Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Cheryl A. Getz, EdD, Chair Zachary Gabriel Green, PhD, Member Sarah Lynne Bowman, PhD, Member


Gaming, Holding Environment, Role-Play, Leader-Member Exchange


Tabletop Role-Playing Games (TRPG) like Dungeons & Dragons are unique phenomena within the topics of game-based learning and gamification of leadership development. Games in general are used for both game-based learning (learning from playing games) and as sources of inspiration for gamification: the application of game design elements in non-game contexts like business or education. Many potential benefits of playing TRPGs have been observed including transformative experiences linked to collective creativity. Knowing more about the transformative potential of TRPGs can inform facilitation of creative learning environments and guide the use of TRPGs for leadership development.

The concept of a holding environment frames play and creativity as activities that promote personal growth embedded in a psychological or group environment. Drawing from a developmental environment framework, a gaming environment can be considered as the psychological group environment present while playing a TRPG. Applying this developmental environment framework to TRPG groups builds on previous research that reports transformative growth in TRPG experiences by providing a group level of analysis. This research explored gaming environments in TRPGs, specifically Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (D&D 5e).

This qualitative study employed content analysis, group observations, and interviews for data collection and analysis. A group of participants was solicited to play D&D 5e specifically for this research. Thematic analysis was used to identify group interaction patterns by observing the group playing D&D 5e over the course of several sessions. Then, semi-structured interviews with the participants were conducted to investigate individual perspectives of specific observations from the group sessions. Interview topics included descriptions of the group of players, defining events in the group, and factors influencing the play experience. Recordings of gaming sessions and transcripts of individual interviews were subjected to continued analysis. Findings indicated that the gaming environment was a psychologically layered container which depended on the use of authority in leader-member relationships and utilized framing and storytelling processes for containing emotions. These findings can be used to inform the design of TRPGs for leadership development and expand how we construct knowledge about group environments in creative contexts.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies