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Obsessive Completionist Disorder: The Shaky Connection between OCD and Achievement

With the advent of achievements becoming a mainstay in gaming, it is easy to associate compulsive behaviour with ‘trophy hunters’ and ‘completionists’ who desire to 100% a game. The self-satisfaction that many people feel from getting an achievement (gaming-related or otherwise) is arguably the main reward and justification for all the effort and time used.

However, chasing achievements in games as a way to alleviate stress and anxiety can unknowingly become a hindrance to both players and the people around them due to its tenable connection with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). 

A concise definition taken from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition) defines OCD as “Recurrent and persistent thoughts… experienced as intrusive, unwanted… that cause marked anxiety or distress.” When an individual experiences these particular urges, they feel compelled to act in a certain way so as to suppress them. This manifests in compulsive behaviour, such as repeating the same actions or mental acts to reduce distress, and often lasts for a protracted amount of time throughout the day. Compulsive repeated behaviour manifests itself in different ways once anxiety triggers manifest, with common (but not mandatory) examples including: washing hands, arranging things in specific orders, checking things frequently (e.g: lights, doors, cooking equipment), and so forth.

a diagram of OCD being a cycle - obsessions with meaning attached lead to distress, lead to compulsions to alleviate distress, leads to short term relief, that with negative reinforcement leads to obsessions again

Unfortunately, depictions of mental health in fictional media are often simplified into positive and negative quirks for the purposes of drama or characterisation, and one could argue that OCD is one of the most frequently misrepresented. Inaccurate portrayals can skew an audiences’ perspective of what living with OCD (along with other cognitive conditions) really entails, reducing a complex series of anxiety-induced behaviours to banal tropes like “neatness” and “counting”. As someone who acutely suffers from OCD, I can personally attest to the drawbacks that a compulsive mindset can cause in daily factors like work, social life, and especially gaming. 

Attempting to locate all secrets and unlockables in a game is not a damaging thing by itself, as many games of varying genres actively use their trophy/achievement lists to entice players. Open world/sandbox games are particularly prominent at promoting completionism due to the wide array of crafting and collectible mechanics, especially in recent years. The iconic example of Minecraft boasts an ever-increasing achievement list that serves as an antepiece to demonstrate more of the game’s features through natural progression. People have different playstyles, but connections to certain genres can cause you to obsess over specifically gaining achievements over the enjoyable experience of the game itself. By contrast, starting games with very demanding achievements like Crypt of the Necrodancer or Super Meat Boy could possibly aggravate these symptoms even further as the compulsion for achievement leads to non-stop gaming sessions that disrupt daily life and even sleep patterns. Gamers planning to hunt down all achievements would benefit from researching achievement lists before starting a new game to prevent this happening, and instead get the opportunity to develop a way to gain enjoyment through ‘organic’ gameplay inside reasonable time frames and difficulty parameters.

an Xbox achievement that reads 'became obsessed with your Gamerscore'

Compare and contrast narrative-driven sandboxes (Red Dead Redemption 2, Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto) or choose-your-own-adventure titles by Supermassive Games and Telltale Games. These examples focus on tightly written stories, but the player’s optional interactions with the wider world adds a greater depth and understanding compared to a playthrough that only consists of one main story. Therefore, the presence of achievements can allow for a more immersive experience to keep players coming back for more to achieve 100% completion. 

Playing games can be a way to relax and de-stress for many people, and can also combat OCD symptoms. However, the allure of achievements can become one facet of compulsive behaviour that rapidly monopolises the thought processes of people with OCD. Similar to an addiction where the ‘high’ is constantly being chased, only to grow weaker and weaker over time as more achievements are gained, the enjoyment can soon become routine requiring bigger ‘hits’ and more time/effort committed to the pursuit of virtual trinkets. It isn’t hard to find a game with a laughably easy (if monotonous) achievement list where continuous button pressing is all that’s required to get all achievements in rapid succession for arguably little effort compared to games that demand skill, patience, strategy, and so forth. ‘Joke games’  such as My Name Is Mayo deliberately alter the meaning of achievements through simple actions. When these games are targeted purely for the value of watching achievement numbers go up, obsessive compulsive players are susceptible to the time sink that feels rewarding in the short term but has hidden dangers.

A screenshot from True Trophies which reads 'Necromaster!! Unlock all trophies' - 0.3% Gamers unlocked.

While some aspects of mental conditioning such as medication and/or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help OCD patients cope with the disorder, completionism can rapidly assume control over routines in daily life and lead to more damage in the long term. Speaking from experience, my attempts to seek out 100% of trophies/achievements in games led to many sleepless nights, neglecting social interactions and household cleanliness because my priority was getting trophies and achievements first. This was particularly true when stumbling upon difficult games due to how much my mind would be focused on the objectives even while at work, or in social scenarios meant to distract from gaming. At the time this behaviour was unchecked as OCD, and because I had been trophy grinding for almost a decade I didn’t notice the gradual deterioration from casual entertainment to single-minded obsession. The self-satisfied sensation was disappointingly short, and never outweighed the time I could have spent improving myself. One technique I’ve since embraced is ‘retro’ gaming as a way to explore genres and titles I’ve never played before. Since they aren’t tied to achievement lists, my passion for gaming is gradually returning, and it also allows me to keep games in the proper place without overloading my previous compulsive mindset.

Thankfully, solutions do exist. Like most things associated with breaking negative habits associated with mental health, identifying the specific things holding us back is half the battle. For others with OCD, their experiences may be similar or wildly different, but finding the connection(s) that trigger certain compulsions that have negative effects makes for a good starting point. If gaming is indeed a particular vice for you, then it’s encouraged to develop a pattern that works for you rather than deciding to abandon all games right away by instead setting realistic goals that you can stick to. This could involve shorter allocated time periods for gaming to keep track of progress, and gradually learn to stop playing even when achievements have not been gained despite progress. Seeking out subversive games where the achievement list is very meta and spoils nothing or even non-existent encourages players to experiment with finding secrets and outcomes for themselves rather than mindlessly ticking off a checklist in lieu of entertainment.

an illustration of two hands tied to their controller with the wires, on a mobile game about shooting.

It’s always possible to have too much of a good thing, and when the joy of self-satisfaction becomes routine it can lead to a vicious cycle of compulsive behaviour. Having been locked in this mindset for so long, I personally no longer get a buzz or ‘high’ from actually getting achievements. Individuals who find themselves resonating with some of the points in this article would benefit from looking at their own attitude to how they play games and its connection to their own mental state. Completing games and unlocking achievements is designed to be engaging, and by keeping this as the strongest primary connection to one’s mental health, playing games will remain less of a daily obsession and hopefully instead compel players of all kinds to pursue a natural and uplifting experience.

Ruby Modica is an independent content creator, editor and writer.

She loves sharing insight into video games and discovering new things, with a desire to work in the media/gaming industry full time. Most days she is busy at her computer working on her next big project.


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ADHD & Gaming: How Neurodiverse Gamers are Connecting & Creating Positive Spaces

Before discovering I had ADHD, I thought I was alone in my quirks and how I socialise. But my experiences were more universal than I realised.

Gaming has evolved to be more than an experience shared alone. In the world of media, video games are unique in how they foster a sense of community and connection. They have been bringing us together for decades both in and outside of the game, and giving neurodiverse minorities a sense of belonging.

Since my ADHD diagnosis in my late twenties, I have come across so many other ADHDers with similar experiences to my own, many of those through the gaming sphere both in fan communities and the industry.

I wanted to learn more of others’ experiences and with their permission, share these along with my own to give others a wider understanding of how inclusive groups and communities leave an impact on us and to help other neurodivergent gamers feel seen and welcome. I talked to a few different neurodivergent voices inside the games industry and in gaming communities, to hear about different experiences.

My Personal ADHD Gaming Experience

Video games have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories of playing games as a child are from playing Sonic R on the Saturn in my brothers’ room, or playing Theme Park for the SNES in the evenings after dinner. I loved games that were quick to get through.

However, as I got older I gravitated towards more narrative driven games like Shenmue and Kingdom Hearts, as in-depth characters and stories became a huge aspect that I loved focusing on and getting lost in.

My early teens were when I first recognised the impact that ADHD had on my life, although I was unaware of the name of it at the time. My experience of ADHD centres around my struggle to focus, regulating my emotions and managing hyperactivity, but a key feature of my neurotype is hyperfixation.

Hyperfixation is when we get intensely immersed in an interest, and focus a lot on that interest which could be a game or specific aspect within said game. We will spend a lot of time thinking or engaging with it and often spend a lot of our energy on it more than other things. Hyperfixation can definitely be a bother when you need to focus on general tasks or work, it can lead to us neglect basic needs if left to fester for long enough.

For me, hyperfixation is a big part of my ADHD and life. I’d hyperfixate on my favourite games and characters, it feels like it has always been present even if I didn’t always have a name for it. Wanting to talk for hours about why a certain game narrative is the best one ever – even if no one else wanted to hear it! Thinking about my favourite games and wanting to dissect them with my friends and family for an absurd amount of time made me inexplicably happy. Even so, I felt isolated and lonely because no one else around me seemed to experience this same kind of passion.

Unmasking in my Community

Growing up I was constantly masking my hyperfixations as to not seem “weird” or “obsessed” to the people around me, especially friends. I even hid a lot of my “nerdy” interests from friends at the time for fear they would no longer like me. But now, I view my hyperfixation trait as also a positive as well as a sometimes hindrance. When managed it helps boost my creativity in huge ways, and my favourite stories can motivate me to work harder or find the confidence to finally reach goals.

This is where becoming involved in fandom communities helped me feel a little more “normal”. Somewhere I could meet others that had the same hyperfixations and intense passion for games, stories, characters as I did which gave me a sense of comfort (even well before knowing I had ADHD).

When I started writing this I wanted to hear about how other gamers with ADHD have found safe spaces/communities within gaming where they can be themselves and ways in which they have also helped them find inclusivity to see if some of us have similar experiences, and a few people were happy to share those personal experiences and comfortable for me to include here.

The Covid-19 Pandemic

During lockdown, many struggled to find interaction through their usual means. There was also a big increase in loneliness due to the loss of socialising opportunities. One person noted that “it gives us a relatively safe space to connect and participate in something we love together which has been extra challenging to find since 2020” when talking about more active online gaming communities.

Those that regularly engaged in digital communities found comfort in their regular spaces or were able to find new ones as a welcome distraction from the stress of what was happening in the world. Online spaces are often one where neurodiverse people feel comfortable engaging due to the lack of need for instant response and navigation of social cues.

blurry video call on a laptop with plants in front in focus

Social Anxiety and Sensory Overload

Another commented that “in-person events can be overwhelming between the sensory overload and navigating social nuances”. Neurodivergent people frequently struggle with social gatherings. Our social batteries can run out a lot quicker as we often mask – where you hide your neurodivergent traits and camouflage with the neuromajority. We often need to process information faster than we are able, as well as deal with a multitude of distractions, and potential sensory overload.

Having online games communities and events can offer interaction in a way that is comfortable and doesn’t put neurodivergent people under as much pressure. It offers gamers a place in which we can find others who share similar interests. and favourite games, but also those with similar experiences with ADHD. Overall it gives us more time to process, and we’re less likely to misunderstand social cues. There are potentially less distractions, and we are able to remove ourselves from the space instantly if we get overwhelmed.

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria 

But what happens when we don’t have a space that is made accessible and comfortable for us? Not only will events and communities miss out on amazingly creative neurodivergent people, but it can have a huge effect on ADHD folk that experience RSD (Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria).

Those with ADHD tend to feel things a lot more intensely than most people which can have an impact both physically and mentally. RSD can cause intense deep emotional and even physical pain caused by criticism or rejection. This can even include missing out on things, such as an event you were really excited about, or when you are suddenly unable to attend if you are sick or too anxious. But it can hit incredibly hard when we try to connect with others over a mutual interest, but are left out or judged by others.

It can cause us anxiety, to overthink, and tear ourselves down for not being able to interact in ways that others find easy. Creating spaces and especially online versions of events can help to make us feel included and acknowledged, and it gives us visibility to others.

How do ADHD Gamers Thrive in Games Communities?

When speaking about the benefits of games communities with other neurodivergent people another comment shared was “what I love most about gaming communities is the acceptance and understanding that flourishes with them. ADHD traits like hyperfocus and intense interests are not only embraced but celebrated”. Something that I myself have found to be true!

I’ve met many ADHD gamers through fan communities online and have interacted with them over our favourite games in a way that is true to me, without masking the hyperfocus or huge love I have for the media! Others will react with the same level of passion and interest which helps me feel comfortable and in safe company. From this, I have made some amazing friendships and great memories from both communities or in the games themselves.

Becoming More Accessible

The creation of online spaces for neurodivergent gamers has shown to leave us with positive inclusive experiences where we can be ourselves, but we don’t want online to be the only place where these exist.

We don’t always want to be constrained to our homes and a screen in order to meet other like-minded gamers. So what else can be done to make an ADHD-friendly space?

someone smiling looking towards a computer screen with folks in the background. There is a pink light casting a cool shadow on them

More events focused solely on neurodivergent gamers is always a good place to start. Creating a place where you know straight off the bat you’ve landed somewhere you can feel acknowledged and safe is a great way to have us feel seen and limit potential anxieties.

When it comes to in-person events, especially events in large venues or that have a high attendance, creating dedicated areas or rooms that allow neurodivergent people to take a break and regulate can make the event far more accessible. This will allow more neurodivergent people to attend and participate – maybe even meet more people like themselves!

All Communities Great and Small

But to any that find stepping into an established unknown space might be too much for them, setting up your own little game community whether it’s an ADHDer-focused guild in an MMO, a Discord server where you connect over your favourite game character, or organising a game tournament for neurominorities (either on or offline), can all be amazing ways to create your own little safe community.

Ultimately, feeling included and most of all wanted in the communities we take part in, can have a long-lasting worthwhile effect on us – especially for our mental health! It leads us to form friendships we may never have found otherwise and offers us amazing opportunities that may have been inaccessible before!

But most of all? We simply get to enjoy our love of gaming in a way that is true to ourselves – without any fear!

Written by Kelly Sellers (she/they)

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Navigating the Complexities of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Rediscovering Purpose in the Games Industry

Since my earliest years, I’ve always sensed a profound difference within myself, as if I didn’t quite fit into the mold of “normal” childhood. It took me a long while to truly understand what was going on during this time. 

Content Warning: mentions of suicide attempt, drug overdose, abuse, depression

Growing up was a bewildering experience. I couldn’t help but notice how other kids’ parents eagerly engaged with them, taking them on exciting outings and speaking to them with warmth and affection. It was a stark contrast to what I knew at home, where resentment and pain seemed to seep into even the smallest interactions. Sadly, those around me didn’t grasp the impact their behavior would have on my life in the long run, lacking the knowledge and understanding to navigate the challenges I faced. 

School was far from easy; there’s no sugarcoating that. I felt like a misunderstood child, carrying deep-rooted issues from my home life. It led me to act out in school, trying to make sense of my own emotions and seeking the connection and support that eluded me. Unfortunately, this pattern continued throughout my formal education, resulting in suspensions and, eventually, my exclusion from secondary school. 

At the age of 18, my world was turned upside down when I received a diagnosis that carried a heavy weight and a sense of impending doom. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), a complex and often misunderstood mental health condition, became an unexpected hurdle that defined much of my adolescent and young adult years. The journey that unfolded was riddled with challenges stemming from the lack of understanding and support I encountered, both from society at large and from those closest to me. These barriers, coupled with a tumultuous childhood marked by various forms of abuse and the premature confrontations with death, left me grappling with profound mental and emotional damage. The struggles I faced throughout school, compounded by the stigma surrounding BPD, often left me questioning my potential for success in life, although back then, the notion of success itself was distorted and elusive. 

Enduring Trauma and Breaking the Silence: 

Throughout my formative years, I endured a relentless series of traumatic events that tested the limits of my resilience and pushed me to the brink of self-destruction. The chains of addiction, the unbearable weight of grief from losing loved ones, and the enduring scars of mental and physical abuse became the harrowing backdrop against which I lived. Growing up in an area with limited support systems only magnified the difficulties I faced. As someone with borderline personality disorder, I found myself imprisoned by the weight of societal stigma, leading to a cycle of silence and isolation. The world remained oblivious to the battles raging within, and I, too, struggled to find the words to articulate my internal turmoil. This self-imposed silence perpetuated a negative feedback loop, suffocating any hope of understanding and connection. 

A Glimpse of Hope Amidst Desperation: 

In a particularly bleak moment of desperation, I found myself in the grip of an overdose attempt, convinced that the concoction of pills would bring an end to my suffering. However, fate had other plans, and I survived the excruciating ordeal, enduring 48 hours of mental and physical agony. Anyone who has faced such a situation can attest to the indescribable anguish it entails. But it was during my hospitalization, connected to various tubes and fluids, that a profound realization dawned upon me—I needed to change and invest significant effort into understanding and improving my mental health. Thus began a journey that spanned years, characterized by unwavering dedication and a determination to unravel the intricacies of my symptoms and confront the deep-seated pain accumulated over a lifetime. Countless nights were spent meticulously documenting my trauma and its impact on me, tears flowing as I ventured down the path of healing. This process of understanding became instrumental in fostering growth. However, it is important to note that unearthing buried anguish can also give rise to dormant inner demons, which posed their own challenges along the way. 

The Struggle for Survival: 

Startling statistics indicate that approximately 1 in 10 individuals with BPD will attempt suicide at least once in their lifetime, with a tragic success rate. In my case, this marked the third time I found myself standing on the precipice of life and death—an experience further complicated by my towering physical stature, which presented unique disadvantages. 

The Path to Recovery: 

Navigating the treacherous path to well-being was far from straightforward. It required months of dedicated research into BPD, exploring not only its symptoms but also the comorbid disorders that intensify its challenges. Simultaneously, I focused on rebuilding my physical health through exercise and diet, being a chef came in handy!

A valuable resource in my journey of recovery was Dr. Daniel Fox’s borderline personality disorder workbooks, which offered comprehensive insights into the traits, symptoms, causes, and coping mechanisms associated with the disorder. Taking the initiative, I sought out weekly therapy sessions, a pivotal step in my journey towards rebuilding a sense of self and establishing healthy boundaries. These therapy sessions have played an instrumental role in my healing process, empowering me to develop a deeper understanding of positive beliefs and cultivate healthier perspectives.

Additionally, therapy has provided a safe space to explore the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that I experience, equipping me with valuable strategies to effectively combat and manage them. Through this ongoing therapeutic journey, I am gradually reclaiming control over my life and forging a path towards lasting emotional well-being. 

Rebuilding and Rediscovering Purpose: 

Having regained a more positive mental state, I embarked on a profound journey of rebuilding my life and rediscovering my sense of purpose. The shifting landscape of work brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic provided a unique opportunity for growth and self-discovery. 

Determined to learn as much as possible from talented individuals, I initially delved into the realm of web3 recruitment, a learning curve that tested my abilities and expanded my horizons. Guiding and assisting others in finding their new career paths became a source of deep fulfillment and passion for me, particularly within the exciting domain of gaming. It was during this phase that I had the privilege of crossing paths with Liam Brennan, the CEO of Companion Group. My success in placing candidates effectively and empathetically led to an invitation to join Companion Group, a company that aligns with my passion for an industry I have long admired. 

At the time of joining Companion Group, I found myself in a slightly diminished mental state, with my borderline personality disorder relentlessly battering my self-worth. The familiar inner voice telling me that I didn’t deserve this opportunity echoed repeatedly. However, I quickly realized that openness and honesty were key components of my recovery. I mustered the courage to have candid conversations with our CEO and other senior members of the team, sharing my struggles and vulnerabilities.

Companion Group | LinkedIn

To my immense relief, I discovered a culture of compassion and empathy within Companion Group. Though they may not fully comprehend the depths of my internal battles, they approached my challenges with understanding and respect. This support system significantly reduced the time required for my recovery whenever borderline personality disorder symptoms surfaced. Whether triggered by external events resulting in PTSD episodes or a cascade of self-imposed shame and guilt, open conversations with my colleagues facilitated the necessary space for healing and rejuvenation. In instances where burnout weighed heavily on me, the understanding environment at Companion allowed me to take the time I needed for recovery, ensuring that I could return with a revitalized spirit in the afternoon. 

While my journey is not without its hardships, such as waking up with a heavy heart and a pervasive sense of burden, I am grateful for the daily opportunity to engage with work that aligns with my passions. The industry leaders I collaborate with and the diverse responsibilities I have undertaken in HR, IT, and marketing at Companion Group provide me with invaluable opportunities for personal and professional growth. Acknowledging the complexity of my inner battles, I have learned that open and honest communication, coupled with empathy and understanding, not only aids my recovery but also cultivates respect and motivation to contribute wholeheartedly to the company’s mission. 

In conclusion, my journey of rebuilding and rediscovering purpose has been arduous but transformative. Through unwavering determination, a commitment to self-improvement, and the support of a compassionate workplace, I have not only surpassed the limitations imposed by BPD but also found fulfillment in helping others while pursuing my passion.

I remain dedicated to my ongoing healing process, with the belief that open dialogue, empathy, and a supportive environment will continue to shape my personal and professional growth as I strive to make a positive impact in the world. 

Written by Charlie Mullins, Companion Group  

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Celeste: How one video game made me take better care of my mental health

When the pandemic began, like most people, I found myself with more time on my hands than I knew what to do with. Then, I remembered my backlog of video games!

I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I began to play Celeste. I knew I was in a dark place and I needed an escape from bad thoughts.

I’m not even sure why this game called out to me. At the time, I felt like I was terrible at video games, and I had heard Celeste was especially difficult. Besides, this was a genre of game I’d tried and failed at, more than once.

I guess I was challenging myself, but when I picked up the controller and set off up the magical Celeste mountain, truly I didn’t expect to get far.

Then the story came into focus. Madeline, the main character, was challenging herself too. She set off to do something difficult – something she’d never done before – to prove to herself that she could.

Suddenly, this fictional stranger and I shared a goal. We both needed to get up this mountain! As the player, I felt immensely responsible for her reaching the summit, and that meant I had to go with her.

As we climbed, I saw myself in Madeline. We shared so much. We both experienced anxiety and depression. We both wanted to bury a part of ourselves, or leave it behind entirely. We were both trying to escape the bad thoughts.

The more I learned about this character, the stronger I believed in our mission. Never before had I been so invested in any character from anything, and here I was crying through cut scenes, screaming at the TV, and punching the air at every milestone.

It was like looking in a mirror. Madeline was me, and the Part of Her she wanted to leave behind was the Part of Me I wanted to destroy too. But destroying Part of Us can hurt us.

“The way I see it, the Mountain can’t bring out anything that isn’t already in you.”

This journey showed me what was already in me, something impossible to destroy because it is me. This story of self-acceptance taught me that I wasn’t giving my whole self the love I deserved. I was choosing to ignore a part of me that needed caring for, and by seeing that reflected so perfectly in the character I was helping, it allowed me to see clearly the harm I was doing to myself.

By learning that I couldn’t simply cut out a Part of Me, I found other strategies to help me feel better about myself: finding a job at a company with values I could really invest in, giving myself smaller and more manageable goals, listening to and challenging the bad thoughts with logic and compassion.

I unpacked all the internalised ableism I’d been carrying for so long. I can’t stop being autistic, I can’t destroy the possibility of burnout – this is part of me. Celeste taught me that I could still reach my summit, but I had to work with what I had, and not try to be someone I wasn’t. That meant working with my neurodivergence, not against it.

The game also helped me accept my queer identity. I am only answerable to myself, I don’t need to justify my existence to anyone. Every single part of me is valid. I don’t have to fit inside a box. Accepting every part of me is how I reach my summit.

The game even expanded my toolkit for managing my anxiety, by giving me a visual calming exercise to control my breathing during panic attacks.

Think of the feather.

Celeste gave me more in one video game experience than I’d received from any therapy. Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s value in therapy. But talk therapy for me always had one fundamental flaw, I was not entirely honest. I had a filter. I wasn’t ready to be vulnerable with a stranger.

With Madeline, I was vulnerable. She was vulnerable. We were the same person, on the same path, reaching for the same goal – and to reach it, we had to be entirely honest with ourselves. And for that reason, Celeste changed my life.

Written by Emrys Aspinall

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Alcohol Awareness with Julia Melvin

This week is Alcohol Awareness Week, a campaign from Alcohol Change UK to raise awareness of the impact alcohol can have on society and end alcohol harm.

Alcohol Change UK is not an anti-alcohol charity, but they are advocating for a future in which people drink as a conscious choice, not as a default; where the issues which lead to alcohol problems – like poverty, mental health issues and homelessness – are addressed; and where those of us who drink too much, and our loved ones, have access to high-quality support whenever we need it, without shame or stigma.

In honour of raising awareness of alcohol harm, I’d like to share a story about my dad.

My dad was a Vietnam Conflict veteran (I grew up in the USA), and as a result of his time in the war and the unimaginable trauma he experienced during that time, he had serious mental health problems. Eventually, he would be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the late 1990’s after this became a classified diagnosis, before that time it was considered “shell shock” but his symptoms didn’t go away with time, instead they became worse. He had regular flashbacks including frightening hallucinations, and frequent vivid nightmares meant that he was unable to find peace even while asleep. He was unable to work due to his mental health issues, and as a man, the societal expectation that he should be able to support his family was very much on his mind and added to his feelings of shame.

They tried prescribing some medications over the years to help ease his symptoms, however the antipsychotic medications he was given were under-researched at the time and were not very effective, often causing severe side effects. Therapy was not regularly available, but he did make an effort to try this option and he spent much of my childhood in and out of inpatient and outpatient mental health facilities. PTSD was not something that was as well-recognised or well-treated then as it is today – now there are several forms of therapy that have been specifically developed to treat PTSD.

Due to the lack of support for his condition during that time, he turned to alcohol to manage how he was feeling, and it became his primary coping strategy. He didn’t drink all day every day, he could sometimes go days or weeks without alcohol, but once he had a drink it would start a binge that could sometimes last for days. This only added to the problems our family faced while living in poverty as what little money we had was often spent on alcohol instead of food and bills, so there were times we would go without running water or electricity as a result and would have to use food banks. There were heated arguments between my parents that would turn violent at times, ultimately leading to their divorce, and often he’d come home with black eyes and other injuries due to bar fights along with dents in the car or worse.

As a child, watching his personality change while he was under the influence of alcohol was something that terrified me. Due to his mental health situation, things always felt unpredictable anyway as I was never sure when he may have another flashback, but with the addition of alcohol, the unpredictability of his moods was much worse. His emotional outbursts intensified and although he wouldn’t remember what happened afterwards, he would often obsess even more about the traumas he had experienced while drunk. Sometimes he would sob for hours and ask me to write down accounts of his traumatic experiences or talk about them over and over.

Sometimes he would get angry and shout and destroy things in the house. There were also times when he would be having fun and would try to do random things while drunk and cause accidents, like setting off fireworks while drunk and causing a fire. So many times, he tried to quit drinking, and often he would manage it for several months at a time, but there would be another binge somewhere along the way and then it would lead to several more; eventually some drastic incident would happen, and he would feel ashamed and eventually try to quit again. His relationship with alcohol became an additional serious problem, and his symptoms of depression became worse over time, he often expressed thoughts of suicide. Eventually, my father developed hepatitis and jaundice from excessive drinking, and then several years later, at the age of 49 years old, he died of liver cancer. I was 23 years old.

The theme of Alcohol Awareness Week this year is The Cost of Alcohol.

While the average UK drinker spends an estimated £62,899 on alcohol over the course of their lifetime, there are many other costs of alcohol. My father was a complicated person who faced many challenges, but he was more than his struggles with alcohol and mental health problems. He was a talented artist and an amazing cook. He loved animals, watching cartoons and playing games.

He had a wonderful sense of humour and the best taste in music… and he was my dad. Heavy alcohol use cost him his marriage, and many other relationships, and eventually it claimed his life. Alcohol is linked to more than 60 medical conditions including liver disease, at least six forms of cancer, and depression. Alcohol harm can have hugely negative consequences on individuals and their families; 1 in 5 people in the UK have been affected by their parent’s drinking.

My dad always felt that he would eventually get things under control, so that he could still enjoy social drinking from time to time without binging. But while that may be possible for many people, that was not possible for him. We are all different, and we need to consider our own relationship with alcohol and be honest with ourselves if it is causing harm in our lives. For many people, alcohol can become a coping strategy for grief, trauma, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues but it only intensifies those problems over time. For some people, alcohol harm starts off as social drinking but becomes more difficult to manage over time and we feel we are losing control of our drinking. Whatever the situation, if you feel your relationship with alcohol is creating a negative impact on your life, you are not alone. Recovery is possible for everyone, and support is available to either reduce your drinking or stop completely. You can find more information about alcohol treatment on Alcohol Change UK support pages.

If you are worried about family and friends and would like to find out more on how to support yourself and those you care about, please visit Alcohol Change UK. Adults and children can also contact the National Association of Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa) by calling or emailing their free helpline. There is no age requirement to use this helpline and it’s completely confidential.

Here is a leaflet from Alcohol Change UK on the guidelines for alcohol safety if you’d like to review those.

Remember to use alcohol safely, and if you feel you can’t do that, please reach out for support. Take care.


Written by Julia Melvin

Skills utilised:
News, Stories

Facing The Final Note: A Journey Through Gender Identity and Mortality

Before we start, I’d like to give a trigger warning for mentions of the subject of death. Your health comes first, so make sure that you feel comfortable before you read.

When I was young, I was an extremely angry child. I used to scream and shout till my face was red and my throat sore. Somewhere there’s even a picture of me of when I was around 5 years, standing in a staircase with my face red as a tomato as some of my family members were laughing at my extreme anger and I was screaming that it wasn’t funny. No one, not even I, fully understood the source of my continuous anger. All we knew was that I refused to wear dresses, didn’t like when people said my old name and that I wept as I got my first period. It wasn’t until I met my friend, a transgender man, that everything made sense. The source of my anger wasn’t just random toddler outbursts, it was the fact that I was unhappy in my body.

I’m Gabriel, an openly queer, transgender man who is diagnosed with bipolar type 2 and severe Panic Anxiety. I’ve been in the Swedish healthcare system since a very young age, and I started seeing my first therapist at around 14 years old to talk about my identity. During these meetings I got asked if “I was sure?” and “Don’t you think it’s just a phase?”, but I was sure, I knew. Because I remember how I lay in my bed at 5 years old, looking up at the ceiling and happily saying that “When I’m 25, I’ll be a man”. To me, that was a fact. And it was when I met my friend that I learned that everything wasn’t just in my head. He had felt the same feelings and for the first time in my life I wasn’t alone or strange and I knew that my identity was valid.

After coming out to myself I found the courage to tell my family. As my mom watched the latest football game, I went into the living room and with tears streaming down my cheeks I look at her and said “I… I think I’m a man”. There were a few seconds of silence before she smiled and replied “Okay… it’s wonderful that you now know because we already did.” That moment changed my life forever and as I slowly came out to family members and friends, I was lucky to be met with nothing but love. However, society wasn’t as accepting.

In Sweden, almost 40% of transgender people between the ages of 15-19 have had, and sometimes acted on, very dark thoughts (Folkhälsomyndigheten, 2020). I’m one of those youths and I’ve spent most of my life thinking about and contemplating death. At 14 I was quickly diagnosed with severe panic anxiety disorder with roots in death anxiety and at 23 I was given the diagnosis of Bipolar type 2. These diagnoses have helped me navigate my life with therapy, techniques and lifesaving medication. But before I had these types of support, I started playing a lot of games and when I was 11 years old, I found one that anchored me and helped me through the day-to-day. That game was Eternal Sonata.

Eternal Sonata is an RPG from Japan initially released back in 2007. It’s a very niche game about the real-life composer Frédéric Chopins final dream before he passed away. As he lay on his deathbed in Paris his mind travelled to a world that wasn’t just different from his own, but it was one where he could wield magic. Now, magic isn’t new in RPGs but this game’s version of it certainly is. Because in the world of Eternal Sonata, those that can wield magic are sick and are going to die in the very near future. The citizens avoid them like the plague, and they’re seen as outcasts to the point that after one of the main characters, a girl named Polka, saves a man with her healing powers he runs away in fear and a mother physically pulls away her child and exclaims; “Never go near anyone that glows as that girl did. Do you understand me?!”

To many this might seem like simple storytelling, however, to someone like me it hits close to home. In many parts of the world there is no support for transgender individuals and in others it’s illegal for me to exist. As I grew up, I felt excluded and alone but as I played Eternal Sonata I got to go into my bubble and follow along on a journey where Chopin, Polka and their friends fought against a world that didn’t accept them, even when death was right around the corner.

Eternal Sonata is a heavy game about exclusion and death and how to fight back against oppression and find solace in your limited time of being alive. To be quite fair, it’s 70 hours of therapy. The game made me laugh, it frustrated me, and it certainly made me cry but at the same time, it gave me hope and helped calm my dark thoughts. Eternal Sonata truly is a gorgeous game but sadly few know about it. Throughout my life, I’ve met only a handful of fans but every single one has been touched to their core by the game. Eternal Sonata will forever be a part of my history and mental health journey, and I will always carry it with me because it’s tattooed on my arm.

If you’re struggling with mental health and/or your identity I want you to remember that you’re not alone, you’re not strange and that you’re valid. Consider calling your country’s suicide help line and I promise you; it gets better. With this, I’ll leave you with a quote from Eternal Sonata;

“I believe that the future holds infinite hope for all of us. So no matter what the odds, however slim the chance, I always try to hold on to that hope. I would never want to give up on something without at least trying. What about you? What would you have done in my place? Would you still have drawn a fortune if you already know what it was going to say?”

Written by Gabriel Eriksson Sahlin

Skills utilised:

Resilience, Riddles and Reality: Why I Design Puzzle Games

I am a game designer. No wait, scratch that. More specifically – I am an escape room designer. I became a professional, full time escape room designer back in 2019. Not long before the global pandemic… And you can guess what happened next – people no longer wanted to be locked up in rooms with a group of other people. It’s funny, that.

Before escape rooms, it was always puzzles. Whatever I could get my hands on – physical board games, crosswords in the weekly newspaper – and of course, video games. My earliest memory of playing puzzle video games was playing Portal in 2007. One of my friends had a computer that could run it well (well, better than the potato I called a computer could), so we got together each weekend and took it in turns to go up against GlaDos’s brain.

A screenshot from Portal, with a white cube on a circular disc in a concrete building.

Portal, 2007

But wait, I think I’m getting ahead of myself. I probably started puzzling years before. When I was barely old enough to talk, I remember doing word searches and crosswords with my mum. I’d visit grandma, and she’d rope me into helping her with her latest jigsaw. Then, as I got older I helped (or hindered) dad with the cryptic crossword. Don’t ask me how cryptic crosswords work, I still don’t really get it.

All that to say is that what I found in puzzle games is so much more than just the locks and keys and the four walls of the physical escape rooms I found myself working on later. Puzzle games are a world where things just make sense. In a good puzzle game there’s no timer, no zombie chasing you, no boss waiting round the corner to swing an ace, no racetrack to speed around. It’s just you, your brain, and the puzzles. It’s a simplistic kind of pleasure. An easy dopamine hit when the puzzle ‘clicks’ into place, or you find the hidden pixel where the treasure is hidden. They’re fun, yes, but they’re also immensely good for your mental health, too.

As a university student, I developed an intense claustrophobia. The kind of “I can barely function in society anymore” type. I couldn’t sit in a lecture hall for a while, but I could sit in an open-plan library and play rounds of 2048 to keep my mind focused on the reading material. I couldn’t go to the student bar on a Friday, but I could knock on my neighbouring dorm room and ask if they wanted to play the new “The Room” game. Getting on a train was near impossible, but only if I could fire up my laptop and get lost in The Talos Principle. Because puzzles, unlike the fears our anxieties blow out of proportion, are something we can control.

A large wardrobe shaped puzzle in a dark room from 'The Room'

The Room, 2012

I believe there’s a good reason games like “Wordle” took off during the pandemic, a time when so much uncertainty was rife and so many people were hurting. Wordle was a puzzle game in the true sense of the world, and one that seemed to unite everyone in a whirlwind of 5-letter words. Oh wait, “UNITE”, that’s a good one. I’ll try it as my starter word.

Personally, I preferred some of the spin-offs like “Redactle”, the sentence-pattern-recognition puzzle game that took whole Wikipedia articles and redacted all the words, challenging players to guess the topic in a few words as possible. One of my fondest memories of the last few years was phoning my mum each morning to say “Hey, have you done Redactle yet?” and the obligatory text from dad at 3 in the afternoon when he’d boastfully say he got it in 98 words. Of course, my brother would promptly post that he got it in 97 words. But despite our distance, it brought us all together.

a body of text, with various words blocked out


Puzzle games have this amazing place in my mental health journey. And, without anyone else admitting it, I can see that they have a special place in other people’s mental health journey too. Engaging in puzzle games enhances my focus, my concentration, and my memory. Those intricate little challenges a few clicks of buttons away require an immense level of attention, honing my ability to concentrate at the task of hand. Puzzle games quieten the chatter of my busy mind and allow, in a funny sort of way, to cultivate a state of mindfulness and be fully present in the moment. 

I play puzzle games because puzzles are something I feel I can control, and in a world that often feels like it’s spiralling out of control, that’s a comforting solace. There’s no uncertainty or anxiety like there is in everyday life, instead there’s a “correct answer” and a series of steps I need to take to get there. I love that.

Today I continue to design puzzle games to try to give that back to the world. I want to spark moments of intrigue and delight – a series of steps and logical deductions that end in a big and satisfying “aha”. Real life doesn’t have many of those moments of magic, but anything is possible in a game.

Today my Portal playing friend is a Mathematician. The girls I played The Room with at university are all in STEM careers. One of them is a Detective. And here I am – a game designer myself. I can’t help but wonder where we’d be without puzzle games.

Written by MairiSpaceship

Skills utilised:

Loss, Therapy, and Finding Myself through Streaming

Content: Warwick Zero shared their experiences in grief, loss, therapy and using streaming to explore their identity.

My personal mental health journey has been a fairly recent one (the last 3 years or so), but more so because I felt I wasn’t able to really be honest to myself about mental health and the stigmas that came with it. It was only when I hit my lowest that I started to think about my own mental health.

I think growing up, there was this pressure to ‘man up’, to not show emotions. It was instilled in me at a young age with society thinking if a man showed emotions, then it was weakness. And that stuck with me for a lot of my life. I would pretend to myself that I was doing ok. I would always brush off people’s concerns by saying ‘don’t worry about me, other people have it worse’ and all these mindsets finally came to a head when in 2020 I lost my dad.

I remember that phone call from my mum as clear as day. I was at my local pub playing in a D&D campaign when I got the call and my world stopped. At that moment, nothing else mattered. Everything fell to the wayside as I dealt with this tragedy and it was at this moment that I realized I really wasn’t ok, and wasn’t able to lie to myself anymore.

I was finally saying to myself ‘I’m not ok’.

This was the turning point in my life for me as I started to understand the emotional and mental harm I had been doing to myself for years. It took me getting to my lowest ever moment to finally realise that.

During the following months, I started going to therapy and understanding myself more. It was very eye opening realizing how much harm I was doing myself and how much I have been struggling. The biggest thing was learning that I was lying to myself about how I was. The words I told myself was causing so much damage that I couldn’t see it until it was shown in front of me. I was learning about myself and realising it was ok to not be ok

I was involved in therapy for a few months and starting to feel better; understanding myself more and feeling more comfortable with sharing my feelings etc, and so I wanted to start to connect with others to show that being ‘ok about being not ok’. However it was during the pandemic; a time where we were feeling more alone as ever. And so, I found streaming.

I started streaming October 2020 as a way to connect with people due to the pandemic and to feel less alone. It started just as me playing some games I enjoyed and telling my story for whoever wanted to listen. I didn’t expect much so I was surprised that I started to grow a community. For the first time in a very long time, I feel valid. For years I was told that I shouldn’t show my feelings and be honest to myself as others will judge me. But here I was with a sizable community who made me feel valid for me, and in turn showing others that they were valid!

And not only that, but I also started to truly learn about myself and how I identify.

With streaming, I was able to learn about my community and my eyes were opened up to just how much was out there in terms of self identity and expression. Suddenly I was introduced to a world bigger than what I knew, and suddenly things started to make sense.

I always felt like something didn’t ‘fit’, and I never knew what that was until I came out as non-binary.

Things made more sense as I never really identified as either male or female, but never knew there was an option for me to be neither. Finally I was truly myself, something I’ve never experienced before and with it coming to a year since coming out as non-binary, I can safely say my streaming journey has been a pretty good one.

Written by WarwickZero

Skills utilised:

How FFXIV Became a Home

CW: Brief mention of suicidal thoughts, brief mention of abusive relationship

As someone who spent their adolescence riddled with the undiagnosed, but very real, symptoms of both Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, my communities have always served as the backbone for the stability I needed in order to thrive.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a tightly knit crowd of LGBTQ+ friends and in an online sphere of gaming and fandom that embraced the equitable treatment of all involved. These spaces shaped me for the better; I found confidence in myself and never loved myself less for the people I loved, the transparency within my online spaces helped me understand my gender identity at a young age, and I found a passion for writing, entertainment, and community.  

The culmination of my experiences with games and the LGBTQ+ community that played them led to my decision to study Communications in college, where I hoped to take up social media management to remain involved with the spaces I loved as a professional. I landed my first role as Social Media Coordinator for our campus’ esports program, where I also found community both from my job and as a competitive player for Overwatch.

That’s me!

But in early 2020, I experienced the explosive fallout that came with the end of an abusive relationship. And, unfortunately, in a time I felt I needed community most, my small group of friends had grown distant from one another due to some questionable behavior that led to hurt feelings. I dove headfirst into the beginning of one of the hardest depressive episodes I’ve experienced as a young adult since my diagnoses and found myself drowning in a general apathy for my life and a passionate dance with suicidal ideations.

And if that wasn’t enough, enter COVID-19. 

I lost my home on campus within 24 hours and had to move in with my college friend in her childhood home. The first few weeks of lockdown were restless; Tiger King, Animal Crossing, and hoping to earn a VALORANT game key from random streamers on Twitch are the activities that passed the time. I had no access to a PC, let alone one capable of handling games, and felt I had lost the one thing I had left that kept me grounded to my own life.

My friend’s dad lended me an old computer of his that, while not cutting edge, would hopefully allow me to reconnect with the world. Around the same time, another friend recommended I try downloading the popular MMORPG, Final Fantasy XIV, to play with him and his friends.

I had my World of Warcraft phase during high school, and while I had loved the game for those precious three months, the appeal of MMOs was not there for me long-term. I found the community unaccepting of newcomers, making it difficult to become invested in more hardcore aspects of the game, and the vibes somewhat rancid; people only spoke to me to say slurs or hit on me after deciding I was a woman based on how I typed. My last few logins to WoW were for the Darkmoon Faire, where I mostly played minigames and leveled my fishing profession by myself. 

I was hesitant to give FFXIV a chance. It took convincing that I wasn’t signing up to yet another community where men found it funny to harass and bully non-men to scare them off. Even after agreeing, I remember how scared I was to even begin playing.

I don’t know how I would have survived without the community I found here.

Beyond outstanding storytelling and fun progression systems, FFXIV’s online community is the most positive online space I’ve ever existed in. You can run around any major town and find people who will wave, dance, and play music for you. If you need help with anything, from crafting clothes to needing an additional group of people to play story content, strangers are eager to assist you. Everyone is patient when you’re learning a new character class during in-game content and oftentimes will compliment you on a job well done. People will initiate a trade with you just to give you chocolates they made that day. The game’s social element is strong and full of individuals excited to exist alongside you during your time online.

Within a day of playing, my fears had melted away. My friend and I founded a Free Company, FFXIV’s name for in-game guilds, and began building what would become the most amazing experience of my life playing a video game. 

My in-game character, Chichika.

It didn’t take long for everyone who had joined the Free Company to grow close together. With our lives out of sorts due to the pandemic, we had all the time in the world to advance in FFXIV’s main story quests together, assisting each other with any crafting needs or +1’s for dungeons and trials. We formed silly traditions like riding Goobbue mounts to weddings and sneezing on the newlyweds after the ceremony. We became Aurum Vale’s #1 fans after finding a foolproof way to speedrun clears for an in-game event.

Our raid team’s group picture after clearing our first savage content.

Our Free Company went beyond in-game content and became a true family of people who loved to spend time together. Even after we caught up to the game’s current cycle of content, we’d log in just to hang around our in-game home and chat.  Our Discord server was where we could share anecdotes of our lives, memes, copious amounts of screenshots of our characters in-game, and so much more. As we grew larger, we began coordinating our own fun events; we formed a raid group, became bonafide treasure hunters, and hosted themed fashion shows (since glamour is the real end-game of FFXIV).

My in-game wedding where we’d ride Goobbue mounts to the official ceremony space.

I could truly go on forever about the memories this game, and its community, gave me. I poured hundreds of hours into FFXIV and know for a fact that a majority of that time was spent goofing off with the community I loved. To date, I see everyone I spent my time with as family and still speak to multiple friends I’d have never met if not for FFXIV. 

This game gave me a community where I could feel at home after being displaced from my own home in 2020. It gave me people who loved me and who I could love in return when I felt at my loneliest. FFXIV came into my life when I needed it most, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Written by Caelus McKeel

Skills utilised:

Knowing Yourself Is Half the Battle

I didn’t have a queer role model growing up. The only tangible examples of people like me I ever saw were the ones presented in movies and television. You know, the ones who are constantly tormented and tortured, who can’t possibly hope for a happy ending. I’ve come to call those “exercises in empathy for cishet people”. For me, it had the lovely effect of making me believe that if I dared to be too feminine, too far from what was expected of me, I’d be bashed. I wouldn’t make it. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies, television, literature, all things art. But video games were what taught me to be me. Without that, I’m not sure I would have made it this far. 

Historically, video games have mostly asked us as players to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. This roleplay usually ends up forcing us to experience one of two things: be someone who is like you, or someone who is unlike you. The simple facts of not identifying with Master Chief, of maining the Green Archer in Gauntlet Dark Legacy, of having Jet on lock in Fuzion Frenzy – these are markers of identity through which I understood what felt like me. A game doesn’t tell you who you’re supposed to be; it just takes you on a journey, and then asks you how you felt about it. 

Identity is often pushed onto us through familial and societal expectations, and through messages we receive, consciously or not, in the media we consume. That’s why games like Fable, The Sims, and The Elders Scrolls III: Morrowind were so formative for me. They allowed me to explore on many levels: what is my moral compass, what do I want to dress like, what is my favorite type of magic, what kind of people am I attracted to? Fable embodied all of this. You could dress in a myriad of ways, share a home with a wife or husband, and decide what kind of hero you are. My parents may have taught me to always be kind, but games like Fable gave me the tools I needed to decide that I wanted to be kind. 

And that’s where it goes further, really: the tools we’re given. I wouldn’t be half as competent or stable a person without video games. As a sports-averse introvert, a kid with ADD, and an autistic adult with memory issues, my learning opportunities are limited. I dropped out of CEGEP (the Québec equivalent of college) when it became clear that I don’t have the brain for higher education. Video games though? They taught me English, how to read maps, how to problem-solve, how to be patient, how to develop more efficient methods when the ones that came naturally fail me. I can’t even point to a specific game for most of these – that’s just the nature of gaming. 

It was a surprise to no one but myself that I ended up working in video games. I had always intended to write novels but spent the majority of my time playing, so when it dawned on me that games have to be written, the path forward was obvious. From dev tester to scriptwriter, it was refreshing to be in a space I understood, but the most fulfilling task was one I hadn’t even dreamed of doing: writing characters like me into a game. 

At the time of writing, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege has five official queer characters. I was involved in the development of three. Sidenote: I didn’t always identify as non-binary. For a long time, I believed I was a gay man. In the years leading up to my work on Anja Katarina “Osa” Janković, a trans woman, I learned a lot about gender identity through my online presence. An in-theatre, pre-pandemic viewing of Frozen 2 revealed I still had some things to figure out, but getting to know Osa in work-from-home answered so many questions. 

Credit: Ubisoft

I’m now on the other side of things, where I’m watching my work in games affect the people who play them. Several players I engage with online have told me that characters I worked on helped them realize their identities or feel like they belong. Of course few things are done alone, especially in AAA games, but I can take some pride in the part I played, right? Healing your inner wounds is as much about closure as it is about making sure that those who follow will encounter less obstacles. 

Video games held my hand when reality gave me nothing to work with. My one gay uncle was long gone by the time I started asking myself questions. The movie C.R.A.Z.Y., supposedly the peak of queer Québecois cinema, instilled a fear in me that might have been unjustified. Glee only started airing in 2009, and even then, much of Kurt’s story revolved around queer pain. But in Fable, I married a man, and I was Albion’s savior. 

Written by Simon “Seven” Ducharme

Skills utilised:

The Freedom & Possibility in Video Games

I don’t remember the first time I ever played a video game. What I do know is my brother, being only a year older than me, had a player 2 once I was old enough to hold a controller.

I loved gaming from the very start, the vibrant graphics, the fact that I could control what was happening, I could learn and I could improve. I think I’ve always appreciated the opportunity to be in a world where the rules make sense. I think people typically see video games as an escape, but don’t understand that they can also be a haven. A place to belong.

As time went on however, with my Mum’s insistence that video games had to be educational, and just generally growing up and getting absorbed in the world, video games fell to the wayside for me. We always continued to have the family console and games to share with my brother, but I was a child and didn’t really see video games as anything more than fun!

When I was 20, my life ended before it really began. I got a throat infection and never recovered… ME/CFS is a disease I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s almost as if I’m a phone with a faulty battery. No matter how much sleep I get, no matter the quality of the sleep, I wake up exhausted each and every day. I’m weak, all my muscles hurt, my eyes are sensitive to light, my ears sensitive to sound. Brain fog is another symptom that catches you out, because you know you’re smart, you know you’re capable but you’re stumbling around in a fog that prevents you from finding words you know, you jumble your words, forget what you said the moment the words leave your mouth. Frustrating is probably a very light word for how it feels.

I didn’t truly, fully appreciate what video games can do to support mental health until then. You see, the problem with being too exhausted to leave your house (or even your bed) is that you develop a bit of cabin fever. The same four walls, the same YouTube videos, the same TV shows. It all gets so suffocatingly dull. But what I didn’t expect to get me out of the worst mental health slump I’d ever been in, was Skyrim.

official artwork from Skyrim Press Kit - a knight looks over at a castle settlement on a rocky landscape, with pale pink clouds and a river running beneath it.

Hey you, you’re finally awake.

Five words that now haunt the minds of every gamer. But the five words that welcomed me to a new world, new experiences and the freedom to play in any way I want. Even though all I could do was lie in bed, I could prop myself up with pillows and be a part of something.

Because gaming demands so much mental focus, I didn’t have enough spare to think about what I was going through. Even though the pain and fatigue were still there, I didn’t think as much about them. I laughed. Thank you to Bethesda for how buggy a mess your games can be because oh boy did they make me laugh.

I digress. What I’m trying to say is, when the whole world became inaccessible, video games gave me possibilities. Have you ever grown a radish that then competes in dance battles? I have.

I also think without finding video games again, I would not be where I am now in life. I’m a Twitch Ambassador, I’ve raised over $25,000 for charity, I’ve made friends with amazing people around the world and I have an incredible community full of kind people. It’s a much better life than I ever envisioned myself having after getting sick. I’m even taking an arrow to the knee soon! Video games helped me when I was mentally at my lowest to regain a little control over my life. I’m very grateful for that.

Written by Radderss

Skills utilised:

Gaming: A Journey of Self-Discovery, Healing, and Resilience

Life has a funny way of throwing unexpected challenges our way, shaping our paths in ways we never could have anticipated. Growing up in a Christian context in Lebanon, where being gay was frowned upon, I found myself navigating a world that rejected my true identity.

From a young age, I believed the lie that my sexuality was a sickness. It was a heavy burden to carry, and the weight of it only intensified as time went on.

When I was eight years old, my parents noticed that I was different. In an attempt to “fix” me, they enrolled me in sports teams. Little did they know that their well-intentioned plan would expose me to years of daily bullying. School was no better, as I was bullied there as well. The people I hoped would become friends became relentless tormentors. I felt like a complete outcast, and I thought that this was normal, that this was my place in the world. The isolation I felt from my family only deepened my despair, as I feared that revealing my true self would lead to their rejection. At that time, I had no idea that there were others like me. I believed that I was alone in my sexuality and my struggles. Amidst this sea of confusion, one thing brought me solace—video games. The Sims 3 and Minecraft became my virtual sanctuaries, where I could escape the harsh realities of my daily life. In Minecraft, I found a sense of connection and acceptance on multiplayer servers that eluded me in the real world. In The Sims, I created an alternate version of myself, conforming to the norms imposed upon me, if only to experience fleeting moments of acceptance. I can see today that escaping might not have been the most ideal coping mechanism, but it was the only one that presented itself to me, and I wouldn’t be here writing this story today if it wasn’t for it.

As I grew older, I managed to overcome the bullying and accept my true self. I became very active in the queer liberation movement in Beirut, and I made new friends that became my chosen family and my support group. However, the weight of societal expectations coupled with the turmoil of events like the Lebanese revolution and the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to drown me in despair. And then came the Beirut Explosion, a cataclysmic event that shattered the city I called home and ravaged the safe havens of the queer community that had provided me solace in my teenage years. It was the tipping point, plunging me into an emotional shutdown. But, once again, gaming came to my rescue. In the depths of my grief, I discovered a game called Gris—a poignant tale of a woman’s journey through grief and resilience.

Playing through Gris became an intimate audiovisual experience, allowing me to channel my own emotions into a tangible form. The game guided me through a spectrum of feelings, providing a space where I could confront my pain and find catharsis in the process. Unlike before, gaming was no longer about escapism. It became a tool for introspection, taking me on an emotional rollercoaster that mirrored my own journey of healing and self-discovery. Gris made me feel understood, serving as a powerful reminder that I was not alone in my grief. It helped me find the strength to face my pain head-on and emerge with renewed resilience with which I was able to continue my studies in France, where I feel liberated, but isolated in the uniqueness of my experience relative to others.

These experiences shaped my unwavering passion for gaming. Video games hold the power to transform lives, to provide solace, and to foster understanding and acceptance. They have saved my life, and I want to pay that forward. Today, by setting foot in the video games industry as an intern at Ubisoft, I stand on the threshold of a new chapter in my life—a chapter where I strive to create games that empower, enlighten, and embrace inclusivity. As I embark on this path, I carry with me the lessons learned from my own struggles. I understand the significance of representation and the need for diverse narratives. I am determined to create spaces where individuals can see themselves reflected and celebrated, where their stories can be told and heard. Gaming has the remarkable ability to transcend boundaries and connect people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. It has the power to cultivate empathy, to facilitate healing, and to ignite personal growth. My journey serves as a testament to the profound impact gaming can have on our lives, and I am committed to leveraging this medium to effect positive change.

Written by Peter Razzouk

Skills utilised:

How Video Games Saved My Life

Mental health. For me, this topic is intensely complex, and tied in with both gaming and all aspects of my life and journey.

As a streamer, we put ourselves in the public eye so many times, and it can be very hard to talk about such personal pieces of us. But I think also, us talking about our journey more in a public setting, can normalize that many of us go through similar issues, and destigmatize our struggles with mental health. This is my story.

For those who don’t know me, my name is Bolinbear on Twitch, and I am a variety streamer.

Growing up, games have been such an ingrained part of my life. Heck, I remember playing Super Mario Brothers 3 during a Thanksgiving dinner when I was 5. My earliest and fondest memories were taking on the challenges of Sonic Adventure, Battletoads, MMO’s with my friends, and more! Little did I know that the games I loved and enjoyed, would save my life.

I’ll make the trauma short, but I experienced neglect, SA, childhood trauma, domestic violence, and drug abuse very young in my childhood, mostly from my parents and the people close to me. It’s caused me to repress and internalize much of the self-esteem issues I had growing up, and having a strong fear of rejection, of not being wanted, because my parents instilled that in me. Much more so, when I came out to my family in my early 20s.

I pretty much had to go no contact with my family to save what little shreds of mental health I had left.

Fast forward to about 3 years ago during the pandemic. I was at the lowest part of my life. I spent so long trying to please others, and neglecting myself, and I hated what I looked like; felt like; and sounded like. The world would be better off without me. So I attempted to commit suicide, and I had a note and everything. But my online friends stopped me; the gaming community pulled me back from the brink of despair. Because of this, I’m still here today.

So now in 2023, I want to be that safe space and that person who can be there and understand how complex mental health can be. Both having a strong LGBT+ community, a strong gaming community, and seeing those worlds fuse together has brought me much joy! I am so glad that I am still here, and I hope gaming can do the same for many of you. Having that escape really brought me escape from the worst of times, and connected me with some of the best people in my life. I want to say, you are loved, valued, and deserve the absolute best. Hugs from me to you if you are struggling, and just know it will not always be this way.

Things truly do get better.

Written by Bolinbear

Skills utilised:

Agoraphobia recovery and finding myself in Stardew Valley

I have been through a lot of traumas in my life so far, from being bullied by all the girls in my year in high school to multiple situations with men who didn’t listen to me when I said no.

These experiences gave me severe anxiety which manifested as agoraphobia in the past few years, it understandably got a lot worse during Covid lockdown, so I made the choice to move back home with my mum.

At that point I was unable to take the bins out or stand in the garden without having a panic attack at the door, not being able to do simple things like that made me feel useless and quite seriously suicidal, at one point I even ended up having a psychotic meltdown.

Thankfully, my mum fought for me to get talking therapy as soon as possible which saved my life, I had never been a fan of talking therapy previously as I now know I just had the wrong therapist, my recent therapist helped me think of my goals in smaller steps and learn that the more I do something, the less scary it will be! I’ve started going to the gym at least once a week since the block sessions of therapy ended, whether I do my full workout or just part of it if there’s too many men there, I have learnt to see the small victories.

When it comes to gaming, Stardew Valley is a favourite of mine. It is such a complex world and allows you to romance both the women and men of the town no matter what character you begin with. I’m queer myself and the game helped me, in the simplest way, solidify that gender doesn’t really matter to me when dating. I’m too anxious of a person to date anyone right now.

Another thing that has helped me improve is to vlog myself when I leave the house, so that I can look back while editing it together as well as look back on them in a few months to see my improvements or to remind myself that I can do something if I am feeling too anxious to leave the house at any point. When I do have moments where the agoraphobia creeps back in for a few days or weeks, I now try to not see it as going back to square one, it’s just putting my recovery on pause so I can rest, and it’ll happen less and less as I keep improving.

When my agoraphobia stops me from leaving the house, games are what I turn to so that I don’t overthink my situation too much, they help keep me in some kind of routine when I’m unable to do anything else and they help give me some kind of feeling of accomplishment when I’m unable to work on my anxiety.

As my journey continues, I’m looking to go back into some talking therapy as well as looking into an autism diagnosis because while living back with my mum we often discuss how I was when I was younger and things I struggle with now and it seems more likely that I have been undiagnosed autistic/BPD.

While I’m finding out more about myself and recovering from my trauma, I’ve stopped dating as a whole which has led me to identify less as bisexual and more as queer, I’ll discover more about myself once I feel OK enough to date and figure it out. Until then, I am just not sure enough to be able to go by anything else, and I’m OK with that for now.

I do hope that being so open about my struggles online may help just a single person who feels as alone, as I did last year, and that it can help them know that they’re not alone and it can get better. 


Written by Emily

Skills utilised:

How Rainbow Six’s queer representation saved my mental health

I love competitive games, specifically first person shooters (FPS). However, they are notorious for their toxic communities.

This poses an issue for neurotypical, non spicy-brained individuals, so the effects it has on someone who is atypical can be incredibly detrimental. Further, when we look at the toxicity faced by players, some of the most common insults and slurs used within the FPS gaming world are homophobic. This homophobia is further reinforced when games introduce pride banners for pride month or tweet their support for the LGBTQIA+ community. These scenario’s have made it difficult for my mental health being a queer content creator, specifically within the game Rainbow Six Siege.

I use gaming and content creation as a form of escapism from the issues I face daily, and I have built a stunning and queer safe community in the process. But this regressed when I moved over to Siege. I faced a type of queer hatred within the gaming world that I had not been exposed to before, and I used to play Halo 3 semi professionally haha. It became incredibly depressing to be team killed repetitively because I used an Xbox pride profile picture (pfp) or receive continuous messages from random people because they were less or more skilled at the game than me. It was constant. To the point where I didn’t want to play the game anymore, let alone make content. I face homophobia regularly in my day to day – through various jobs, family members and even sometimes friends, so to have one of my passions infected with ignorance was less than ideal and took a toll on my mental health.

But these feelings rapidly went away when I learnt more about Ubisoft and the developers of Rainbow Six Siege. Every year we see various companies change their logos on social media, but never on all accounts, just western ones. This makes pride feel more of a commodity for some companies than an actual stand with the LGBTQIA+ community. Ultimately, some companies do it for money. Not Rainbow Six Siege.

Their global account as well as their global discord is changed to show their support with pride all over the world, this was the first win for me in re-igniting my passion. Fast forward a few years and Rainbow Six Siege now boasts 68 playable operators, some of which are LGBTQIA+. Caveira is a Lesbian, Pulse is a bisexual man, Osa is trans, Flores is gay and Sens is non binary.

An image of Osa from Rainbow Six

Credit: Ubisoft

Although Siege doesn’t have a story mode, fans of the game LOVE the lore. The lore comes is featured within the Battle pass (Caveira had a necklace with her girlfriends initials engraved), CGI trailers and Easter eggs. This representation and inclusion has been crucial for the LGBTQIA+ community who play the game. I am sure some people will read this and question why it is so important “it’s just a game”. To have a company support your existence, fully well knowing how angry this would make part of the player base, is the best feeling.

The Ubisoft and Siege W’s continue when we look at the fact they worked closely with non-binary and trans folk to make sure they done a good job with Sens and Osa. It felt that it was done with genuine care opposed to just “ticking boxes”. I want to reiterate that the LGBTQIA+ characters are all free to play, and not an example of commodity fetishism. Which neatly brings me on to my next point. The one time Ubisoft/ Siege did put LGBTQIA+ content behind a paywall – ALL of the proceeds went to the charity ILGA World (The Intl Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex association). This bundle came with a pride banner and an outfit for Osa to represent the charity.

It isn’t unusual for Rainbow Six Siege to feature a charity bundle either, it happens every season in their Sixth Guardian programme. Further proving the companies support of the community. Of course, once again, this was met with toxicity and team killing occurred for many players who rocked the pride banner. The Siege devs then took it a step further and made a change within the game to stop this, you can no longer team kill during prep phase – this is the phase in which the offenses happened the most. Now it was never explicitly said that this is why that change was brought into place, but the timing was impeccable so I feel that it played a part.

Sixth Guardian Charity Program with ILGA World

Credit: Ubisoft

Rainbow Six Siege, and Ubisoft support the LGBTQIA+ community all year round. Whether it is supporting their queer staff, shutting down homophobic Twitter trolls from their global account (they are sassy and I live for it), showcasing queer creators or providing more representation for the LGBTQIA+ community who holds their game so dear. Rainbow Six Siege is a perfect demonstration of how a company can be such a fantastic ally, an ally that we all need. Seeing the stance Ubisoft and Siege take on homophobia within their gaming community leaves me feeling super positive, even when I receive the odd message of abuse. Although those people still exist within the game, I am exposed to their behaviour less and less.

Rainbow Six Siege will forever be my favourite game for both the game itself and the brighter side of the community that we have been able to build from Ubi. I am proud to be an openly queer, female creator of Rainbow Six Siege and I am proud of the community I am a part of. My mental health whilst creating content for this game has become almost impenetrable because I have never felt so supported. This piece just scratches the surface of why representation matters within the gaming industry and just how crucial allyship is.

Written by Titanium Rolo

Skills utilised:

L’Envol by Élise in the Clouds

Video games have been for a long time my lifeline. I was born a very turbulent but smiling boy, had troubles focusing on things, was always daydreaming about nothing and everything… My mother told me later that she originally didn’t want to keep me, she already had my older brother with which she had a very strong relationship.

I felt very quickly that other than my sister (and my brother to a lesser extent), I was pretty alone. I was the happiest when I spent time with my brother and sister, playing video games, trying to see what stories are unfolding.

Playing video games was my gateway to feeling at peace with the physical world, where everything was complicated, strict and unbending. I was born in Belgium, traveled to Russia, then to China during all my school years. Russia was especially hard, we didn’t speak the language, we didn’t understand why we were there, it was gloomy and sad. My parents were never home, they had to work hard to earn money as restaurant owners. I’m grateful that my siblings were there during this period of my life.

I had a hard time relating to physical world things. I made friends in high school (they still are) around video games. I was living in China at that time, and we were unsupervised kids that could easily go out at night in bars drinking alcohol, going into LAN bars playing video games all night… when I think about it, it was outright dangerous and irresponsible from a parenting standpoint. But I have fond memories about it. Video games helped me connect with other people. At school, some of us were very ostracized for being “geeks”, “nerds” I don’t think I cared much, I just had fun with people that appreciated me!

I traveled to France for my uni years, I wanted to become a clinical psychologist. I remember telling myself “I want to help people”, and it was obvious that I had to work in mental health to do that. I started therapy around that time also. Video games were still an important part of my life, it’s also a period of my life where I played too much Starcraft 2, and I was having difficulties balancing my romantic life with my partner that I still love and share life with today. I wanted to prove my individual value, thinking that if I were good at a video game, people would love me. It’s irrational, but at the time it made sense.

I also didn’t know what Master’s degree I wanted to do. I decided to specialize in “Psychoanalysis, video games & virtual worlds”. I wanted to do something that others didn’t do. It was a novel specialization field, nowadays it’s less unknown. But I also had the firm belief that I could help people by making sense of the games that they played, either in therapeutic settings, or from their personal stories. I still work in this field most of the time, I’ve been doing this for nearly 10 years now!

As time went on, I felt knowledgeable intellectually speaking, but I still completely ignored my body, and felt ‘incomplete’.

Still a man that never looked himself at the mirror, and never cared about looks. I felt the most represented in narrative games such as Planescape: Torment, Disco Elysium, Gris, Night in the Woods, Little Nightmares, Pillars of Eternity, Flame in the Floods… These games all deal with stories that are centered around psychological & emotional crossings. It’s complex, it’s morally grey, it’s complicated, it’s abstract… Answers are very subjective and not simple. And thinking about the best moral, narrative choices that I must make in a video game was my way of enjoying myself!

I also always created female main characters. It was weird, because when I played female characters, I always felt a disconnect, as if what I was living in the video game couldn’t exactly translate to what I was feeling in my body; yet when I forced myself to play male characters, I could play the games thoroughly, but I couldn’t identify with the characters at all. They were strangers.

My little one was born four years ago. I rediscovered my passion for music at the same time and was (and still am) playing tabletop roleplaying games with friends. With no surprise, I felt more tranquil when creating female player characters, and could tell my own stories more naturally, and in a way that made sense to me.

Several months after the birth of my baby, I had my gender identity breakthrough. I realized that I am a woman, I can’t remember what triggered it, but I couldn’t resist it anymore. What I remember though, is that suddenly, life became SO CLEAR! As if an enormous weight just released from me. Things just made sense; I knew exactly what I wanted for me. No more doubt, no more chains, I could just be myself.

I came out in late 2021. I’ve stopped playing video games around that time too. I do play the occasional video game when I really want to play it, but it’s just that, playing video games without the psychological, unnerving, unending torment of trying to understand nothing and everything. Instead, I’ve started being a music composer, was positively supported by other professional composers that immensely helped me start my career. I started to talk publicly on social media, sharing personal vulnerabilities & thoughts, without the imposing shadow of interdicts that always told me ‘Nobody cares about you’, or ‘You don’t know what you’re saying’.

I also realized that I didn’t want to be a psychologist anymore and am actively trying to transition my professional careers slowly but surely. To be a psychologist is hard, you can’t talk about yourself either during session or on public space such as social media. You always need to have an ear for others’ suffering. It’s dogmatic and constricting in a way, in which I felt imprisoned. I thought it gave me purpose, and it did for a while, but it certainly didn’t let me be who I’ve wanted to become.

I’ve never been this happy in my whole life.

Written by Élise in the Clouds

Skills utilised:

Video Games are my Mental Crutch

Video games have been an important part of my life for over 35 years.

They bring me a lot of joy and now I make my living as a game journalist, grateful that something that has always been there to provide entertainment now helps pay my bills. But it’s not just the enjoyment of playing them, or giving me a job, that makes video games an important aspect of my life. I use them as a tool to soften the blow of severe bouts of depression that I suffer from regularly. The ability to melt into a fictional world, one I’ve full control of, gives me an escape from the turmoil and anguish that is a deep, dark depression. The games are empowering, they help me remember that safe space and offer the warmth that the harsh real world denies me.

My depression comes mainly from being transgender. My body and my mind don’t join up and like other trans people, it causes poor mental health. I went a long way to stopping the worse of my depression by transitioning from male to female about nine years ago and the process has meant I’m now a fully functioning human that lives a life instead of mourning an existence as I did before. It wasn’t the silver bullet I’d hoped for though, I’m certainly in a much better space but the depression is always there in some form. I soon realised that it wasn’t just being trans that was causing my brain to ache, but my job in a large office in London that I just had no love for.

I feel that a mixture of transitioning on the job and not gaining any sort of promotion for years, despite my many applications and good work, was holding me back from true happiness. In desperation, following another failed application for a promotion, and generally feeling angry at the world, I just quit this job out of the blue. Handed in my notice, stuck two fingers up and never looked back. While the euphoria of ‘sticking it to the man’ felt great for a day or two, there was now an immediate issue in my life. I had no job to go onto, no prospects and no savings to rely on.

Before I left the job on the last day, some colleagues asked me what I was going to do. I casually told them I was going to become a game journalist and walk in the footsteps of the great writers of the UK magazine scene of the 90s. I’d always looked up to the likes of Jaz Rignall and Dave Perry who seemed like gaming gods to the teenage me. I don’t think my colleagues took me seriously, one even asked if I was okay and was worried I was losing the plot. In truth I was losing the plot, I was in a substantial depressive phase and the annoyance of my ten-year stay at a job I wasn’t progressing in just pushed me over the edge.

Skip forward six months and an array of anti-depressant medicines later, I found myself waking up from a mental health crisis with no job and no energy to throw myself back into the rat race. My housemate at the time encouraged me to go into the world and find happiness, and try something completely new to work in. I remembered that I had joked with my ex-colleagues about becoming a game journalist and thought about how much pleasure playing games gives me. Could I turn this hobby, this passion into a real job? After building up my strength and talking through my problems I was in a much better place. I was set to fulfil a childhood dream and find a truly happy place in my working life.

My friends and family thought it might be better for me to get back into the office work I was doing before as it was ‘safer’ and had more ‘prospects’. I knew that wasn’t the case, I knew that after my transition I had finally broken the spell of living in the constant spiral of depression and the final hurdle was to do a job that also made me happy. So, not knowing where to start I just began throwing everything on the wall seeing what would stick. I made YouTube videos, streamed on Twitch, built my own website, grew a social media following, offered to guest write on established gaming blogs, put myself forward for podcasts and started talking to game writers I found on social media.

The scattergun approach worked when two years ago an editor of a niche gaming magazine offered to pay me to write a few articles. Even though the pay was humble the fact that someone was willing to give me money for my insight, experience and writing skills was like an explosion. The opportunities started to snowball from that moment and now here I am. I’m writing for a world-renowned magazine, regularly appearing on TV and radio chatting about gaming news, presenting on stages at gaming events and generally living a life that seems like a dream. My poor mental health had pushed me to hell and back, it took immense strength to pull myself out of the gloom and at times I wanted to end my life. But I found the strength, I believed in myself and fought to have a happy life.

The depression will always be with me, there is no cure, but knowing that I will have video games in my life going forward I know I can deal with it and use my virtual crutch when I need it.

Written by Faith Johnson

Skills utilised:

Embracing the Power of Baldur’s Gate

In the vast realm of video games, there are those rare franchises that go beyond mere entertainment, leaving a lasting impact on players’ lives.

Although becoming more common, and the topic of mental health is being tackled more often, they still remain special moments for me and many others!

Personally, Baldur’s Gate is one such franchise. It is more than just a game – it was the starting point for me in my journey through sexuality and mental health too. It shaped my understanding of mental health and providing authentic representation for the LGBTQIA+ community (whether the developers intended this initially back in the 90’s or not!). Join me on this personal exploration as I share the profound impact that Baldur’s Gate 1, 2, & 3 have had on my own mental well-being and my perspective on diversity and inclusion.

As a lifelong gamer, I’ve always been captivated by the immersive storytelling and rich characters and my journey started with one of my fondest gaming memories. I used to sit on a small kids chair next to my dad’s PC as a young kid, graced with the title of ‘the disc changer’ as many games required multiple discs to play back then. The first time I remember doing this, I was given this large box with a fold out wallet of six discs, a heavy booklet and a large map. My adventure into Dungeons & Dragons and Baldur’s Gate had begun and every Sunday evening I’d sit down with my dad and we’d play together.

screenshot from Baldur's Gate - 1998

Here I learnt about role playing as somebody else and the lore was always abundant but what sets this franchise apart is it’s ability to transport players into a world where emotional complexities thrive.

Through interacting with diverse characters and experiencing their struggles, I’ve developed a deeper sense of empathy and a broader understanding of mental health challenges faced by real people and some realizations along the way made me very aware of my own mental wellbeing. The decision making of the series is a fundamental element that triggers the other views or side of the conversation and therefore makes you question your reasoning and dig deep into what the consequences will be and how your choices will affect others. As a kid, I often struggled with socializing at school, but the moment I discovered I could shape my personality and read into decisions & roleplay with others, it all changed.

Baldur’s Gate doesn’t shy away from addressing mental health themes, shining a light on the struggles that many of us face in our own lives. Characters like Minsc and Imoen have become more than just pixels on a screen; they represent individuals battling mental illness and undergoing personal growth. Minsc’s battle with depression and Imoen’s journey through trauma have resonated with me on a personal level as I’ve returned to play the games several times throughout the years. These stories have allowed me to reflect on my own mental well-being and have reminded me of the importance of seeking support when needed. Baldur’s Gate has shown me that gaming can be a platform for discussing mental health openly and destigmatizing these issues.

baldur's gate 3 - character stood on a burning beach/environment with huge tentacles

One of the most impactful aspects of Baldur’s Gate is its commitment to authentic representation, particularly for the LGBTQIA+ community. The franchise has given us well-rounded characters who defy stereotypes and embody the diverse experiences of real people. While the original didn’t include LGTBQIA+ NPCs, enhanced editions and Baldur’s Gate: Shadow of Amn did. Characters like Safana, Hexxat and Dorn have allowed me to see journeys of self-discovery and therefore develop my own. Through their stories, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the complexities of sexuality and gender identity and discovered my own too as a bisexual. Baldur’s Gate has shown me that representation matters and that games have the power to make marginalized communities feel seen and valued.

Without a doubt, relationships, gender and sexuality are high on the priority list in Baldur’s Gate 3. Character customisation includes your ideal lover and there are no limitations on gender, appearance stereotypes or sexuality. For exploration and discovery, it certainly gives off a well represented and inclusive environment, even if we’ve only seen levels 1-4 in the early access.

Beyond the game itself, Baldur’s Gate has fostered a vibrant and inclusive community. Online forums, social media groups, and fan-driven initiatives have provided safe spaces for players to discuss mental health and LGBTQIA+ issues. These communities have become a source of support, where personal stories are shared and inclusivity is championed. Being a part of these communities has made me feel heard, understood, and valued. Baldur’s Gate has shown me that gaming has the power to bring people together, creating spaces where we can find solace and support in one another.

Baldur’s Gate has become an integral part of my life, not just as a game but as a vehicle for personal growth, understanding, and connection. It has taught me the importance of empathy, representation, and mental health awareness. Through it’s immersive worlds and diverse characters, the franchise has inspired me to embrace diversity, challenge societal norms, and advocate for inclusivity. My journey with Baldur’s Gate has shown me that video games can be a force for positive change, empowering minds, and creating a more accepting and inclusive world.

Written by PizzaPixie

Skills utilised:

How Red Dead Online helped me talk to my brother about mental health

“It’s a nasty world out there, and it’s catching up with us…”

It’s 2001 and a much cuter and happier me is wandering wide-eyed through a tire-trodden rugby pitch at a local car boot sale. Car boot sales are something of a dying British pastime and a veritable treasure trove of useless tat; a pop-up wooden table selling stolen cable and dusty crates full of decorative plates gives you an idea of the sort of fare on offer – and I’m sure I’m not the only person with good memories of trundling along as a kid, a 50p coin burning a hole in your pocket.

The weather is always crap and it shows on everyone’s faces – but for me and my brother this cold and grey morning was the beginning of a great weekend. Times were often tough for my family – they raised us well and they gave me more than any toy or game ever would – but things didn’t come easy. It was rare that we would get a new game on release – from my memory the only times this would happen would be for Grand Theft Auto or Metal Gear Solid, so car boot sales presented the perfect opportunity for my parents to grab something cheap for us to play. Among the cars, there would be a few people selling demo discs (the ones that came packaged with the PlayStation magazine) for 10 or 20 pence each, and with only a £1 coin in hand we would return home with 5 or 6 of these for the coming weekend. This was by no means an enjoyable way to play videogames and it makes me laugh to think about how we would have to reset the console every time we wanted to replay the first 10 minutes of Silent Hill 2. My patience for games has certainly dwindled since, but as a child you find entertainment in the strangest of things so we would always have a blast. The hours spent playing the first level of Time Crisis 2 on repeat or messing around for 30 minutes in Bugs Bunny & Taz: Time Busters are some of the fondest I have with my brother, and playing co-op games has been an integral part of our relationship since. 

Fast-forward 20 years, the two of us have some war wounds – deep bouts of wavering depression, addiction, and anxiety had affected me during my time at university, and my brother was suddenly grappling with what we now know is schizophrenia, that meant a brief stint in the hospital. During this time he had to take leave from his degree and move back home. It was a difficult time for all of us and as my family moved to a remote group of islands some time ago it had always been a challenge organising a trip home whilst also studying and working.

Aside from a handful of visits to the hospital that I was able to travel for, I was feeling rather helpless – my other commitments meant I couldn’t stay home for an extended period of time to help ease the load and I so desperately wanted to do all I could to help my brother get better.

It was around this time that A Way Out had released – me and my brother had followed this game intensely since the original announcement revealed it was a split-screen only game and we made a determined effort to play it together despite the circumstances.

Working through that story reminded us how much we loved playing games together, and even though we were hundreds of miles away from each other, it almost felt like he was sitting there beside me as we shimmied carefully up the prison air ducts. Playing A Way Out was just so much fun that we would forget about all our anxieties and woes at a time when my brother found it difficult to trust people.

There was something cathartic about going back to that space where we could have fun like we did as kids, and the design of A Way Out felt purpose-built for capturing that nostalgia. After this, I think we subconsciously made an effort to try and play games together more often – we had enjoyed it so much and it helped us reconnect and feel closer.

As time passed, my brother’s health had improved – there was still a long road ahead of us but the future looked bright when at times it had been tough to stay positive. Although it ultimately brought our family closer together I think a lot of things pertaining to our mental health had been put on hold when my brother took ill and this is something that we haven’t fully worked out as a family how to talk about yet. For me and my brother, the last two years began to repair what had at times been a tested relationship, and although we had yet to openly discuss our health we felt comfortable talking and the darker times that had prefaced this felt increasingly abstract as days went by.

Gaming was still a huge part of our lives and as large swathes of the community were also doing at the time, we were tempering our unrequited excitement for Red Dead Redemption 2. The Red Dead series had made a big impression on us way back when Revolver came out and the childhood fantasy of gun-slinging in the Wild West with your buddies is one that I imagine most adults still spend inordinate periods of time daydreaming about. Red Dead Redemption had given us a taste of what this online world of outlaws could be like and 2 was another step closer to the Westworld we secretly hoped existed.

As fans of cooperative narrative experiences we jumped straight into the online campaign – although short-lived and relatively lacklustre, we both reveled in the opportunity to pull up our boots, polish our stirrups and get back in the saddle again as guns-for-hire for Jessica LeClerk. After a few hours of stranger missions, delivery tasks and general trouble-making we found that the expansive world that Rockstar had pulled from the single player story was severely lacking in content once you complete the initial short story missions.

Recurrent player challenges that offered little in the way of creativity, empty towns and saloons, abusive players and a general lack of interactivity hampered what should have been an engaging, multi-faceted and breathing open-world. The small details are what make Rockstar’s worlds so believable and immersive, and in the case of Red Dead, these were the innocuous and amusing activities made available to the player. When me and my brother had our fill of riding around shooting and lassoing one another we would often spend our time moseying through the world hunting, riding, playing poker, but most importantly – fishing.

A quick trip to Valentine to sell five or six sock-eye salmon would often turn into a three-hour stint as we tried to force a crashed station wagon with one horse up a steep mountain as fish are flung mercilessly out of the back – think more Blazing Saddles than The Hateful Eight.

This laid-back way of playing with no pressure to complete missions or time-sensitive challenges meant that we could play at our own pace, and as we often used games as an opportunity to catch-up this presented the perfect opportunity to take things slow and simply enjoy one another’s company. A lack of player interaction or storytelling gave us ample time to talk, to laugh and to enjoy ourselves at a difficult time and I think the virtual environment certainly tempered our anxieties. It felt easier to talk round a fire as we cooked our latest catch than to speak through the phone or message.

Neither of us are particularly interested in role-playing in online games, but something about the world around us – the natural landscapes, the whistling of the wind, complete isolation from the civilised world – had us both completely immersed. Hours would pass as the two of us would ferry our catch from town to town, a time-consuming effort broken only by conversation. The slow pacing and nuanced style of Red Dead 2’s game design meant that long journeys were common, and in the days of the Old West they had nothing but each other’s company to pass the time. I would tell him about my day and the issues I was having, and in turn felt more comfortable asking him about his problems. When before it had been difficult to speak to my brother about his health, here we could discuss it more openly.

Keyart from Red Dead Redemption

Even though we were escaping from the real world – the lack of anxieties and pressure afforded by the virtual world meant we had breathing space to talk more freely about real-life problems. A Way Out had given us a driven experience and thrill-ride that helped us bond in the same way the two titular characters did. Red Dead Online handed us a freely open world, a horse, a gun and a fishing rod, and the blank canvas we needed to build our own story – two brothers rebuilding their friendship (and who also fish from time to time).

A thick fog rolls over the lake where me and my brother stand rod in hand, two happy lures bobbing satisfyingly on the surface of the water. The stretching shadows of nearby mountaintops mark the passage of time, the occasional sniffle of one of our horses or the echo-carried roar of a distant brown bear are the only sounds that break the serene quietude of our chosen fishing location. As I look out into the water I see my brother standing there, ripples protruding from where his knees touch the lake’s surface. I think back to our childhood and how much simpler things used to be.

Games were a fun way for us to do something together as children, and as years have passed the way we interact with those games has changed. We may not be able to sit next to each other, twisted controller cables strewn across the living room – but we can play the same game, hundreds of miles away in an immersive world set years in the past. When times of adversity hit us hard, it was that same childhood love for games that helped us rebuild a tested relationship, learn to trust one another again, and talk openly about our troubles.

In a modern world wherein technology can play a damning role in our health and wellbeing – it is easy to forget that it has innumerable applications for making positive change in people’s lives. Greater inter-connectivity presents countless opportunities for allowing us to communicate with, care for, and have fun with the people we love. Games can be a wonderful form of escapism in times of hardship, but they can also be a bridge for connecting people – a place where we can meditate on, express ourselves, and then begin to make sense of difficult situations in our lives. My patience for games may have diminished since the days of car boot sales, but my patience for listening to others has grown – and I have my brother, and our love of videogames to thank for that.


by Brandon Cole

Skills utilised:

The Menopause & Me by Silvana Greenfield

Thanks to a few high-profile celebs the conversation around Perimenopause and Menopause has become more mainstream, with a slow increase of representation and discussion in popular culture; yet it is still a topic that is often overlooked or avoided in the workplace.   

Recently the UK government decided against providing special protection for menopausal employees under the Equality Act (2010), rejecting recommendations from the UK parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee, so the responsibility still lies with people like myself to speak openly and honestly about our experiences and help be the voice for people struggling with peri/menopause in the workplace. 

My story starts 5 years ago, aged 43, following a half marathon I did in London in October 2018, the usual aches and pains ensued in the days after the event which was pretty normal. It didn’t usually take longer than a few days for my body to fully recover, however this time things felt different. 

I was exhausted, physically, mentally and for a while I just put it down to my age and that maybe I needed to allow for a longer recovery period, but it became apparent pretty quickly that something was going on.  My bones were hurting. I was having pains in my lower back, hips and groin and coupled with debilitating insomnia, brain fog, acne and seriously low energy, I started to wonder if there was something seriously wrong with me. 

All of this was happening whilst working in a pretty fast-paced, time sensitive environment, no different to hordes of publishers in the games industry, especially when you are heading towards launch phase of a new IP in highly competitive landscape and in my capacity as Operations Director for the EMEA region, the pressures and responsibilities were not outside the normal realms of expectation for me. 

Having worked in the industry for over 20 years at this point, dare I say it, I was pretty proficient in my role, or so I thought.  As the symptoms of the perimenopause progressed, they manifested themselves in ways I had not anticipated and I was still oblivious to the root cause of why and what was making me feel so bloody awful.  Basic tasks which I could ordinarily perform on auto-pilot in my day-to-day role, took a huge amount of effort, oftentimes having to sense check or verify aspects many times over to ensure it was right. 

It was exhausting!!  I was having to work twice as hard for the same results and I felt that if I shared how this was impacting my work life, it would call into question my professional capacity which was a hugely horrifying concept to me. 

I was and still am massively proud of my career in the games industry and I didn’t want that to be marred in anyway, so I did my best to conceal the extent of how my health struggles caused by the perimenopause (undiagnosed), were affecting me. 

I questioned everything and I seriously thought I was losing my mind, I honestly thought I was falling into cognitive decline, so much so, I started to question if I was suffering from early onset dementia, a disease I had sadly watch my paternal grandmother endure.  This may seem like an extreme overreaction, but one I now know isn’t an uncommon worry for people in the throes of peri/menopause.   

The anxiety and emotional stress I felt throughout this period was immeasurable and in tandem, I was undergoing many medical tests, consultations for various symptoms, I was being pulled from pillar to post in varying fields; urology, rheumatology, gynaecology, none of which could really get to the root cause of the symptoms, in fact at no point was perimenopause or menopause mentioned or even flagged by the so called “experts”. 

It was only when I started to share how I was feeling with close friends that I began to join the dots, with many of us having similar stories, symptoms and signs, we all agreed that the lack of understanding, support or information from the medical sector was pretty staggering and for me personally, it opened the door to my new found path to becoming a Holistic Health and Wellness Coach.   

That journey also contributed to my decision to step away from the games industry and by openly addressing the physical, emotional, and mental changes brought on by peri/menopause, I want to lobby and challenge employers to engage in conversation, dispel myths and misinformation and provide education in the workplace.    

I want to champion the creation of a more inclusive and supportive work environment that allows all menopausal people to thrive, armed with the right support managing menopause in the workplace can be an opportunity for growth and development. 

Skills utilised:

Filling the Hole in my Heart with Ooblets by Sky Tunley-Stainton

On 3 September 2022, I lost Jerry, my eighteen-year-old cat and best friend in the world. 

I moved to the UK when I was 13 after living abroad in Cyprus and the US for most of my childhood. Starting a new school midway through secondary education – let alone in a new country – was extremely difficult, and I struggled to make friends. Growing up in Cyprus was culturally very different from the UK: I felt incredibly isolated. 

Soon after starting school, we adopted Jerry from our local RSPCA. He was my first friend in this country, and for the next 14 years he became an integral part of my life. I know people say this all the time, but he was a really special cat. He was so patient and friendly, and everyone I’ve ever known has been instantly enamored with him, including random delivery persons and contractors who were graced with his presence.  

Jerry saw me through all the highs and lows of being a teenager, and my years-long struggle with anxiety, depression, self-harm, and disordered eating. Whenever I cried, he would climb onto my chest and purr. In 2020, when I made plans to end my life, Jerry – and my promise to him that I would take care of him – was at the time the only thing that kept me here. 

I don’t think I can describe the feeling of him being gone. There was a chasm in my chest that I could feel every waking moment. (If I’m honest, there still is.) I couldn’t enjoy any activity anymore because everything I did, I remembered doing it with Jerry, or talking about Jerry, or just doing it in a world in which Jerry was still alive.  

Usually when I’m struggling I turn to games, but none of my usual favourites could stop me from thinking of Jerry and just being overwhelmed by grief. I desperately needed a distraction – to think of anything else, even for a moment. So, I bought Ooblets. 

I didn’t really care if I liked the game, but at least hopefully learning new mechanics and immersing myself in a new story would use up all of my available headspace. I named my player character “Jerry,” and chose a pale ginger hairstyle in two space buns that sort of resembled cat ears. Over the next week, I spent 100+ hours in-game. It was pretty much a slam dunk for me: part farming sim, part monster collection, part deck builder. 

In the quirky yet relaxing backdrop of Badgetown, I focused all of my energy on learning new “Oobish” phrases and terminology – and, of course, collecting every Ooblet I could find. Having something to concentrate on, and get excited about, helped me get through each day in the weeks following Jerry’s death. I played pretty much constantly – during breaks, and from the moment I finished work until I went to sleep. Without the all-encompassing thoughts swirling around my head (wondering if I could have spotted the signs of Jerry’s illness sooner; second-guessing whether I made the right decision to put him to sleep; and just missing him with every fibre of my being) I felt more able to process my feelings, and gradually my day-to-day became more bearable. 

Ooblets is such a special game to me because, silly as it might sound, it was there for me when I really needed something to latch onto. It was friendly and funny and let me make a human version of my best ever boy which brought me joy every time I opened the game. 


If you’re struggling with Pet Bereavement, please refer to Blue Cross’ Bereavement Service which is a worldwide free service offering online community, email and text support, and a UK phoneline.

The service is free and open every day of the year from 8.30am – 8.30pm

Telephone 0800 096 6606


Skills utilised:

Grief, Bullying, Failed Grades and Why I Am Better for It

I was born and raised smack in the middle of Nairobi City.

Yes! The same Nairobi Alba Flores embodied in the acclaimed Netflix series Money Heist. The capital city of Kenya. During the first decade of my life, we lived 30 minutes away from the Nairobi National Park where tourists and conference visa holders continue to visit to see the big 5 in one day.

At the top of the millennium, my parents decided to change things. The policies around the government house we lived in thanks to my mother’s house allowance at work changed and she needed to spend a huge chunk of her salary on rent.

My parents were left with no choice but to move us into an unfinished home. See my parents had started constructing a new home a couple of years back and although it was not complete it was habitable.

The day we moved out was filled with mixed emotions we went around our neighbour’s homes saying bye to our childhood friends with tears in our eyes. On the other hand, my sisters and I lit up at the prospect of living in a new home with a huge front lawn to play on. Our little minds were not prepared for what we were about to experience.

We arrived at our new house during daylight hours but when the sun set so did our short-lived excitement. We realised that we had moved into a house that did not have electricity or running water yet. So we lit our kerosene lamps and boiled borehole water on the stove for our evening showers.

Things started going downhill from then on, well at least in my own little world. My parents enrolled us in a new school that required a 30-minute commute on foot if the car was not available to ferry us to school.

The said car was an old navy blue Peugeot 504 that would break down a lot. I remember one day it got stuck in the mud on our way to school because it had rained and the tarmac had not been laid yet.

In addition to these challenges at home and on the way to school. I experienced bullying in school from this little girl who drew immense joy from tormenting me. As a result, my grades dipped and one school morning I became so ill that my mother had to take me to the hospital.

Upon asking a few questions the doctor told my mother that my condition was a result of the stress I was going through due to the move and the new school. So that day since I was not going to go back to school my mum and I had a long conversation about what was happening to me.

That is when I disclosed to her that one of my teachers was being cruel to me constantly punishing me when I missed answering a question right. The punishments were the corporal kind and her pinches on my arms left me with red sores.

The next time I went back to school my mother came along and made sure that she spoke to that teacher and told her the consequences of hurting other people’s children. That day I could tell that she (my teacher) had been crying because her eyes were red when she got back to class for our maths session.

My mother is my rock and I am grateful. Fast forward past those crazy primary school years to my high school years. High school came with its new set of challenges I could not easily turn to my mother for help because I was in a boarding school. So I had to quickly learn how to stand up for myself in the face of bullies.

In my second year of high school, I lost my 6-month-old sister to an accident at home. Again my grades started to dip and this time so did my mental health.

I remember my classmates and class teacher taking me home to spend a day with my family after the funeral and then having to go back to school with them because again it was a boarding school.

One thing that hurt me the most was I was forced by my class teacher to stay in school during the mid-term break because of my grades. My mother was grieving too so I did not dare ask her to fight for me this time.

So as other people went to be with their families I had to stay in school grieving my sister on my own and forcing myself to focus and try to bring my grades up.

It goes without saying that it became a challenge with each passing day. We did not have a counselling department in high school so I had to bear all that pain on my own.

I remember feeling so bad one day that I even contemplated dying. So I somehow survived high school and passed enough to proceed to the university. I could have done better but given the circumstances, I had done my best.

My deep respect for games started right after high school. I was idle at home waiting to receive communication from the universities I had applied to.

At this time the house was almost complete and we had running water and electricity. One day my mother came home with her work laptop. It was relatively new and I liked how you could move around with it. The other home computer was pretty much stuck in one place.

It was only natural for me to be fascinated by this new contraption. So I curiously started exploring whatever was within and that is how I stumbled upon Mavis Beacon. Mavis Beacon is a game that teaches typing with fun quests to accomplish, accompanied by interesting music and animation that make the whole experience memorable. I love animations. So the fact that Mavis Beacon was filled with colourful animations only made my quest for fast typing skills achievable in the most fun and engaging way.

In less than two months I had finished the training and could comfortably type fast and accurately without peeking at the keyboard. You can imagine the kind of impact this had on my young teenage mind.

Before Mavis Beacon, I felt like I had a broken brain. I would study hard and fail to remember most of the things I had read. In a culture where regurgitating what you have read is deemed intelligent, it was frustrating to do so much yet receive so little in rewards.

Mavis Beacon helped me discover the power of games and the kind of impact they can have on someone’s life. My fast typing skills have made my career as a writer all the more enjoyable. I am currently a big advocate for games that impact people’s lives. I keep on talking about my first encounter with gamification through Mavis Beacon and how Duolingo has helped me with my language-learning journey.

In hindsight, I am glad we moved. I am glad that I went through the challenges I did because now almost a quarter of a century later I am better for it.

Wendi Ndaki is passionate about the fusion of art and technology and that is why the video games industry feels like home to her.

She is a Writer, a Visual Artist and a YouTuber with a Bachelor’s degree in Information Systems Technology from the United States International University- Africa. She has worked in the gaming industry as a writer for more than 5 years now and she aims to demystify the rising gaming industry one story at a time. She is currently doing so through articles for clients as well as through engaging educational animated content on her company’s YouTube channel.

Skills utilised:
News, Stories

How I dealt with unexpected grief by Rosie Taylor

In 2015, I went to the University of Exeter, at its Falmouth campus, to study Zoology. I remember driving up the hill on moving-in day in September, just about ready to throw up, but smiling anxiously at my parents amongst a mish-mash of my belongings that we’d squeezed into the car.

Upon arriving, I was immediately overwhelmed, and just moving boxes into my allocated room felt like a lot to deal with. After a solid hour of running back and forth from the car to the flat, we had everything in, and as I was walking back inside with the final box, a head popped round the door at the end of the corridor with a huge grin on it.

This was how I met Bry, who was a new roommate and soon-to-be friend. She was one of those people that as soon as she walked into a room, there would be a little more joy and a little more laughter than there was before.

Over the course of the first year, we did the things that most flat-mates would – share a drunken pizza (or a steak during vegetarian month, in Bry’s case), dance, talk nonsense, stress about exams etc. She also tried (and failed miserably) to teach me to stand up on a surfboard. But she did encourage me to get a wetsuit, and now every time I go bodyboarding or sea swimming, I think of her.

First year came and went, and soon enough it was May, and we were all bidding our farewells to each other ready for the summer back home. I remember when I was leaving, only Bry could come and get breakfast with us on the morning, because she was the only one in the flat not disgustingly hungover from the night before. If she was, she did a great job of hiding it. Then my Dad drove me home, and I waved goodbye from the car at the handful of my flat-mates who I’d see again in September.

In mid-August I woke up to an early missed message from Bry’s twin sister, Sophie, asking to call her. I thought it was strange, because whilst we were of course friendly, we didn’t talk much on messenger. I called Sophie, and as soon as she picked up I knew that something was wrong. It wasn’t a long conversation, and frankly I don’t remember the details and wouldn’t want to recount them either. My friend had stayed round the previous night and so it only took her one look at me to realise that something serious had happened.

Bryony had unexpectedly passed away whilst on a trip doing conservation work abroad. I don’t remember my initial reaction, but I know that I was crying before I realised what was happening. I texted my parents, who were abroad at the time. Then I decided amongst the panic and processing, that I needed to go for a run. So I politely asked my friend to leave, got into my running gear, and made it about 200m from the house before I collapsed on the floor unable to breathe through sobbing.

I walked home, and sat in the shower for about an hour. I kept checking social media and the news – perhaps there had been some terrible mistake. Perhaps it was some sick joke and, come September, Bry would be walking around campus singing and laughing like usual. Maybe they’d just made a mistake. She was 19. It had to be a mistake.

I started wandering around my town late at night to avoid being by myself in the house. It made me feel like I was doing something even though there was nothing to do. It gave my mind some space outside to scream internally at the injustice of it all. To listen to music that I couldn’t listen to sat down because it was too painful, but allow myself the space to feel.

The funeral was difficult. My Mum drove me for about 4 hours to make sure I could go to say goodbye. It was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had to get through.

The next few weeks waiting to go back to Uni drifted into one, and soon it was time to pack up my things and go back. On one hand I was excited to be seeing friends again, and move into our new student house. But of course, there was also the reality that I’d be going back to face a town of memories with a friend who was no longer there with us. We attended a University Memorial for Bry, and there was a tree planted. I visited it last year, and every time I am on campus. It brings me hope. By some strange twist of fate, the last time I visited, by pure coincidence I bumped into Bry’s mum in a rather emotional catch up.

The first few months were the hardest. I’d look for Bry on nights out, before I’d remember. I had panic attacks every time we had group settings. I had panic attacks every time I heard funeral songs that were played. I still have a hard time listening to Mr Blue Sky.

We started to settle into our new student house, with 3 other wonderful previous flatmates. My friend Ellie and I ended up often finding comfort in sitting and watching each other play games on lazy afternoons. I can’t speak for Ellie, but I treasured those moments, as they were some of the only spaces I felt like I could breathe. Talking about Bry came more naturally when there was something else to focus on. We played Kingdom a lot. Whilst it was a relatively simple game, we spent hours in this beautiful pixelated world, getting absorbed by simply trying to reign this Kingdom.

This was when I started to dive back into the land of gaming. It’d always been a part of my life, but having it to use as a crutch when the whole world felt like it was turning grey was probably one of the reasons I made it through. Grief setback my mental health by a long way, and ultimately kickstarted a bout of depression, panic and anxiety all over again. Gaming allowed me a breather from that, and it’s why I’m so grateful to games like Kingdom – even in the darkest of days, games can provide a small light to ground you.

Grief is not, and will never be easy for me. I get lost in it. Often so much so that I don’t feel like myself anymore, like I’m just hovering around watching myself struggle. But there are ways to help push you through those especially difficult times. They can be games, or people, or moments of solitude, but finding what can help bring you back from that isolating mindset is important. I still struggle about losing Bry. Years later and I still remember how crushing it was when I first found out. It’s okay to lean on people. It’s okay to lean on hobbies.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve, it’s a journey that we all go on. Ultimately for me, it has to end in a celebration of life, rather than a hyperfixation on death, in order for us to get through it.

Rosie and Bry walking on the beach with a bodyboard and surfboard


Skills utilised:

Creating Games With Inclusivity in Mind

An astronaut is severely immobilized. Picture this. She keeps on floating about unable to keep her feet on the ground unless she wears special boots.

She can’t feed herself unless she learns to coordinate her hand-to-mouth movements. On top of that, she requires specially prepared food. Let’s not even go to how difficult going to the washroom must be.

While on the moon she can’t sustain her body’s need for oxygen, she requires “life support” systems for her very survival. Yet she is not labelled deficient in any way. Society doesn’t see her significant physical incapacities while in space as problems that need to be fixed. Assumptions of helplessness or incompetence never arise.

In fact, it’s the opposite. She undergoes rigorous training and she is tasked with the responsibility of carrying out complex and demanding outer space tasks. She is considered a heroine.

It is the environment she is in that is deemed to be the problem and not her immobilized state. Her environment is considered to be hostile and alien thus not accommodating to her physiological requirements. So lots of money goes into preparing assistive devices that enable the accommodation of her physical and physiological needs. She can stay alive and breathe in that unfriendly world. In many ways, the world we live in is a lot like the unfriendly world on the moon. There are a lot of us earth-bound humans whose physical requirements require assistive measures to function in this “hostile” environment.

Let me introduce you to a beautiful young boy called Alistair.

Alistair is surrounded by love and Angela his caregiver is always eager to make things easier for him. Alistair’s story is special. He was born without his sense of hearing. Doctors diagnosed him as deaf but there was something else. He was different from the other hearing-impaired children; hyperactive and unable to grasp sign language. He was a deaf boy with autism.

Every time they went out, he would through a tantrum and make a scene. Naturally, Angela felt like she had failed him. She felt like she was the only one who got a chance to truly see the real Alistair and it was unfortunate that other people could not do the same. One day, his teacher planned a trip to the mall and Angela panicked, but the teacher was sure her method would work. She realized that to penetrate Alistair’s “defences”, she needed to give him information on what was going to happen to him. So for the next 3 days before the trip, they showed him images of the things he would experience on that day.

They showed him an image of getting into the car, driving to the mall, arriving at the mall, browsing the stores, getting back to the car, driving back to school and then going back home. Alistair was unusually calm on the day they went to the mall. Unlike other times, he did not go running around touching everything. He knew what was going on. He had information and that gave him peace. There and then, Angela realized that this was the solution they had been looking for all this while.

Alistair’s family had a boat and despite the amazing experience that going on a boat is, it was always a nightmare. After the trip to the mall, Angela realized that it wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy the boat. He didn’t hate the boat either. He just didn’t like not knowing where he was going, when they would leave and if they’d return home after the trip.

Alistair’s father decided to apply the same method his teacher used for the boat trip. He showed him a calendar of the day they were leaving, how long they were staying in the boat and when they would return. On top of that, he showed him pictures and drawings of the adventures they would enjoy together. When the day came Alistair enjoyed sailing in the boat.

The information he received before the trip gave him peace and allowed him to be in the moment. To tackle Alistair’s challenge with sign language, his sign language interpreter found out that even though he didn’t make eye contact, he had peripheral sight and he could see the gesture through the corner of his eyes. Alistair also had a language delay. For instance, a woman once pointed out that there was a train passing nearby, and 10 minutes later he replied in sign language: “I saw a train.”

People accomplish more when nobody is telling them what they can’t do. Alistair was able to do more because he was surrounded by people who loved and believed in him.

Catalina De La Rocha is a Mexican woman who came up with an educational game that teaches hearing families and friends, Mexican sign language. Through Alistair’s story, Catalina came to the conclusion that not every person diagnosed with the same diagnosis needs the same treatment. So every design solution has to be flexible to fulfil the custom user’s needs and what better way to achieve this than through inclusive games?

Catalina used visual elements that were understandable to both hearing and non-hearing players, therefore, bridging the gap between sign language and written language. The game also incorporates signwriting and augmented reality, thus creating a 3-dimensional experience of sign language.

Imagine a world in which your major form of understanding and interpretation of what is being communicated to you is through your eyes. Then imagine yourself blindfolded, being moved around without seeing where you are going and what you are going to do. This is just a glimpse of what Alistair must have felt before his teacher found a solution.

Inclusivity in game development goes a long way in positively impacting people’s lives. To date, most researchers on educational computer games forget to include people with special needs thus leaving them excluded. Let me take you back to the astronaut and remind you about the impact of our surroundings. Outer space is a hostile environment so instead of labelling her deficient, measures are put in place to ensure that her special needs are catered to.

Now let’s come back to our planet Earth. We are all born with unique attributes some of which are so different that the current environment on Earth is “hostile” because it is not prepared to cater to these needs yet. Alistair’s physical abilities could not be changed, but the physical environment in which he lived could be made more accommodating and inclusive of his needs.

Thank’s to his teacher’s intervention it was and thanks to you as an inclusive game developer another beautiful soul’s life will get to be transformed.


Wendi Ndaki is passionate about the fusion of art and technology and that is why the video games industry feels like home to her.

She is a Writer, a Visual Artist and a YouTuber with a Bachelor’s degree in Information Systems Technology from the United States International University- Africa. She has worked in the gaming industry as a writer for more than 5 years now and she aims to demystify the rising gaming industry one story at a time. She is currently doing so through articles for clients as well as through engaging educational animated content on her company’s YouTube channel.

Skills utilised:
News, Stories

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