near mental health, like teachers when it's designed to be a bystander level course, it's designed for people. So if you were [chuckles] literally anyone who doesn't work in mental health, that's who the course is for and getting people out there, who can actually provide support, is so important for that ground level stuff so we can head off a crisis.

MAE: I wonder if it might be useful to talk about some definitions for a moment and people who don't identify as having any mental health challenges, or know anybody in their life, it can sound really big. So just to say, maybe from your perspective, how would you define mental health and my opener leading question caveat is that I don't understand how we all don't just have [laughs] orientations toward external support and there's a lot of stigma stuff. Just hoping to break down some of that for any listeners who have us experience with this whole framework could have some access points.

MIKE: The problem I experience with mental health is that people only ever use the phrase mental health to refer to times when something's not working correctly, or when something's wrong like a crisis. It very rarely comes up in terms of positive mental health and in terms of things going well; it's always disordered. That's a problem because it would just be nice to not have the phrase mental health be synonymous with not doing well. Mental…


Mental anguish.

CASEY: Yeah. Well said. That sounds like it would be the literal term for it: health of the mental [inaudible] – [overtalk]

MIKE: It does.

CASEY: But it is not.

MIKE: And semantically, it is. But when we're talking about mental health trauma, it's always talking about disorders, or experiences like trauma and it becomes really challenging because we see a lot of these big conversations and it's harder than it has to be because a lot of people self-invalidate. They'll go, “Oh, I'm just experiencing this. It's not as bad as what this person's going through, or this news article I've seen.”

I guess, the one thing I tell a lot of people is that your experiences are valid and what your feelings are. Just because you don't have it as bad as the next person doesn't mean you still don't have it bad. We have this idea called dialectics, which basically distills down to two seemingly contradictory concepts can peacefully coexist and that in this context with you, other people have it bad and I can also have it bad even though doesn't seem to be as bad as them.

MAE: Yeah. I really love moving away from comparative definitions [chuckles] into self-assessment stuff. Is that where you were going to go, John?

JOHN: Well, I was noting that I frequent the CPTSD subreddit for complex PTSD and the number of people in there who have had truly horrific experiences that are having that same argument with themselves. “Oh, what?”

MIKE: Yeah.

JOHN: “I wasn't actually murdered as a child so, other people had it –” and it's really heartbreaking to see someone having had such experience still invalidating them and still thinking they're not worthy of treatment and support.

MIKE: I attended a training when I worked in schools and some of the participants there were from a very prestigious private school in my state. They were teachers, they were year leaders, they were, I think the principal was there as well. It was close to a third of the class from this one high school and the thing they all said their students faced was everyone just assumes they don't have problems because they're rich, or everyone assumes their problems can't be solved with money. Now we can solve a lot of problems with money, don't get me wrong. But it really just brought to mind this comparison that these privileged kids must be experiencing. It would be hard for them to go because people are very invalidating of that because they have means and access. This is just a really interesting thing that I'd never really considered.

MAE: Are you familiar with the study about the amount of money at which point more money does not lead to more happiness? Like, there's basic needs and some comfort, and then after that, the more money really does not have a direct correlation to happiness, but below that, for sure.

MIKE: I did. I only read that a couple weeks ago. It was really cool. It was titled like “Money does buy happiness, but it suffers from diminishing returns,” and I really enjoyed reading that because it's true. A lot of problems, a lot of issues that a lot of people face is systemic and it's financial. There's a whole lot of stresses out there that wouldn't be stresses if we could just afford the way to solve it. But unfortunately, people don't always get that, or understand that. We get these trite little sayings like, “Money doesn't buy happiness.” It's like, yeah, but it puts food on the table and it buys medicine and it pays for therapy.

JOHN: It buys a lot of happiness up to a point. [laughs]

CASEY: It's a more nuanced phrase, less catchy maybe.

JOHN: Yeah.

CASEY: But I'd rather have that one.


MAE: My life and experience of life and other did change when I could afford my bills and I didn't have to check my bank account every day to figure it out. And the amount of hours that I would have to spend in order to make sure that my bills were taken care of like, to be poor is significantly more expensive.

MIKE: Mm hm. Oh, it is.

MAE: Which compounds mental health challenges as well.

MIKE: It's like that line from… Well, it’s not a line, it's like a whole page, but it's from a Discworld, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, and it goes into the Boots theory of poverty. A rich man can spend $50 on boots that will last him all year, but a poor man will have to spend $10 a month on boots that will only last him the month, but he can't afford that $50. All he can afford is the $10 so it's more expensive to be in poverty because you have to buy poor quality items.

JOHN: Yeah. I'd always wish that some high-powered economist could actually crunch the numbers on what the curve is like, at what level of income does it stop being more expensive to be poor and then I assume that there's the opposite curve where the more money doesn't do any. But I know there's a curve there and it would be super curious to know what that looks like.

MIKE: That would be really interesting to read. I'm not a big money person. I don't like those conversations. I really struggle with business and finance sort of stuff. But I would read that article in a heartbeat to figure out where is the line.

CASEY: I want to hear the original one adjusted for inflation, too. The original study saying money doesn't buy happiness is probably old at this point. I think the dollar has doubled in, or halved in value since 1990 to today. Did you all know that? I look it up once in a while. I try to see the sodas I bought as a kid, how much are they inflated to today and it is $2, it used to be $1 for a soda. So, for all these studies, double it at this point, if you're not sure.

MAE: A comment on the money thoughts. There's this book, that's now a couple years old, circulating called Decolonizing Wealth. It's mostly focused on fundraising and the development, discipline and philanthropy and how all of that happens behind the scenes. But it's written by a man who is indigenous and has some really interesting takes on money and how and when and why it flows. I think he might appreciate that one, too, Mike.

MIKE: That would be an interesting read.

JOHN: Yeah, I think I want to track that down.

CASEY: Let’s link it. By the way, we also have noted that we will link Mental Health First Aid, which I encourage all the listeners to take. I haven't taken myself, but everyone who's taken it raves about it afterwards. It's so helpful. It's practical.

MIKE: It is such a good piece of training. I can't speak for other ones, but the provider I had came from a youth not-for-profit who are based in Melbourne on the other side of Australia. They come over to Perth, my city, to deliver it and I picked up more practical information in a 2-day course than I probably did at six months at uni. And that's speaking more about the quality of the course than the quality of my education. My uni was great, but the course was so – it was a big 2 days because you were covering some huge topics.

I always experience what I call a course hangover because it's 2 days of thinking about some really heavy stuff. So I always leave with migraines, but it is such a powerful skillset and I wish it was more available to the general public.

JOHN: Yeah. Actually, my company's making a big push to get people that training, which I'm super excited about.

MAE: Awesome!

CASEY: Brilliant.

MIKE: There's lots of different variants, too. So there's Mental Health First Aid is the standard, there's Children's Mental Health First Aid and all the different variants focus more on the issues that affect that group. So there's Children's Mental Health First Aid. I haven't done that one. There's Teen Mental Health First Aid that focuses a lot on anxiety and eating disorders. There's a Youth Mental Health First Aid, which is like everyone from 5 to 25, and that focuses a lot on substances, eating, and anxiety again. There's Older People's Mental Health First Aid. Again, I haven't done it, but it sounds really good. And there's even one, and I really want to do this, it's an Indigenous Australians Mental Health First Aid. It teaches how to be culturally appropriate in terms of mental health delivery.

MAE: Love all of this.

JOHN: Yeah. That's amazing

MAE: In listening to your bio, Mike, I couldn't help but think of, and I wonder if you could share a little bit about if you're familiar with her work and if it has some overlap, but Jane McGonigal's TED Talk about mental health and gaming. It's a little older now.

MIKE: I feel like I've watched that TED Talk. Is that the How Gaming Can Make a Better World one?

MAE: Yeah.

MIKE: I have watched it.

MAE: She's got a couple, actually and she was one of the early proponents of involving gaming in engaging people in perhaps non-standard talk therapy ways and the gamification of positive healthy habits.

MIKE: Yeah.

MAE: Which sounds right up your alley. So regardless if you're familiar with her, [chuckles] maybe if you want to tell us a little bit more about some of your applications and approaches.

MIKE: Sure thing. I do remember watching that TED Talk when I was at uni and I thought it was amazing.

Oh, for the last little bit over a year, I've run Nerd Therapy. So I started off as a counselor working in schools like elementary schools and probably September last year. So we've got our own like – therapists have a million Facebook groups for location, for specialty, for their needs, just really, if you can think of a niche reason to have a group, there is one.

I'm in a few of them and those recurring questions about, “Hey, what's Fortnite, what's Minecraft, what's Pokémon,” and a lot of the answers they were being given were actually pretty disingenuous. Someone literally called Pokémon a children's dogfighting game, which isn’t wrong, but it was also completely inaccurate.


Pokémon consenting at the very least, it's a very healthy industry. And I've realized these people who are working with kids were getting very tarnished views of the media these kids are engaging in and it's going to be hard to engage in a positive way if you actually have told and you believe that children are engaging in recreational murder.

So I started writing up whole essays in Facebook comments. I was that person and it was getting tiring finding them again and reposting them because I didn't have the foresight to save them to a Word document for reuse later. So I made a website and I called it The Nerd Therapist and it was, “Hey, this is Fortnight. This is a simplified overview of what it is, here is why people like it.”

I really enjoyed writing that segment because it made me think that Fortnight's one of the most inclusive games ever made in terms of access because it'll run on almost any device and everyone can play together. So you've got like that one kid in the friend group who doesn't have the newest console, or has an Xbox and all his friends that have PlayStations, that kid doesn't get left out. I love that because that would happen with a lot of games.

I write why they're into it, what makes it fun, and finish it off with a segment like, “Okay, here's how you use it in therapy.” You can use it to build communication skills. You can use it to build teamwork abilities. You can just use it to think about mental health and defenses in your own strategies. There's a lot of symbolism and don't talk so much smack about the Battle Royale when everyone's favorite book for a few years was about a Royale book by the name of The Hunger Games.

I create this project and for a few months I ran it in secret because I'm like, “You know what? I don't feel confident sharing that I'm doing this with people because I'm going to get called unprofessional.” It's going to get nasty because I'm out there telling this industry, these people with a very uncharitable view towards video games that they can actually think about video games and anime superheroes in a productive way.

I started that this September 4th last year and I'm yet to receive a single negative comment on the internet.

MAE: What?!

MIKE: Yeah.


Even that's after two Reddit AMAs and that's…

MAE: Wow.

MIKE: A hell of an achievement for anyone who gets the internet to any degree. So after about two, or three months, I went public with them like, “Okay, this is me. This is what I do.” I took the shot; I shot my shot. And then I got asked by someone who contacted me for the project for some advice, they go, “Have you ever do you run D&D as therapy?” And I sat there for a second and I'm thinking, why the hell don't I run D&S as therapy?


CASEY: Yeah.

MIKE: Because I'd read the studies, I'd read the awesome articles about people doing it, and I'm like, “Why the hell haven't I done this yet?” So I probably spent like a month reading through research and figuring out how to do—it was my obsession—and then I introduced it to the program and I started running D&D as therapy. And then I completely rebranded because I had a counseling practice at the time, but the Facebook page was very neutral earth tones, very touchy feely, it was kind of nice counselor, but very generic counselor and I just went, “No, this isn't me. I'm cosplaying as a therapist here. This isn't really who I am.” Had a lot of mountain imagery and I'm like, “You know what? No.”

So I rebrand, I become The Nerd Therapist and I changed my project's name to Pop Culture Competence because I'm advocating for movies, media in general, to be more recognized as an element of cultural understanding because at the moment, it's not. There isn't someone you can go to. There's a consultant for every cultural group. Every cultural religious group, there'll be someone in this community who runs a project, or organization so you can learn more about them and how to engage them in therapy.

But until this project started, I was not aware of and I still haven't found just a free, simple resource you can go to when you need to know about nerds. When you work in primary schools, they may not be nerdy, but every kid's playing Fortnite. So if your view of that is not charitable, it doesn't help your relationship with them and the kids can tell. Every little facial expression that an adult pulls that when they're hearing about games and they don't want to hear about games, the kids pick up on it and it hurts a little.

CASEY: Yeah.

MIKE: I actually got sent by a colleague, or friend, they’re working in the United States, actually have a list of phrases that will shut down any conversation with a gamer and it was really cool to read because it's basically a list of nerdy microaggressions. It was really fascinating to read and I'll share some with you.

MAE: Yes, please. Yes.

MIKE: If you want to shut down a conversation with a gamer, “You play what now? Oh, I heard that game was violent.”

JOHN: Oh yeah.

CASEY: Oh, that's bad.

MIKE: Yeah. All that phrase is all you need to tell your kid that you don't actually care about what they're into is that you're just believing whatever's been on the news out it, or whatever other people have told you, and you're not willing to listen to them about why you are really just frigging thrilled that you figured out how to make something in Minecraft. It's digital Lego. You can't malign Minecraft. You can malign Notch who made Minecraft, but he's out of the picture now.

But I get a lot of calls from people whose kids have been invalidated and belittled by a therapist for playing games, or whose parenting skills have been brought into question by therapists for allowing them to play games. I've said this since I was about 8 years old, but I'm not going to take criticism on gaming from people who watch an equal amount of TV.

CASEY: Oh! Love it. [laughs]

MAE: I love thinking of you at 8 years old having that to say as well. [laughs]

MIKE: I was a mouthy 8-year-old


But it's that invalidation and it stops conversations from happening. So I started this project so I can at least boost understanding.

And probably the best article I wrote was the one that really pushed what I was willing to say was I did an article on Grand Theft Auto and that was a calculated risk because I'm like, “Okay, here's probably the most famous game for being kind of what people accuse it of being.” And I enjoyed GTA, but at the end of the day, it is what it is. So I wrote about it. I'm like, “Look, this is Grant Theft Auto. First, I have to start off by saying, ‘Look, I don't advocate for any of the in-game actions [chuckles] because of all the legal stuff. But if you want to start with it, this is what you can do.’”

I gave a brief rundown of the history and then I started talking about the plot of Grant Theft Auto V because GTA V has a plot. I also talked about the social commentary in it and the political commentary in it about how, especially in GTA V, crime isn't portrayed as particularly glamorous, or without risk. It's a game where a lot of people die simply for being involved with you.

I used it to talk about the socioeconomic determinants of crime and what leads people to do crimes and how it's way more than presented because GTA V actually gave us some storylines. You had Franklin who is just raised in the hood, raised in the cycle of gang violence, and trying to break out of it. And you had Michael who peaked in high school and never really managed and his only real thing that he could figure out was crime.

And then even again, finish off that article with here's how to use GTA's imagery to boost communication and teamwork, because you need to have a good cohesive team who communicates in order to pull off a heist.

That one was a tricky one to write because GTA is infamous and that article actually got some good reception. I got even got some messages from some people with really impressive job titles and they're like, “I've never thought about GTA in this way before,” and I'm like, “Yeah.”

CASEY: That's awesome. You were really taking the perspective of other people and including yourself, I guess, in this case. But what do people enjoy in this and how can it make sense to someone who doesn't get it? You're validating.

MIKE: Yeah, and that's what I try to do. That's what I try to say even for stuff I'm not a big fan of. Like, I'm not a huge fan of Five Nights at Freddy's, just not my kind of game, but I still did an article on it and I gave it it's validation. Oh, this is what it's about and also, while we're here, can we talk about how there's no kids horror.

Kids are seeking out horror content and they're having to go out of their age range because they don't make horror for kids and yeah, horror for kids would be incredibly tricky to pull off and it would be a huge niche, but it's also better than being greeted by a group of 3rd graders who've just watched Stephen King's It because I wouldn't even sit down and watch that movie. I don't like seeing kids get hurt. I don’t know how we'd get it done. But I just feel like kids like to be scared, like to be startled, they like suspense, they seek out horror. So we get a lot of kids into stuff like Five Nights at Freddy's, or Slender Man despite it being not appropriate at all and I just wish there was more age-appropriate horror for younger viewers.

MAE: Ooh. I love what you just said. Age-appropriate horror, [chuckles] that I do think is an untapped market right there, [laughs] market need. I personally like have always moved away from horror. Even as a kid, there was some movie, I don't remember what it was, but it ended up not being a scary movie in the end. I think it was the one where there were the little roller animals that – [overtalk]

JOHN: Oh, Critters?

MAE: Yes!

JOHN: Critters, yeah.

MAE: Yes, John, thank you. We went to the movies as a family and we were going to see Critters and I was like, “Mm I can't do it. It's too scary.” I left and instead, I went into the Jackie Gleason movie where he's dying. [laughs] Like this super heavy drama, that's where I went as a kid. But you're helping me because I do have and the older I get, the stronger it becomes; some judginess and aversion toward violence, hatred, and horror. I don't totally support my niece's 5-hour day TikTok habit, so.


There are ways in which I don't want to be like, “Boy, that rock and roll is really messing with the kids today.”


But I also, I don’t know, there's pieces in there that I don't love like the portrayals of women from the Grant Theft Auto posters I've seen, or there's stuff that I don’t know is awesome even when there's other things that are skills-based that we all could use more of.

MIKE: No, I hear that and that's another thing I address in the topic of my Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto posts. I'm like, “Look, these aren't for kids. These are not for kids. They are explicitly not for kids,” but kind of that acceptance of kids are playing them and we've got to look at what we can do in that scope if we're not stopping access entirely. That can be really challenging because yeah, GTA, it aims to be problematic.


And I still enjoy parts of it for what it is in that not a lot of games will just let you drive around a city without being incredibly boring and that's what – like, I've talked with a lot of parents whose younger kids play GTA, but it's not for the violence. It's not for killing. It's just for being let loose on a city with a car because there's not a lot of games where you can just kind of drive around a city and if there are, there's usually some sort of caveat, like you’ve got, in Crazy Taxi, your missions are only going to last for 90 seconds, or something.

This is kind of that free-roaming freedom and that's one of the things I do bring up is like, look, these aren't age-appropriate. Here's what they're getting out of it. Maybe let's think about some alternatives and unfortunately, there's not always alternatives. I always come back to stuff like Five Nights at Freddy's and the horror genre, and they're seeking out these age-inappropriate things because there isn't much age appropriate for them. One of my favorite movies when I was 8 was Starship Troopers and I still love Starship Troopers, but there's nothing kind of really in that big gung-ho military satire sci-fi for my age group at the time.

JOHN: Yeah, and I can't say that I'm any sort of expert in this, but one way to approach say, your 12-year-old niece comes to you saying how much they love Grant Theft Auto and they've been playing it 5 hours a week and whatever may like your reaction is like, “Well, okay, I can see there's fun stuff, but there's also this stuff that makes me cringy and I'm really uncomfortable with.” I'm thinking that that can actually be a point of communication.

MIKE: Yeah.

JOHN: Like you can relate to them about what they're doing and what they're enjoying about it and then you can say, “Well, what did you think about that other thing? Like, was that something you thought was cool, or were you a little uncomfortable, or?” You can use that to discuss, like you were saying, Mike, about the social determinants of crime in the world that it exists and you could start conversations on that because they're portrayed in the game world.

MIKE: Yeah. They are great prompts. It's like, “Hey, you've seen this thing happen in the game. Is that something you'd like to talk about?” And if you've got adults that a kid can trust to have that conversation, you can actually start conversations rather than end them. So if you hear a kid say, “Oh, I'm really into” – we'll keep going with Grand Theft Auto. “I'm really into Grand Theft Auto.” It's like, cool and instead of dumping on GTL saying, “Oh, that's not appropriate. Let's do something else.” Then you can actually start a conversation, go, “Yeah, how did you feel about that scene where Michael's daughter is trying to get onto a reality show and she's being exploited by Lazlow?”

You can talk about some of these really big topics if that's where you want to go and that's kind of at the end of every article, I talk about themes and it's, “Here's where you could go if you want to have a conversation, here's some of the topics you could go into.” I do a lot of values-based work and that's where we can look at where we can go from here. It's like, how do you have a conversation with people about using Among Us for instance, or what conversations can you start?

CASEY: My therapist friends, Among Us was their go-to last year.

MIKE: Hmm.

CASEY: It was also the zeitgeist. The most popular thing. But to do during therapy with kids was Among Us, totally.

MIKE: Yeah. I didn't use Among Us in the work, but I still have it on my phone and we just again, covered it in articles like, “Here's the conversations you can have with it. Here's how you talk about. Here's a way to look at intrusive thoughts as being this little imposter trying to tell you, you are what you're not.”

One game I'm currently playing – and again, looking at gaming and decision-making, one game I’m currently playing is Civilization VI and we're looking at values in terms of like hey, what kind of civ are you going to be? Are you going to look more at military? Are you going to look more economics, trade, politics? Where's your decision-making going and then you can look at decision-making by the turn. It's like hey, this city's been at war with you for a little while, you've been on war with it for a couple of turns now, what are you thinking of doing and you can look at why, what logic, and what values are driving your decisions.

MAE: Yeah, totally. And just for the record, I’m not an advocate of all that much censorship, but just well, what I usually say is, “Listen, Niecy, you are in charge of your brain and the stuff that you put in there, it affects how you think about yourself and others and so, it's up to you. There are things that you're going to be curious about and going to want to know about, but just as long as you're having a more meta view,” [chuckles] which I don't say it that way, but I think it's food. It's mental food, all the things that we engage ourselves in, these topics among them, and we can be healthy consumers of information to go back to that word, health, or we can eat lots of candy, which I definitely do sometimes.

MIKE: And that's a 100% accurate especially in terms of, I'm actually looking at that similar thought process in social media right now because I see a lot of parts about how social media is damaging. But what I'm also suggesting to people so if you're having a bad experience on for media, you can curate your newsfeed and if you're seeing posts that are just designed to make you angry and there's content out there designed to elicit an emotional response from you, change what you're seeing.

During my degree, I subscribed to a whole bunch of science pages and it was really cool cause it was science posts and then it reached this point where they'd stopped being about science posts as much as they started being about abuses and human rights violations of children in American schools.

It reached this point where I was logging onto social media and just becoming incredibly frustrated and then typing out half an essay in a comment section and like, “Wait a second. What am I achieving here? I am just railing against someone in the USA who will never read this post.” There’s some school principal who's made a horrible decision and while it is important to stand up for what's right, you've also got to take the choice of when it is impacting your mental health and looking at when things are and aren't serving you.

It's the same in media and I really do think that's why the last few years has been such a push to wholesome memes is because our media consumption, especially during I guess, the last few years of the 2000s was very focused on being edgy. And then we see that in the series like Rick and Morty, or BoJack Horseman, they’re incredibly depressing and cynical and that's fine. If that's what you want to engage in, that's fine. But also be wary. I've watched BoJack Horseman at a time when I shouldn't and it sucked. It was just so depressing. It was too depressing and we've got to –

It's a 100% right that the fruit and nutrition analogy is perfect because there are cognitive houses out there and if all you're taking in is this specific media on these specific topics, it does affect your world view. That's again, where we've got to have conversations that are empathic and validating. It's not as if you should stop because this is wrong. It's like, well, friend, person, human being, please think about how you're engaging and engage responsibly and maybe if you're not vibing with it right now, just go play some Minecraft, or listen to something chill because we do need that balance of our media content.

MAE: You reminded me of BoJack Horseman. There's this one episode of where he's giving a eulogy for his mother. There's parts about it that are depressing, but the realism of challenges many, many people have with their relationships, with their parents, and orientations to their passing. I thought it was incredibly therapeutic [chuckles] and people who are very close to me, who have those challenges, I've recommended [chuckles] it so many times as one of the very best pieces of, I don't know, any collection movie, any medium, this best captured for me the complexity of some of those challenges.

So I don't know, but I get excited by naming complexity and challenge. [chuckles] Whereas, other people are really discouraged by that. Once there's more of a map, or a light in the room, or something, it all feels more navigable to me. So there's that

MIKE: When I'm sitting there watching a movie and the point of it clicks and I'm like, “Wow, this movie is about something.” When I watched Zootopia, it was during my degree and I'm sitting there watching Zootopia with my family and I'm like, “Wow, this movies about a lot of stuff.”

I had the same thing with Pixar. They could just do this. Inside Out, I left that – I think I watched Inside Out a month before I started my degree, before I started studying—I'd quit my last job and I was going to start working in mental health—and I was like, “Wow, this is amazing.” This just perfect. This is how depression works. This is a big conversation about grief is happening here as well. The complexity of the emotional experience in terms when everything turns from just these five emotions, these five core emotions, and sadness and happiness becomes bittersweet, and anger and joy joining together to form assertion and fun. It's really awesome to kind of have these aha moments as an adult and being like, “Oh, that's what this movie's about.”

I kind of realized when I was like 7, or 8 that the X-Men was about oppression and that's again, one of my favorite conversations to have with people who maybe are new to comics, or new to the X-Men. I can't wait for the MCU X-Men to start so I can have this conversation with even more people, because that's been such a cool thing to think about and I do love having those big conversations with people.

It's also why I can't watch Onward ever again. I don't know if you watched Onward last year. I feel like this movie doesn't get as much conversation as it deserves. It's absolutely brilliant, but it's also about a really specific experience of grief that just kicks my ass and I can't watch that movie without crying.

CASEY: Oh, that was the D&D trolls one. I did see that. Which one was that?

MIKE: Yeah, it was an urban fantasy. They were elves. They were blue and had pointy ears. I think they were elves. And they were on a quest to resurrect their dad. Pixar released it in June 2020 so still talking like height of the pandemic and they released it online. I think it was one of the first big online releases and yeah, I just watched that and it broke me in a way that a movie hadn't for a long time.

CASEY: But Mike, you're inspiring an idea in me and maybe you were already working on this—it sounds like it. A lot of people end up wanting to use the same approaches to deal with challenging experiences, for instance, talking about it and journaling and I see fewer people reach to reading things, or consuming media that's related to what they're doing. I think partly because it's hard to find an appropriate one that you would relate to. I hear you listing out a whole bunch of things that might relate to a circumstance someone is in. Have you thought about that problem space and how would you navigate trying to help get people to the right media that helps them?

MIKE: Well, I kind of vibe on what people are already interested in and I don't always give recommendations, but I will have chats about to see what people where people are and what they need and if there's kind of an experience they're seeking. It hasn't been a big one for me because a lot of the clients I see are already into a lot of what the stuff I've been to and I end up getting more recommendations from them than I have to give.


But I use them to, again, it's for conversations. It's like, “Have you watched this? Have you thought about this?” And the conversation kind of go, “Yeah, I've seen it and this is what I thought,” or “I haven't seen it and here's why.” And sometimes, I'll have a conversations like, “Have you watched this movie?” and people go, “No, I really don't want to because I know what it's about and I don't want to kind of go there yet.”

CASEY: Sure. Yeah, yeah.

MAE: Kind of riffing off of your thing, Casey and tying in some of Mike's work with equipping schools better with mental health tools that having a little, I don't know, glossary of here's a challenge and here's five different options like here's a poem and here's a movie and here's a video, or song. That'd be amazing.

I agree with you on Inside Out, my lap was so wet thinking just the tears were streaming out of my eyes thinking of all the young people who will now have language to be able to articulate [chuckles] what it is that they're feeling.

MIKE: Yeah, yeah. There’s actually really cool programs that use Inside Out in therapy. Because I left that movie theater thinking about how I'm going to use this in therapy later. I hadn't even started my degree. I had no theoretical backdrop. I was like, “Yeah, I'm going to use this.” And then a year later, I'm at a school – taking my son to school and I see the classroom is covered in Inside Out stuff and I'm sitting there like, “Oh my God, this is better than I ever imagined.”

I love having these conversations and I love playing clips and stuff. When I worked in the schools, if we had a school competition—and people would win and people didn't win—there'd always be someone who's really upset because they didn't win this thing. Whether it was a classroom recollection, or sports stuff, we'd always have conversations. I would go in and one of most fun things I'd ever do is I'd fire up YouTube and I'd play that clip from Star Trek: The Next Generation where Picard says, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That's just the way life is sometimes.”

I'd probably written that on every other board, every other whiteboard in a classroom, because it's such a powerful quote and it's such an awesome way of just looking at sometimes things don't turn out. We've got to deal with that and we've got to do the next thing and then the next thing would be playing the clip from The Dark Night as what do we do when we fall, Master Bruce? We stand up and playing that. It was Batman so it was a bit more approachable to the kids, but knowing these little bits from movies and stuff to really just tie in and begin a conversation.

MAE: You reminded me of the montage at the end of Captain Marvel, where despite all of the “powers” she acquired through the accident, her true strength came from her just consistently standing back up no matter and it's just this – she gets knocked over, she gets insulted, she loses something like it's just a lifetime of getting back up. I was pretty moved by that one, too. I had a wet lap [laughs] after that one also.

MIKE: And I love it when movies can lead to these inspiring conversations that this still worthy scene from Endgame when Thor goes back to Asgard. He's still able to call Mjolnir and he's still worthy and there's a whole conversation. I've written a whole article based on that scene alone and I've seen people with tattoos of Mjolnir with still worthy engraved into it.

It's just this really powerful and moving scene that again, it starts a conversation and I can see a lot of people out there who can resonate with that scene. Especially when we look at worthiness as also our own inner worthiness and how we feel about ourselves. But also, in the context of Thor’s own story is that it wasn't worthy in just in general, it was worthy in the eyes of Odin. So at this point in the story, Odin had been dead for a long time, but Thor, in that moment, got – after everything he'd been through, he was not only still worthy of the hammer, but he was also worthy in his father's eyes, which was a big part of his own journey through the movies.

MAE: Yo! So after hanging out with you for a little while, Mike, there are like 47 people that I want to connect with you.

MIKE: [laughs] Go for it.

MAE: And I'm curious about what sort of engagement is welcomed, where are your widest open doors, where are you headed next, and how we support the amazing perspectives and work and experience that you have?

MIKE: I mean, the hardest part is, is that I'm in Australia and I can't work with Americans. The US and Canada is explicitly outside of my remit. In the USA, you've got to be registered state by state so even if I was in the USA, I could only work in the states I'm registered in and that is a whole process for each state.

JOHN: Yeah.

MIKE: I've been told it's expensive. And then it's tricky when I do stuff like the Reddit AMAs, because I get messages like, “Hey, I'm in Florida and I want to see you.” I'm like, “Well, I can't.”

But thankfully, I've used my superpower of networking to join a group called The Geek Therapy Community where it's a whole bunch of geeky therapists, sharing, resources, sharing ideas, and training. I've just got a thread in there saying, “Hey, look, I get approached by Americans every now and again, please tell me what state you're in and if you're open,” and always try my best to link people in when they message me. Currently looking for someone in Louisiana, but that one's being tricky. Yeah, it’s a really good group. It's really supportive. It's really friendly, and it's just really open to having a conversation about hey, look, I'm not really into this, but a lot of my clients are really vibing on this content, what can you share with me right now?

So the big one at the moment the conversations have been around, well, Minecraft will never be out of the conversation [chuckles] but also Goblin Slayer the anime and My Hero Academia are consistent topics, which is really cool. I have to sit down and watch Goblin Slayer because I haven't yet. But at the moment, I'm running well, I've got a Facebook page where I share nerdy memes and stuff. So one of my favorite ones is thinking about Spoon theory as spell slots from D&D.


MAE: What. [laughs]

MIKE: Yeah. I don't know. It's not a meme, but it's just, I don't know what it is. It's a screencap from Tumblr and this person's therapist reconceptualized string theory into spell slot theory, but also talked about hyper focus as a free action and a cantrip. So it’s a bit more complex.

MAE: What! Okay, okay, okay I’m totally nerding out right now and I want to make sure that if you would be willing to say what spoon theory is and what a cantrip is, some of these things, yeah.


MIKE: Sure.

MAE: I love that we’re saying these words that I know!

JOHN: Hey! [laughs]


MIKE: And that's the point, that's what we're trying to accomplish here. We're trying to provide a common language. So for those uninitiated, spoon theory is a term used by people experiencing mental health and/or disability to describe their energy levels. You can look at any activity as you have a set amount of spoons—and this changes per day. Sometimes you've only got a 2-, or 3-spoon day and different tasks have a spoon cost. So doing the dishes could cost you 5 spoons. If you are only having a 10-spoon day, doing the dishes is going to take it out of you.

I actually saw a great TED Talk recently. It was about, I'm still explaining spoon theory, but also everyone knows what a burns, or no burns day is and it's a very similar concept. And then someone has adapted the sprint theory to the Dungeons and Dragons spell slots. So for the people who play D&D, spell casters in Dungeons and Dragons get a set amount of spells they can cast per day. So this really translates really well into, I've got a certain amount of things I can do in a day before I'm burned out and I need to take a rest.

And then you've got cantrips, which are minor spells, but you can use them at no cost. Sometimes there's things you can do if you're experiencing mental health, or you've got a disability that you can do that don't cost a spoon, it could be a hyper focus, or it could be a piece of self-care that just really does it for you, it's really nice, and it doesn't actually take an emotional toll to actually carry out this task.

JOHN: Yeah, that's fantastic.

MAE: Are there any other topics that you were hoping that we would touch on?

MIKE: So at the moment, what I'm providing is D&D therapy. I've got one group a week. I'm looking to expand that to two, or three groups a week. I'm looking at also branching out to different RPGs like, I'm really excited for the Avatar RPG. This should be coming out early next year. I've already got a quick start copy and that's looking like a whole lot of fun. I'm hoping to start a Star Wars RPG, or a Warhammer 40K RPG group because I was dead/not haunted, but heckled at a convention. Someone says, “I bet you can't turn 40K into a therapy RPG. It's too depressing,” and I did it and now I don't have a group to run it for.


But Warhammer 40K universe is a universe where your emotions become psychic energy, which can become demons and I really can't think of a better setting in which you go out and literally slay your demons.

MAE: Whoa, yes. I did not know about this – [overtalk]

CASEY: Wow, what a good framing.

MAE: And love that framing.

MIKE: That's the hope is to create a story. I've created a storyline where players are going to go out literally to slay their demons because we see in Warhammer 40K, there's actually demons that have arisen from specific experiences. There's a demon that was brought into existence when the first sentient life form killed another one. It's called the Echo of the First Murder and it's super depresso and it’s super gaff. But I love it because it gives you this idea that there is a demon out there that could be made up of what you've been through and you can go out there and banish it and seal it. You can go on this own adventure literally facing your demons.

CASEY: That sounds so powerful. I can't wait to hear how it goes when you get to do this on people.

MIKE: It'll be a fun one. See, that's kind of what I'm doing in the RPG world right now. I'm doing more gaming therapy so we're playing Civ, doing a lot of Minecraft because Minecraft is so easy to access. Minecraft, Roblox and Civ at the moment just to give for people who fidget. For neurodiverse people who like myself, you may have noticed on camera, I don't sit still. I do better as well if I've got something to do and so do some of the people I see. So we play Minecraft and we do things. We share an activity. It's the same kind of mindset that leads to just going out for a walk with someone and having a big talk. It's like, let's build a castle and go find some diamonds.

JOHN: Yeah. There's such a difference between two people facing each other. Even if you're in some therapeutic relationship, it's friendly, there is still that hint of confrontation. Like you were saying, you're both looking into screen. You're both going for a walk. Suddenly, you're both looking forward and it takes that level of pressure down. That's so useful.

MIKE: It really does. It's just a nice way of doing things, especially for kids and younger teens who, if they're being sat down and confronted with someone in the past, it's probably because they've been in trouble. So this way, it's just look, we can sit down, we can vibe, we can build something, and we can even use the game to power the conversation.

Minecraft is a great one because there's so many resources for it, but we can talk about filling needs here. What do we need? We can build little stations for mental health check-ins, which I've got on my page. Or we can even just ad lib, not ad libs, I do a lot of improv sort of stuff. We got attacked by zombies in one game because I never the play on peaceful and we got attacked by zombies. So we had to, very hastily, build some walls and we built a house that could withstand attack and punctuated that with a conversation, where do you go when you don't feel safe, or what can you do if you need to feel safe, and we talked about self-care, self-supporting, and self-soothing from that.

MIKE: Are you familiar with the book, My Grandmother's Hands, Resmaa Menakem’s work?

MIKE: No, I am not.

MAE: When you were talking about the Warhammer 40K and going out and slaying the demons that have arisen from certain experiences, Resmaa’s basically premise is that a lot of our current social justice challenges and racial challenges have to do with the fact that we have transferred experiences of trauma through physical by having children, like we physically inherit it. And the reason we haven't been able to solve a lot of these problems is that we are focusing on our thoughts about them. There's a whole transformation, a physical healing that if we can engage at that level, then we've got a shot at some of this intergenerational trauma stuff.

MIKE: Yeah. Intergeneration and epigenetic trauma is such a huge topic and it's something we are learning more about. It blew me away to first learn about it at uni, but it's also one of those topics that is, we were only really starting to see the effects and we're really only starting to get an understanding. In my knowledge. I could be wrong because it's not my area of specialty, but from what I am seeing, we've still got a whole lot to learn on this topic. It's going to be incredibly profound to just to start learning about the effects these things can have in the long-term.

JOHN: Yeah.

CASEY: Well, I want to define epigenetics for the audience. I studied this in undergrad. Epigenetics is like the genetics, like T, A, G, C codon pairs, but it's the part like how they wrap around spools in the body and then the spools might be tight, or loose. So different spools of DNA in your body are tighter, or looser, and that gets passed down generation to generation. And we can't measure it as well. It's harder to measure so we know a lot less about it than we do T, A, G, C DNA base pairs. Anyway, it's heritable. That's the main takeaway for here, but science nerd nugget.

MIKE:I think one of the big ones is that our experiences are things. As you said, they're heritable, we can pass stuff down and our genetics can change with us. I thought that was really, that was a huge read, especially when we talk about cycles and patterns of disadvantage.

JOHN: Yeah. There's not only the social machinery that's reinforcing the disadvantage, but then you've also got it coming directly into the biology as well.

MIKE: Mm. Thank you for the book. I'll have a look at that.

MAE: Yeah. I think you I'd really love it and if you do check it out, I totally want to talk to you about it. In fact, I'm finding it hard to not bring up a whole bunch more topics.


But we have been on a while and it might be time to transition to reflections. Even though I don't really want to right now!


CASEY: Yeah, me too. I've got notes of things I could bring up. We're not going to get to.


MIKE: I am always happy to come back.

CASEY: Oh, cool. Very good.

JOHN: Cool, man. I mean, I think that like you, Mae and Casey, I think we're all having lots of ideas swirling around in our heads and one of the ones that's popped up just as, as you were talking about specifically the work you were doing with RPGs, D&D, 40K, and all those. It just reminded me there's a Kickstart, it's just about out, an RPG called Coyote & Crow, which is set in alternate history of indigenous people in the United States. In an alternate history where colonization didn't happen.

MIKE: Hmm.

JOHN: Yeah. And they've built a whole structure around this and they're using all Native artists and writers and publicists, and then the whole thing. They're doing amazing stuff there.

But I think having context like that, again, allows you to – especially if you were working with someone who was indigenous, or with another disadvantage. Being able to use the structure of the game to talk about their experience of being indigenous and how that is one of the intersections that is affecting that person and there are just so many layers that you can go through with all this. It strikes me that there's such massive potential through all of it and it's actually interesting because for the longest – I've been in and out of therapy various times over the years, and I know that some therapists like to do roleplaying where you take on various people, or talk to certain people.

That idea had always somewhat terrified me perhaps, because the thing I need to work on is there. But now that I've been doing D&D for a couple of years, I have more experience with roleplaying in a less emotionally fraught context. So that gives me that little bit extra comfort with the idea of doing such a thing in a therapeutic context. And even more particular, if there was therapeutic context that was even spinning in all of the world of D&D, that seems like that would make me even more comfortable. So it's just really fascinating how bringing in all these extra concepts can cut through baggage and things for people to get to doing the work that is most can be good for them without just – and shortcutting so much of the fight you have to get there.

MIKE: It makes it easier to talk about something. Eevery conversation when I was youngest started with, “Oh, my friend. My friend is going through this.” It makes it easy to talk about something; it doesn't have to be about you. It does also lead to nuance. When you're an RPG therapist, you have to ask questions like, “Hey, is this just your character's tragic backstory [laughs], or are you going through something we need to talk about?” Asking that question has been an interesting one, because I do prefer that my players make as much of they can of themselves into their characters. But I also don't require it because they may not be ready yet, even to just admit something about their character could be huge for them.

But it is huge and I'm loving this. I'm a proponent and an advocate for social justice and I love seeing projects like this. I've been following it on, I can't remember what page I've been seeing that post on. I think it's called I'm Begging Play You to Play Another RPG is where that's being posted. I'm really into it and I've been really tempted to get some sort of qualification in teaching so I can lean more into an education perspective with these because there's an awesome opportunities for social and emotional education.

In my own campaigns, I use a Homebrew World called Advantasia and it's actually based on the – well, it's based on where I live in the world. It's not quite Australia. It's a typical, not European fantasy world, but continentally, it's similar to Australia. It's in the Southern hemisphere and stuff. But the weather cycles, the calendar years in Advantasia is the same one uses the indigenous people of the land where I'm living.

They don't have the four-season model. They actually have a season model that actually fits where I live. They've got a six-season model. So there's two months for every season and it just fits way better than the autumn summer, winter, spring seasons we have here. We've got Birak, which is December and January. It's just hot and it's dry. And then Bunuru is February and March and it's still hot, but it's also like a humid kind of heat. And then in April and May, we've got Djeran, which it's starting to get cooler. And then June and July is Makuru where it's cold and wet and there's stormy. And then August and September is Djilba and it's getting warmer, but it's still quite hot. It's still quite wet and windy. And then October and November, where we are now is Kambarang and it's longer, it's more dry periods, and we're kind of starting into the summer.

It's just a way more nuanced look at the world and I include this in my settings, so that not only can players learn about mental health, but they're also learning about part of their world, where they live, and how we can actually ways we can look at the world in a better way.

MAE: I love that; ways we can look at the world in a better way. Look at the world and ourselves [laughs] in a better way.

I think the thing that struck me the most out of this conversation, if I have to pick one thing, or one theme, it'd be, I really appreciate the way in which the pragmatic approach that you're taking of this is where people are, let's just hang out there. [chuckles]

MIKE: Yeah.

MAE: And regardless of what all the other philosophy, politics, opinions, blah, blah. It's like, well, how about we just hang with the people? So I really appreciate being reminded to continuously work on starting from there and connecting from there.

MIKE: Well, we have a saying --- well, as a saying it's a bit of a maximum therapy. It's called meet people where they are and that's often about not invalidating people because of the way they're seeing the world, or not belittling people because someone else might have it worse than them. It's just about understanding this person and how they see the world and just being with them where they are.

To me, what I'm doing is just taking that to its rational next step is especially during the past, let’s just say the past 18 months, has really highlighted a need for online services. A lot of therapists play Flash games like there’s browser-based UNO, or Battleship, or something and I'm just going, “Well, we could do that. We could also play Minecraft.”


This is meeting people where they're.

MAE: How about you, Casey? Do you have something that struck you, or that you're going home with?

CASEY: Yeah. I keep thinking about, I didn't want to talk about myself so much on this call, but I've been working on a board game for doing mental health skills for middle schoolers. But I was very happy to talk about the D&D themes today instead of that. But I keep thinking about how my approach is to help the middle schoolers talk to their friends in a structured way where the structure helps them talk about things they wouldn't normally be able to, or think to, or they wouldn't be prompted to.

I've play tested it a lot. It's really successful. People love playing it, but they don't always know they'd love to play it because it's not something they're going for already. I wish I could talk to my friends over a board game. So I don't know about the marketing side of this thing. It might be more helpful as a tool for therapists to bring out with a group of middle schoolers who want to talk to each other.

But anyway, my takeaway is also meet them where they are. That sounds so powerful when you just get on Among Us, or Minecraft with them where they're at, the barrier is solo and then they still get that engagement like they're fidgeting, or whatever that they need to do to get comfortable. That’s really powerful.

MIKE: I would love to see this board game. I think schools need more tools and that's kind of, I was working in schools and in my private practice when I developed my RPG therapy program. But it's also the kind of stuff that would be really helpful for schools and I would love to see that is anything which we can use to empower connection with people is incredibly – well, it's incredibly vital, but it's also very beautiful.

CASEY: All right, Mike, how about you? Do you have any takeaways, any insight you got today on the call with us that you're going to take with you?

MAE: It can be something you said, too. Doesn't have to be – [overtalk]

MIKE: [laughs] I've done a lot of talking today. Again, I think my reflection is actually from what you've just mentioned is that you could have something really special and this does sound something that's also really special, this board game you've designed. But the hardest part about doing something is helping people know you're doing it.

There's a bit of a negative connotation to networking and especially here in Australia, we're not too big on talking about ourselves in a positive way. We have cultural values against that, but I feel like there's a really important need for people, who are doing good work, to be able to talk about it in a positive way. Because I guarantee you, there's a whole lot of really awesome stuff being done out there, but people aren't talking about it because they fear being accused of being like self-aggrandizing, or looking for attention when at the end of the day, if we can build awareness that there's other ways to do things, or there's new ways of doing things, we can hopefully inspire and empower.

CASEY: I love that it comes back to networking, which is your superpower as we said at the very beginning.

MIKE: I was really tempted to not list that [chuckles] as my superpower, but I am continually told that it is. It's one of those tricky ones. We have a thing here in Australia called tall puppy syndrome. It's a person who is conspicuously successful and whose success frequently attracts envious hostility and it's just, what is it? The nail that stands out gets the hammer. It's just kind of this cultural value of just not being self-aggrandizing. There's also finding that happy medium where you are happy to talk about yourself and what you're doing in a way that gets it out there.

CASEY: Yeah.

MIKE: Because I reckon that's a whole lot of really cool stuff out there that isn't being talked about because people are a little bit shy, or just might not want to be seen as talking themselves up too much.

CASEY: And then getting over that hump of being shy, then you have to get over the other hub of finding the right people to talk to and that's the marketing and sales aspect, that's my head's been. I started my own business this year and I don't know much about marketing and sales.

MIKE: Congrats!

CASEY: Thank you. Well, I do now, but 12 months ago, I did so much less than I do now. [chuckles]

MIKE: I understand that. I went full-time in my practice 6 weeks ago. Until recently, I was working…

MAE: Congratulations!

CASEY: Yeah.

MIKE: Thank you. Until recently. I was just working in schools and then I went to a youth not-for-profit, and then 6 weeks ago, I just had this opportunity where I was getting emails daily. Like, look, I see two people a week, that's all I've got room for. Two people in a D&D group a week and then I looked at all the people who sent me an email like, oh, okay, I could go full time if all these people say yes. So I gave notice and it's been a hell of an experience.

CASEY: That's awesome. Congrats. I love this trend.

MIKE: Thank you.

CASEY: People are starting more small businesses. Another therapist friend of mine, she just started her own small practice. It's booming. I like this trend for our economy, too.

MIKE: Hmm.

CASEY: It's a trend. I hope it sticks.

MIKE: Yeah, and it's really cool because it lets people do their thing.

CASEY: Yeah.

MIKE: It lets people live their passion and their authenticity, and it creates this environment where we have a lot more diversity and people can be who they are. If we can make these small, innovative businesses work, we're going to see a lot more diversity in our services we can deliver because we're not tied to an organization that says, “You will conform,” or an organization that says, “No, you won't have a social media presence. No, you won't talk to the press about things.”

CASEY: You just got a great image in my head. We want to be rainbow pinwheel, not gray cogs.


I want more of those.

MIKE: That's very true.

MAE: I'm ready for that plan. Casey.

CASEY: It's spinning.

MIKE: One thing I see a lot of is, there's a D&D resource coming out of the Bristol Children's Hospital and they created the Oath of Accessibility. It is a Paladin subclass as the whole point is to create accessibility tools for D&D and it's awesome. They do some really good stuff, but they have this tagline and I think it's really special. It is, “Anyone can be a hero and everyone deserves to go on an adventure.”

JOHN: Aww.

CASEY: I love it.

MAE: Yes.

CASEY: What a great quote. That's true.

JOHN: That’s a great place to end it.

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