Jessica Marcrum, MSW, LSW, a clinical social worker focusing on individual therapy and cases of trauma, PTSD, domestic abuse and sexual abuse, has put her private practice in Pittsburgh on hold for a while as she focuses on building her tabletop game-design hobby into a business.
The ENNIE award-winning writer, director and game designer is co-founder of Unseelie Studios and Threeflings stream-play game shows. The ENNIE Awards are an annual fan-based, role-play tabletop game people’s choice awards. The public recognizes game designers, writers and artists through online voting. Marcrum also created the Buddy System and is part of Magpie’s Curated Play program. The buddysystemgames.com website covers all things games, including new games, top gaming and trends.
Gaming and Game Design
Marcrum was in high school when she became interested in playing games, but after a game master told her in 2002 that “no girls can play,” she quit for 10 years or more. After telling a friend years later about that experience, her friend said, “You should do this.” So Marcrum began playing again, and also started creating games.
In 2017, during her last year studying social work in graduate school, a friend told her about some women game designers. Although Marcrum said she had never done that before, one of her friends said, “That’s perfect for you.”
“When I finished grad school, I started doing game design as a second job besides my full-time job,” she said about her private practice in Pittsburgh.
Marcrum said she likes the gaming community and the collaboration within it.
“Getting to tell a story of mythological female monsters appealed to me,” she said. “After I got a job, I found a niche in women’s games and got together with a community and found I love what I do. Everybody works together to accomplish a goal, and usually the goal is to experience a great story... and you get to play pretend.”
“There’s a lot about avoiding burnout (in gaming), which also is important in social work....” Marcrum said. “There can be burnout, so there’s learning about red flags and when to say ‘No.’ I think that’s something we all could learn. I think as social workers, we sometimes ignore things that are good for us in favor of our clients.”
Why Social Work?
After earning a bachelor’s degree in music, Marcrum worked for a few years in crisis centers and said she “really loved the work I was doing.”
“I saw progress in that field, but I got to a point where the only way I could get a promotion was to get a license, so I got an MSW,” she said. “I loved it … I really love it! My goal was to work specifically with trauma and intimate partner violence. Social work and social systems are tied to what I wanted to do.”
Similarities Between Game Creation and Social Work
Marcrum spent a lot of time working with a variety of people as a social worker and “learned to see things from their perspective” of having to tackle several different aspects of things all at once. Tabletop games have been used in therapy, particularly in group therapy, with varying degrees of success, she said. “Some (games) are used to help autistic children increase and improve their language skills, which is really cool.”
Pictured, left: Marcrum playing one of her games, "Oops. All Draculas!"
For example, if a child is not confident and speaks in Japanese but plays in English, “it helps them get better in English,” Marcrum said.
Therapists who use games while working with children have found it helps the kids with processing trauma, she said. “Some games are specifically for that.”
Other games are used in cases of sexual violence and intimate partner violence and they “foster empathy for abuse survivors,” Marcrum said. “There are ways to foster empathy through game design, and with role play you can learn aspects of the role of gender,” she said. “It’s a safe place to explore, it gives safe space to control negativity, and it deals a lot with consent. There’s a lot of crossover (between social work and gaming)—more than you first might think.”
Marcrum’s immediate plans are to continue freelancing and writing for the video game company because, “We have stuff coming out this fall,” she said, “and we’re going to be ready.”
Marcrum said she also plans to stay connected with social work, maintaining her NASW membership and social work license.
Her website is jessicamarcrumwrites.com. Marcrum also can be found on Twitter @Miss_Jess03 and twitch.tv/AngryNerdGirl.
Below are some of the games she has designed: