Tabletop games are are used successfully in education, therapeutic and social settings across the world. However, they require a rare blend of qualified professionals, avid gamers, and areas with low overheads to work effective and affordably. Hartlepool is one of the fortunate place in the centre of that Venn diagram.

This is a brief overview of other people who have used tabletop games to benefit others, and shows why we think tabletop gaming and Magic: The Gathering are ideal for helping young people to make friends, gain confidence, and learn. It’s all about socialising, strategising, and problem solving with others – these skills don’t develop by chance, but within the right environments.

This isn’t just us! Lots of other people are using games for educational and social benefits, for example: GametoGrow use games for mindfulness and therapeutic purposes; the Bodhana Group in Pennsylvania use games to rehearse social skills and build empathy; The Brooklyn Strategist was founded by a clinical psychologist and researcher to develop stategy and problem solving amongst young people; Imagination Gaming run lots of successful curriculum days using games in schools in Yorkshire (and beyond). Hartlepool has joined a relatively short list of places able to offer gaming as an educational and social tool run by trained professionals.

What does the research say?

Generally, the quality of the research is pretty average – not many people have invested the time and money into researching board games to have a full measure of their true potential. There are few randomised controlled trials that are able to prove changes are down to gaming, however there are some large-scale studies that offer good evidence alongside experienced practitioners that show gaming can have a positive effect.

Families that regularly engage in ‘common, low cost, relatively accessible, often home-based activities’ , including table top games, have higher family life satisfaction [1]. Role playing games (like Dungeons & Dragons) improves empathy [2]. Magic: The Gathering has been used successfully as a rich literacy tool that fosters it’s own discourse [3]. Introverted children have increased motivation to open up during table top games [4]. Carcassonne has been used to teach geography successfully [5], Monopoly used to simulate probability and risk amongst business students [6], and Apples to Apples is used to train language therapists in understanding different forms of support for clients [7]. In 55 to 91 year olds, playing card games improves working memory and reasoning [8] and reduces the risk of dementia [9].

There’s also myriad examples of researchers creating their own games for specific purposes including alleviating the effects of Alzheimer’s [10], improving family life [11], improving the teaching of pharmacology [12], biology [13], and physics [14] undergraduate students, and improve social skills of primary aged pupils [15]. Games teach algorithms and computational thinking to pupils across the school age [16].

What do we expect to happen?

Based on the experience of other people, the research above, and our own experiences, we expect children and young people who take part in The Geek Room to:

  • Make new friends, even if making friends is hard for them
  • Socialise during a shared experience, even if socialising feels unnatural to them
  • Develop deeper problem solving and strategising skills
  • Develop confidence in their own judgements and decision making
  • Feel safe, valued, and welcome.

[1] Agate, J.R. et al (2009) ‘Family Leisure Satisfaction and Satisfaction with Family Life’ Journal of Leisure Research 41:2 p205-223

[2] Rivers, A et al (2016) ‘Empathic Features and Absorption in Fantasy Role-Playing’ American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 68:3 p286-294

[3] Dodge, A.M ‘Examining Literacy Practices in the Game Magic: The Gathering’ American Journal of Play 10:2

[4] Trajkovik, V et al (2018) ‘Traditional games in elementary school: Relationships of student’s personality traits, motivation and experience with learning outcomes’ PLoS One doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0202172

[5] Mewborn, M & Mitchell, J.T. (2019) ‘Carcassonne: Using a Tabletop Game to Teach Geographic Concepts’ The Theography Teacher 16:2, p57-67

[6] Gazdula, J & Farr, R (2019) ‘Teaching Risk and Probability: Building the Monopoly Board Game Into a Probability Simulator’ Management Teaching Review DOI 10.1177/2379298119845090

[7] Scharp, K.M, Seiter J.S., Curran, T (2019) ‘Learning supportive communication through an adaptation of the board game Apples to Apples’ Communication Teacher 33:1 p5-10

[8] Clarkson-Smith, L & Hartley, A.A. (1990) ‘The Game of Bridge as an Exercise in Working Memory and Reasoning’ Journal of Gerontology 45:6 p233-238

[9] Dartigues, J.F. et al (2013) ‘Playing board games, cognitive decline and dementia: a French population-based cohort study’ BMJ Open doi: 10.1136/

[10] Cohen, G.D et al (2009) ‘The First Therapeutic Game Specifically Designed and Evaluated for Alzheimer’s Disease’ American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementia 21:6 p540-551

[11] Blechman, E.A. (1974) ‘The Family Contract Game’ The Family Coordinator 23:3 p269-281

[12] Karbownik et al (2016) ‘Board game versus lecture-based seminar in the teaching of pharmacology of antimicrobial drugs – a randomized controlled trial’ FEMS doi: 10.1093/femsle/fnw045

[13] Luchi et al (2017) ‘Effect of an education game on university students’ learning about action potetials’ Advanced Physical Education 31 p222-230

[14] Cardinot, A & Fairfield, J.A. (2019) ‘Game-Based Learning to Engage Students With Physics and Astronomy Using a Board Game’International Journal of Game-Based Learning DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.20190101044

[15] Okada, Y & Matsuda, T (2019) ‘Development of a Social Skills Education Game for Elementary School Students’ Simulation & Gaming 50:5 p598-620

[16] Gresse Von Wangenhaim, C, et al (2019) ‘SplashCode – A Board Game for Learning an Understanding of Algorithms in Middle School’ Informatics in Education 18:2 p259-280