Hello, I’m Sonny-Rhoey a 23-year-old trans woman, doing my Master of Arts in Creative Writing. As part of my creative residency with the Centre of Arts and Wellbeing, I will be exploring how, through games and gaming, collaborative storytelling is able to take on new formats of narrative styles that are specifically designed to promote companionship, community and foster individual growth from and within its players. From now until May, I will be sharing critical reflections on how these narratives present themselves. After this introduction, future posts will have a specific focus on a particular form that games take: sports, video games, tabletop games, role-playing-games, and the negative sides to each. This first blog will serve as more of an introduction to me, my experiences with gaming and how it relates to my wellbeing.


For as long as I can recall, I have been obsessed with games. Board games, trading card games, regular card games (such as poker, and bridge), and even sports like rugby and fencing: all of them, by their very nature, are vehicles for emotive and powerful narratives that are fleeting, brief but nonetheless impactful. Prominent media scholar Henry Jenkins has explored the nature of participatory narrative (most notably in his book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, 2006), and the idea of audience as participants. Games, frequently, don’t just feature a single player, they feature multiple players and innumerable spectators; I played rugby for 9 years before I transitioned, and my team was infamous for losing every week, but there was always that one week where we would win and we would experience the rarity of victory with our parents who watched us every week, our coaches who dedicated so much time into us (in our team’s case, my dad) and each other as a brotherhood. In this way, narrative, as it manifests in games, is an ever-changing unpredictable element, that players (direct participants of the in-game narrative) and spectators (indirect participants who watch the players) influence and change at will as a combined audience. I’ve had many a game of Monopoly where I roll the exact total needed to land on Mayfair (role of victim), as the owner laughs manically (becoming a villain) and the other players gasp and gawk (as spectators). This role-play is what Jenkins means when he describes audience as participants.[1] Although Jenkins initially describes participatory culture from a more meta perspective, the same argumentation can be applied to games. The moments of catharsis created by heightened emotion is what creates kinship and bonds between people, as memories are formed from key moments like this.
The ephemeral nature of most games gives them a quality that is unique; unless captured on video, these narratives can never be relived – the stories, intellectual and emotive responses that spawn from them can never be replicated, and to me that is rather special; I’ve played Overwatch, a first-person-shooter (FPS) video game, for nearly 7 years now. Just before the pandemic in late 2019, my brother wanted to start playing the game so I tried to teach him a bit about it. I think him wanting to learn the game was a way of him trying to bridge our wide year gap as siblings, and to create less space between us; we didn’t really get on too well for a long time, sadly, mainly owing to our age gap of six years. During one online match in which I was playing, and he was watching, an enemy character flew off the edge of the map as if from a comic sketch. Both of us laughed a lot, and it has remained an in-joke between us to this day, appearing on our Christmas cards to one another every year since; this quite simply, would not have happened if my brother and I weren’t bonding together through a game.

Then you have a series like Persona, a collection of video games about tarot and Jungian psychology that are dedicated to exploring interpersonal relationships, death, the search for truth, and finding one’s own form of rebellion. In fact, this series of games has had an extremely profound effect on me personally; I played these games during 2020, a year that radicalised me greatly: beginning with Covid, a global pandemic which took over 2 million lives; followed by a global movement for police accountability in the wake of George Floyd’s murder; and the first sign of the UK government’s slow descent into fascistic legislation and rhetoric [2]. Throughout this one year, I saw with my own eyes the injustice, cruelty and despair that the world suffered, but was also shown the great power of human connection, love and togetherness, a dichotomy that the Persona series delves deep into with every entry. To me, they are the ultimate form of how games can benefit one’s wellbeing because, in no uncertain terms, they literally saved my life. This is something I plan to discuss more in the blog post about video games, as it impacted far deeper than I can describe here.

There is, however, one medium of game that exists that does allow a player to have almost uninhibited freedom in their storytelling: Role-playing-games (or RPGs as they are called), are games in which the player (or players) take on the role of an avatar. Often, video game RPGs choose to have this avatar have no voice of their own (see the Elder Scrolls or Fallout series’) as opposed to every other character being voiced, to grant a greater sense of immersion to the game, allowing the player to feel like this story and world is their own; at most, the player’s avatar will have some pre-written dialogue options that don’t allude to feeling any particular opinion, still allowing for the player to retain their autonomy. Below is an example from the game Skyrim in which the player is transported inside the mind of a long dead mad king, with the God of Madness himself talking to you.

In essence it creates an illusion of narrative importance that the player intentionally agrees to. The Persona series I discussed earlier is very indulgent in this: they give the player many dialogue choices that, fundamentally, don’t matter to the overall story, but exist solely to give the player some agency. This illusion that video game RPGs create for the player, creates a faux-participatory narrative which still achieves the same end goal of actual participatory narratives – making the player feel good about themselves, and to assist in their mental (or even physical wellbeing; an article from BBC Future describes Federica Pallavicini’s strive to find a way to help her father recover from brain surgery, and she recommended he play Call of Duty (a well-known FPS) which places the player in a simulated war, likening the flow state achieved when gaming to that of an athlete’s flow state when competing. The article even elaborates on the positive mental health impact of gaming describing playful adults as “motivated, creative, and spontaneous”[3].

However, this illusion does not exist for tabletop RPGs as their narratives are often created BY the players themselves. Tabletop RPGs, like Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) often have 2 categories of player: the Dungeon Master (DM), the ‘lead player’ who crafts the overarching narrative / campaign, the story world, cultures, and history; essentially all the things that create a story world. The other type of player is… the player. The people who create their characters specifically to inhabit the world the DM has created, with their own personal history, relationships, and motivations. Although the DM has created the world and narrative the players are inhabiting, to say that the players’ actions are inconsequential, would be grossly incorrect, after all they are the ones driving the story; without the players, a D&D world simply cannot exist. This symbiotic relationship between DM and player is exactly the type of relationship that fosters a community because the very existence of the narrative is built through the players. By now, as to how and why a narrative created and shared equally between players is beneficial to one’s wellbeing should begin to be apparent. Taking elements from ephemeral narrative like sport and material narrative like film, D&D (and games of the same genre) can create a partially unpredictable narrative which places all the focus on an intimate group of people, giving them all the agency and power they may have otherwise been denied in a real-life setting. The fantasy that a D&D group immerses themselves in is a unique to tabletop RPGs, as the narrative being indulged in is both partially controlled, in that the players are following the rules of Dungeons and Dragons, and uncontrolled in a way that makes said rules arbitrary and more akin to guidelines. If something is meaningful to a player/character and/or it’s fun then it’s often followed through because the story is richer for it.

So why do I bring this up? Because I adore games. I live and breath them: their culture, history, politics all of it is fascinating to me so naturally the stories and narratives that are birthed from them are all special and unique; a football fan’ first big stadium game for example. My younger brother, only in November at the age of 16 went to his first Tottenham match with my dad and mum; Dad had been trying to get tickets for my brother for years, as they were originally going to go in 2020… no surprises as to why that fell through. Having been in the living room when my brother and our dad watch football, I know how passionate they both get when Tottenham win and lose. I asked my brother how he felt when he went to see Tottenham live, and he said it was one of the best experiences he’s ever had, even though Tottenham lost in the end. His comment points out something interesting to me: winning was unimportant to him; he only wished to feel the raw electricity of participating in an undecided story with his team at their home ground.
This then of course begs the question: is wellbeing affected by when your team loses? Unequivocally, the answer is yes. According to research done by the University of Lancaster, rates of domestic violence increase by 40% when England lose or draw a World Cup match, and 26% when they win[4]. Harrowingly, this shows that people place a lot of their self-worth into the idea of a participatory narrative i.e. if England lose, then so do I. This even goes back to my Monopoly example prior, as the game is famous for causing arguments; in a 2021 survey of 2,000 US citizens, it was found that 44% of people have witnessed two or more players arguing, with 11% reporting witnessing a physical altercation [5]. This regrettably shows that games and gaming can be detrimental to someone’s (or someone else’s) wellbeing. Narrative, in whatever form it takes, elicits emotional reaction above logical ones, and, bluntly, not all emotions are good. This is frequently why gaming for the participants of a game (players, live audiences etc.) is heavily regulated and monitored, at least when done under some form of supervision. These same regulations, however, are rarely, if ever, extended to games played without supervision, or to home audiences. It is in these instances where gaming’s negative qualities can more easily manifest and I plan to explore this in future posts.As you can see, games are a surprisingly dense topic, especially concerning their narratives, their effects (positive and negative) on wellbeing and as pieces of art in their own right. As I said in the introduction, this first blog is just meant to be a taster for what I plan to cover in future blogs. With that said, the next one will be [I have not yet decided] so you can expect that from me towards the end of March. Thank you so much for reading, please post comments and ask questions via the blog and I will try and respond where I can.

Read Sonny-Rhoey Liverod-Griffin’s other posts in this series:

Writer in Residence | Sonny-Rhoey Liverod-Griffin | Gaming & Wellbeing: Video Games––Why Immersion and Escapism Are Crucial to Wellbeing


[1] Jenkins, Henry – Covergence Culture (2006), introduction pg 3: Not all participants are created
equal. Corporations—and even individuals within corporate media—
still exert greater power than any individual consumer or even the
aggregate of consumers
[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/police-crime-sentencing-and-courts-bill-2021-factsheets/police-crime-sentencing-and-courts-bill-2021-protest-powers-factsheet
[3] https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20220127-why-adults-should-embrace-their-playfulness
[4] https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/world-cup-domestic-abuse-england-win-lose-victims-christmas-b1042073.html#:~:text=Domestic%20abuse%20rates%20increase%20by%20around%2026%20percent,according%20to%20research%20by%20the%20University%20of%20Lancaster.
[5] https://studyfinds.org/game-night-monopoly-banned-causes-most-fights/

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