I’m a clinical psychologist and game designer. I work full-time as a therapist practicing in Maryland and teach each Spring and Fall as adjunct professor of game design at American University’s Game Lab. I am the community manager for Take This, a games-focused mental health non-profit, and the chair of the International Game Developers Association’s Mental Health special interest group. My research for the past 10 years has focused on the intersection of games and mental health with a focus on the use of games in therapeutic settings as well as the portrayal of mental illness in games.
My love of game is life-long. The first video game console I ever had was the Sega Master System when I was all of three weeks old. My family is comprised of notorious card sharks and all family gatherings require multiple rounds of Pirates Rummy, Hand and Foot, and Oh Heck. My interest in games as a topic of intense study started in college when I'd spend hours playing Halo 2 with my dorm-mates. For my undergraduate capstone thesis, I thought it'd be funny if I could get my university to buy video games for me. Or rather, for science. And they did! That paper examined video games and aggression, as was the style in 2007, and I've been integrating my love of games and passion for psychology ever since.
In graduate school, I worked games into any assignment I could. What would Freud think about Grand Theft Auto? How can games model the underlying theory of cognitive behavioral therapy? What do other therapists think about games and the people who play them? My dissertation was a quantitative experiment that examined the impacts of games on mental health over a period of time. The short version? It didn't matter what people played or for how long; what mattered was why.
Five months after graduating from my doctoral program, I won a fellowship to pursue a Masters in Game Design at American University. This time, I worked to integrate psychology and mental health into all of my assignments. My degree culminated with a game called Ellie Beagle: Therapy Dog; a narrative graphic novel game where players take on the role of Ellie the therapy dog and help their canine clients with their puppy problems.
In post-academic life, I've continued to work on bringing the worlds of game design, mental health, and psychology together. I've given presentations at major gaming venues like GDC and Games 4 Change, and provided talks and trainings in psychological spaces like the Maryland Psychological Association. In 2019 I began teaching at the American University Game Center, the very same program where I earned my MA in game design.
Currently, I split my time between working in private practice as a licensed mental health provider and as the Associate Director of Community Programming at Take This, a non-profit dedicated to supporting mental healthy and well-being in the games industry. I also serve as the chair of the International Game Developers Associations mental health special interest group.