Pâris Conte is programs designer and creator of the GAMER department of genU in Victoria, Australia.
Pâris also is a big RPG and miniature games enthusiast, and one of the nicest persons I have met on the internet. He also appears to own a lot of baseball caps and Geek Jerseys.
1 Hello Pâris. Tell us more about the genU GAMER program. What is the goal? What is the strategy? Tell us all about it!
The GAMER department of genU in Victoria Australia is all about having a ton of fun, but its mission is profoundly serious. Using a variety of table-top and electronic gaming hobbies, the team at GAMER assists young people to develop a variety of interpersonal and coping skills.
GAMER’s goal is threefold.
GAMER’s goal is threefold.
First is to provide a safe, inclusive, and fun environment for young people that is conducive to their self-development of coping and interpersonal skills. These core skills are essential to communication, empathy, and processing information effectively and are the foundation everyone uses to achieve needs and goals.
Second is to assist young people find their place in the world. Not by conforming to a norm, but by celebrating the strengths they possess and communicating those strengths in beneficial ways so that others appreciate those strengths as well.
And third is to remove the stigma around mental health and increase the general understanding of the effect brains have on everything people do.
GAMER assists a wide range of youth and we typically support young people living with the challenges of psychosocial disability and/or a non-neurotypical brain. Sounds like we work with exceedingly rare people when it is said like that, huh? Well the truth is, I would bet my bottom dollar that you and your readers not only know people that fit this classification but may identify with one or both.
Psychosocial disability is when someone’s mental health becomes poor and affects affects their ability to cope with social interactions or interact with their community in a way that is beneficial. You may have heard of terms like anxiety, depression, phobia, or post-traumatic stress. These, and a whole bunch of other things, come under psychosocial disability.
A non-neurotypical diagnosis does not mean that the individual has a faulty or broken brain, far from it in fact.
Non-neurotypical brains do operate differently to what is considered a typical brain, but different does not mean incorrect. The differences mostly centre around the way the individual processes and comprehends social cues and sensory input. You have likely heard of terms like Autism (ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder), Asperger’s (Part of the spectrum of Autism) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). These all come under non-neurotypical, but do not let the term “disorder” lead you down the wrong path. Many incredible and talented people have non-neurotypical brains and their ranks are made up of accomplished academics, artists, engineers, tradespeople, teachers, and leaders from all walks of life.
Our strategy is amazingly simple. We leverage the power of play and positive peer guidance to provide organic and meaningful experiences of learning and exploration.
Everyone that attends GAMER programs have personal goals. These goals might be things relating to:
- the way they communicate, which is as much about listening, and reading body language and emotions as it is about presenting effectively.
- the way they process information which may include better or creative problem solving, understanding consequence of action, comprehending the motivation of others, and dealing with setbacks.
- understanding themselves. The individual may be struggling with self-identity and how they see their actual value. It may be about understanding themselves in relation to their community, trusting others, and teamwork. It could be about setting meaningful goals and discovering not only the direction their life should head but understanding the necessary milestones along the way. It could also be about developing coping skills and strategies to overcome mental illness and maintaining good mental health.
Games and activities are facilitated to provide organic and meaningful exploration and practice of the skills being focused on, as well as a high potential of positive guidance and reflection by peers.
2 Tell us about YOUR job within the program! What do you do, actually?
Believe it or not, my official job title is Head Dragon Wrangler. One of the advantages of building a department from scratch is you get to give yourself a title as well. 😉
I am the manager of all the GAMER sites in my region and responsible for supporting and training my staff, evolving current programs, and developing new ones. Just for the record, my staff’s job titles are either:
- Dragon Wrangler – Which means they are Role Playing Game facilitators, War Game Facilitators, Board and Card Game Facilitators, and/or Miniatures painting facilitators.
- Digital Vanguard – Which means they are Video Game Facilitators or Multimedia Facilitators (which includes The GAMER Podcast and GAMER TV programs).
3 How do you pick games for the program? Do you use them as they are, or adapt them somehow?
The games we pick are very much dependant on the interests of the participants and how they naturally provide the development opportunities we are looking for.
We do not modify games or use specially designed games for our programs. There are two main reasons for this.
One, GAMER is about celebrating and exploring what people already are invested in because that is part of who they are.
Two, we want people to join gaming groups outside of GAMER and it is much easier to do so if you have already played the games being used.
D&D 5e is extremely popular in our community and at our local gaming store, so we play 5e at GAMER. Board games and card games that are popular have a home at GAMER, but we also welcome people introducing new games into our space. It must be noted that Savage Worlds is gaining popularity in our region and, apart from me, there are two other Savage Worlds GMs at GAMER. 😊
While we do not modify games, we do lean towards games that easily and organically lend themselves to skill building. Where possible we will use co-op board games, or team-based games, over ones where the players are against each other. This does not mean we do not use player vs player games. They can be good for teaching regulation of emotions, empathy, etc. It really depends on the group.
An example of how we might use an off the shelf game to assist someone:
Imagine a person who likes card games but currently has few skills with team work and may communicate in a way that upsets others. In this instance they may gloat when they win and get upset when they lose. It is not that this person is a bad person, they just do not currently have the skills and understanding of their impact on others. I might suggest playing DC Deck Building Game by Cryptozoic Entertainment. The core game is competitive, easy to learn, and is full of the characters from the DC Comics universe.
We would play the base game first, promoting positive interaction skills using our program system. After the individual has demonstrated adaption to the way they present their wins and losses, we would introduce the Confrontations expansion. This adds a couple of rules so that players play as part of one team vs another. We keep the competitive element that the individual is attracted too, but we can now demonstrate the benefits and understanding of teamwork.
Once the individual becomes comfortable with the team game, we might introduce a Crisis-expansion. This expansion makes the base game a completely cooperative game as all the players must work together, even giving up some of the best cards to others because it is better for the team, so they can overcome all the crisis events and defeat the super villains.
Everything we do is based on gently pressing against individuals comfort zones; that sweet spot where beneficial adaption grows. For some adaption is faster than others, so the above example could take a couple of sessions, a couple of months or even a year before the goal is attained.
4 Tell us about the Rainbow Dungeons & Dragons group and, what is your view on inclusion in the hobby at large?
GAMER is all about inclusion, so It was important that we can provide a group where individuals that identify with the LGBTQIA+ community can not only feel safe, but feel safe to be themselves; even if they have not come out to friends and family.
I can only speak about the hobby in Australia, but I suspect it is not much different around the world. Before it was cool to play tabletop games, our hobby was inclusive. It did not matter who a person was, it only mattered that they loved the same games. I have been to gaming conventions right across this country and every game table I have seen is always a mix of cultures and identities sharing games, learning from each other, and creating good memories.
The focus on inclusion in our hobby is not new, but now that our games are more widely understood and accepted, we are making an impact through leading by example and not being scared to address the issues.
I realise that there are vocal voices in the community that claim pandering to minority groups is destroying the hobby. They are loud because of social media, but they are an exceedingly small part of the hobby and, most importantly, are incorrect.
Diversity has always been the strength of tabletop gaming. Everyone has always had a home in our hobby and because of this our community continues to grow stronger and our games are continually getting better.
5 Representation of minorities in RPGs has become a hot topic, recently. Has it ever come as an issue in your work?
It has never been an issue, but we talk about it all the time.
We have discussions about perpetuating stereotypes in pop culture, the misuse of words that cause harm to various communities when attached to a negative experience, and about misconceptions regarding various peoples and communities.
We want to promote discussion and reflection over almost any topic so that participants can learn, develop empathy, and consider/process points of view counter to their own. Our participants must feel safe to talk in our space, or we cannot assist or guide them effectively.
However, we must always ensure that GAMER is a safe space, so we do redirect discussions just before they can become inappropriate.
6 What are the most popular RPGs within the GAMER program?
Dungeons & Dragons 5e, Savage Worlds Adventure Edition and Fantasy Age.
7 And what are your Top Three RPGs?
Hmmm ... depends on what you mean by my top three? My current top 3 or the ones that have influenced me the most?
My current top 3:
- Savage Worlds Adventure Edition
- The Year Zero Engine
- The AGE system
The games that influenced me the most, top 3:
- Basic & Expert Dungeons and Dragons (Red & Blue Box)
- Star Wars D6
- Savage Worlds Deluxe
8 Has your job changed the way you play/run games? What lessons have you learned, as a GM or player, and want to share?
Definitely. There are many, but the most important I think is ... just roll with it.
When you have played for as long as I have, you can get preconceived ideas about how games should run. Fighters should fight, Clerics should be vessels of the gods, NPCs are just there for plot hooks, Dragons should horde treasure, Orcs and Dwarves are always enemies, etc., etc.
My participants never stop throwing me curve balls and I love them for it. Unburdened by preconceptions of how fantasy or sci-fi worlds should be interacted with, the actions they take, the people they seek out to talk to, and the solutions they come up with can come from left field. This has even left me speechless as my brain tried to factor on possibilities I never saw coming, and because I am smiling so hard. This does not mean that our games are just silly encounters, far from it. They are just not typical. Amazing, inspiring, and engaging stories have been shared because my players see value in things that many experienced RPG players can overlook.
I needed this.
Once I let go of my preconceptions and just played what was in front of me, the gaming moments became magical and it breathed new life into my love of the hobby.
9 Nerdy parents are introducing their children to RPGs everywhere, and kids-oriented RPGs are being released every year. Do you think games should be adapted for younger players?
Kids have been role playing since humankind first walked the earth. As a species we are pre-programed to watch those around us and learn by coupling mimicry with imagination. Kids do not require a written game for this, but RPGs can be helpful for parents looking for ways to join in and bolster their kids fun and learning.
Young kids do not always have the patience or attention span for rule governed games, even rule lite ones. You may be better off handing them cardboard boxes to fashion into forts, cars, dinosaurs, or spaceships. Paper tubes become everything from wands to telescopes to laser cutters. Just be there with them, play alongside them and listen to the stories they come up with. I guarantee you it will be better than any packaged product.
Introduce your kids to RPGs, but do not be disheartened if they do not get it or want to play in ways the rules don’t say. There is plenty of time to introduce them to the hobby you love, and they will get it when they are ready.
10 One last question before we say goodbye. Please point us to a song you think we should listen to.
Walk of the Earth’s cover of HAPPY
Thank you for your time Pâris! Bye!!
It was more than my pleasure mate!