by Zoe Musselman
Last week, we interviewed Chestnut Hill College alumni Dan Rowan, M.S., ’14 SGS and his mother, Ginger S. Rowan, M.S., ’74, ’98 SGS, to learn about S.N.A.P.S. Heroes, a playgroup founded in 2012 by Dan and his brother, Drew Rowan, M.D., at Ginger’s nonprofit, Let’s Go Play.
Similar to a roleplaying game, S.N.A.P.S. Heroes helps children with social, emotional, and behavioral disorders navigate the game as a team, giving them tools along the way to enhance their social skills. Sessions of S.N.A.P.S. Heroes are held weekly at Let’s Go Play, located in Media, Pennsylvania.
Dan graduated from the College’s School of Graduate Studies in 2014 with an M.S. in counseling psychology, and he is currently a licensed behavior specialist and the lead game designer at Let’s Go Play. Ginger graduated from the College in 1974 with a B.A. in English, and in 1998, she attended SGS and earned an M.S. in counseling, specializing in marriage and family therapy. She became a licensed marriage and family therapist in 2003 and a licensed behavior specialist in 2013.
Below is our interview with Dan and Ginger, who collaborated on answering our questions in order to detail the S.N.A.P.S. Heroes program and explain how it’s helping children in exciting and innovative ways.
CHC: What is S.N.A.P.S. Heroes?
Ginger: S.N.A.P.S. Heroes is a type of roleplaying game that follows a plot that unfolds as players progress through missions, which take place during hour-long sessions once a week. There is a game master, Lucas Scott, and a therapist, Dan, running each game. Each player takes on the role of a unique superhero with special skills and abilities who needs to work with other players to defeat the enemies on the stage, played by the game master. No one player can win alone. Players need to strategize, communicate, attend, and negotiate to win the level. Since the game master essentially has complete control over gameplay, the therapeutic team can ensure that various goals are worked on during each session.
What inspired the creation of the program?
G: I was working with local families of children, teens, and adults with social differences who asked me to develop a social skills program. After doing some research, I found Dan LeGoff’s Lego team-building program. Then, in 2008, I started a nonprofit, Let’s Go Play, in Media, to address the needs of those with social differences. In 2012, I was an adjunct at a local university in their autism certificate program. At their family fun night, I was bringing the Legos to team build, and my two adult sons, Drew and Dan, came to help. On the hour-ride drive there, I asked them to come up with a new social skills program, and they devised what is now S.N.A.P.S. Heroes. It was inspired from Drew and Dan’s love of roleplaying games, both physical (like Dungeons & Dragons) and digital (like the Final Fantasy series). Both Drew and Dan can speak to the power of roleplaying games and how it affected them positively in their lives.
How does the program function as a game?
G: The playgroup is a therapeutically designed role playing game (TdRPG) for kids, teens, and adults. Other games, like Dungeons & Dragons, which have recently been used, are therapeutic table-top roleplaying games (TTRPG). This means that it’s a regular game where a therapist helps players work through their feelings during the game missions. But in S.N.A.P.S. Heroes, the systems used to make the game function were devised to be therapeutic. The various missions that take place over the course of the game are designed to address particular therapeutic goals. That is what makes us different, and to our knowledge, we are the only ones running a TdRPG.
Currently, at Let’s Go Play, S.N.A.P.S. Heroes uses Lego bricks for the sets and hero characters while making use of our TdRPG format. This makes it a cross between Dungeons & Dragons and Legos, but it is our own hybrid program. Dan has also created non-Lego materials for us to employ in our own packaged kits. He has designed both a physical board game and an electronic video game of S.N.A.P.S. Heroes. The games operate similarly to the Lego bricks mode but employ our own designs.
What types of disorders does the program look to treat?
Dan & Ginger: Our client population at Let’s Go Play consists of those with social differences that can occur due to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, Tourette syndrome, social anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Our groups have a maximum of six players and are divided by age.
How have the children responded so far?
G: Some players have come to Let’s Go Play for years because they have made friends here. One mother told me last week that her son would rather come to the class than a birthday party. The players enjoy the weekly adventures and like feeling powerful as part of a team. It is, by far, our most popular program and primarily a social skills program for our clients.
How does S.N.A.P.S. Heroes differ from similar groups that combine therapy and games?
D&G: The group’s TdRPG system, model, materials, and mediums are entirely groundbreaking, especially considering the digital medium of S.N.A.P.S. Heroes. As previously mentioned, other groups may employ TTRPGs, taking a preexisting board game and inserting a therapist — but no group exists, to our knowledge, that has moved into a digital capacity. We are presenting our program at the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Conference in August this year. Our presentation is titled “Using Role Playing Games (RPG) to Enhance Social Skills.”
What logistical needs went into establishing the program? Did you have any outside assistance from groups or institutions?
G: We did not have any outside assistance from any groups or institutions, but rather employed Drew and Dan’s knowledge and experience in the realms of gaming, combined with their work with the special needs population at Let’s Go Play, to create the S.N.A.P.S. Heroes system.
Do you hope to establish more programs like S.N.A.P.S. Heroes? Do you see this model being adopted by other groups?
D&G: We currently have S.N.A.P.S. Heroes Boot Camp in production. It’s an eight-week version with targeted skill development and interventions that could be used by therapists in their practice. It acts as a tutorial for players to graduate to weekly gameplay. The kits contain all the materials needed for gameplay and access to various PDFs, which contain instructions for the therapists, game masters, and players.
In the future, we see S.N.A.P.S. Heroes as a team-building exercise that can be used with other populations, like college freshmen or in the workplace. It could be employed by family therapists and special education teachers as a way of engaging their clients or students. With our S.N.A.P.S. Heroes Boot Camp kits available, it can be used with any group that could benefit from feeling like they are part of a team. We envision our program being used with children and teens with medical issues such as diabetes or asthma. It would help them feel as though they are part of a community and able to defeat (for asthmatics) the evil Lord Airbegone. Because we have created the game, we can customize it to fit any population.
For more information about S.N.A.P.S. Heroes, please visit www.snapsheroes.com. To learn more about the Kickstarter campaign that S.N.A.P.S. Heroes established to create introductory game kits for therapists, check out https://bit.ly/32VhALg. Further questions can be directed to Dan Rowan at 610-955-3659 or