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Getting my ADHD Diagnosis

October marked ADHD Awareness Month but for me, 2022 has been a year of ADHD awareness as I just received my diagnosis this year.

I’ve had ADHD all of my life, but I never realised it. I had never known any women or girls who had ADHD, just a few male friends growing up who mentioned it in passing. It had just never occurred to me, or to anyone else around me, that I could have ADHD.

I had always been a good student in most subjects because I love to learn new things, though I struggled terribly with maths. I couldn’t pay attention in class no matter how hard I tried and I required interventions to help me get through it.

Looking back, it seems so obvious now. My life has always seemed somehow more dramatic than everyone else’s – I am the friend who would constantly lock her keys in her car, if I could even find my car. I am the friend who has left her handbag at some random place and has to go back for it, who jumps onto the wrong train, who arrives to an appointment at the wrong time or place.

person with backpack stands in a train station hallway

Once I became a parent, I had my child’s schedule to keep up with as well so even more things could go wrong. I get mixed up on dates when things are happening on a regular basis. People say these things happen to everyone, but they happen to me almost every single day, and on a bad day they stack up. The more stressed I get about losing or forgetting something, the more likely I am to lose or forget something else and so on.

Like many other people, I am far harder on myself than I would be on anyone else in these situations. It took a toll on my confidence and self-esteem and anxiety became a regular feature of my life because I felt I couldn’t trust myself to remember anything or keep up with anything, to be organised like everyone else.

There are other things too. I can be impatient with others and get frustrated because it sometimes seems like everyone else around me is moving too slowly or thinking too slowly. I have trouble sitting still and am constantly pacing around the room, or shaking my legs, cracking my knuckles, fidgeting with anything and everything nearby. Listening to anything or anyone else for long periods of time can be difficult because my brain is never still either.

My brain is like an internet browser where there are hundreds of tabs open and I’m quickly moving between them all until I eventually forget why I opened some of them in the first place.

As I’ve become older, this has had more of an impact on me. The natural process of aging and changing hormones affects memory and concentration and because I already have life-long problems in that area… well, at times it becomes very disruptive to my life. When I began to lead a local neurodiversity project for our studios I didn’t know much about ADHD, but the more I read, the more I began to understand why I had felt so different all my life.

I completed a self-assessment and spoke to my GP and she agreed it sounded very likely that I had ADHD. She referred me to speak to a specialist over a year ago and I’m still waiting for my appointment now. The NHS unfortunately is unable to meet demand for assessments for ADHD. I decided I’d waited long enough having gone my entire life without treatment, so I went to a private clinic. It was an expensive process and there were a lot of forms to fill out about myself – my personal kryptonite! But I managed to complete everything and ADHD was confirmed. I feel like diagnosis is a privilege, and as a single parent, it was a tough priority to manage financially, but it felt important.

2 people signing documents

I tried medication but due to side effects and other health conditions, it didn’t work well for me. Everyone is different. I’ve been doing my own research and self-reflection and figuring out ways to manage the things that are harder for me. But, getting the diagnosis suddenly illuminated something about myself that I had always tried so hard to hide and fight against, and I began to be kinder to myself. I’ve started to accept that there are certain areas where I might struggle, and I can plan for them ahead of time or ask for help. I’ve also started to notice that there are some good things about my brain too. It’s full of passion and excitement, wonder and curiosity. I see possibilities everywhere. I can look at something from many different perspectives and find creative solutions. When I am fully passionate and engaged on a topic, I can achieve so much that I feel almost unstoppable.

ADHD is part of who I am and even if there are frustrations, I try to find humour in my mishaps now and I try to be kinder to myself when they happen. I am starting to like my bouncy brain, it keeps life interesting.

Resources

Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale Checklist – this is what I completed and showed my GP with some examples. If you feel you may have ADHD, this can be a good place to start.

ADDitude Magazine has some great articles for adults with ADHD and parents of children with ADHD

ADHD Aware Film – Living with ADHD – this is a great film of various people talking about their experiences of living with ADHD

Skills utilised:
Stories

Dear Younger Me by Liz

Dear younger me,

Hold on, if you feel like letting go

Hold on, it gets better than you know

Hold on. You’re 13 and you’ve had to grow up fast. Mum left, with what felt like not so much as a backwards glance, and now you’re here, looking after your mentally disabled Dad and your little brother. You’re running a household, going over every letter through the door so you can process it and break it down for Dad, making sure your brother has a clean uniform, lunch (or money for some), preparing the shopping list for after school, homework is done, and dinner is planned.

You fill any spare seconds with games, books or drawing, anything to stop yourself from having time to think; to escape. Your relationship with your Dad and brother has changed, you’re a carer now and your brother struggles too, and gets distant. When you think, the cracks are so clear to you, and you don’t know how much longer until you break. But Good Charlotte has promised you, if you hold on, it gets better. You sing those words until your heart feels like it will burst, because it’s all you have.

It gets better than you know. Your friends are also 13 and don’t know how to help, but they’re trying. And they continue to try, in fact they always stay by your side. Your family too, in their own subtle ways, support you – you can’t see it yet, but they’re holding your head above the water, helping you breathe.

In the future, your Dad thanks you regularly – he apologises too, unnecessarily, for something beyond his control, for something he never asked for. Your brother is arguably your best friend, you tell each other everything and support each other through the highs and lows. You go to university and meet more wonderful people.

It took you going through a serious but unhealthy relationship to sympathise even slightly with your Mum – to understand the grip love can have on a person, but that anger you feel now, it changes, you just need to experience a bit more of life first. And get this, you work on games played by millions of people. Millions. Any one of those could, sadly, feel like you do now, with games offering them that escape, chance to rest their whirring minds, to hold back the numbness, the hopelessness.

It gets better than you know. It does. It really does. Thank you for fighting, for believing, for taking that chance.

From your happier, stronger, future you,

Liz

 


If you, or someone you know needs support, we have a list of global resources and information offering support.

Skills utilised:
Stories

Lessons learned from taking on too much as a carer

The day I took a phone call telling me one of my parents had been diagnosed with a serious terminal illness, I thought nothing of rushing over to their home immediately. I cared deeply about them, so what else would I do? I’d do it again. But I’d do it differently. Because on the day I arrived, I never imagined that I was about to become a carer, or face quite such a testing experience.

In reality, I fell into the role of providing 24/7 live-in care near-immediately, and stayed there for much longer than I imagined. Popping over for two nights turned into a week, and suddenly it rolled on and on. My parent’s diagnosis also triggered in them some historic, chronic anxiety that had to that point been fairly successfully managed for years. That led to them rejecting care from anyone else – professional or otherwise – and for one eight-month period I hardly left the house.

Their dependence on me became more intense by the day, and at one point I did close to 40 days without ever stepping outside – even just into the garden. The person I was caring for felt they couldn’t cope without me literally by their side, that they could only interact with me and me alone, and that the outside world was too intimidating to enter.

There were other complicating factors too, exacerbating things. The overall situation ultimately left me with a trauma and anxiety diagnosis I would have never predicted, and I was assigned my own social worker to support me in leaving the situation. I had my mental health, wellbeing, general health, work, relationships, self worth and more deeply challenged and impacted, and many years on, while I’m not involved in the care, it affects my daily life.

The full story is a much longer one, but in this piece I want to focus on what I learned, and what I’d do differently, in a hope that it helps other people, or encourages those finding themselves in a difficult care system that they’re not alone, that it’s OK not to get it all right, and that there are solutions.

Before diving into that, it’s important to say I’m not a care professional. I’m not a legal or medical expert. And the organisations and local support from the likes of adult social care, while amazingly helpful, might have a different structure, framework or name in your area, making it tricky to recommend specific organisations to turn to.

If there’s a charity focused on the condition of the person you are caring for, they can certainly point you in the right direction with regards to establishing a meaningful care plan. Or you can turn to a local organisation that supports carers. I had Care for the Carers down in the South East of England, and they really helped me understand things like Carer’s Rights. The NHS social care portal also offers a very useful resource for carers, from those starting out to those long into a care scenario. The sections on support for carers and practical tips for carers are especially helpful.

For now, though, I wanted to share my personal learnings, and how I’d approach things differently based on the experience I’ve had.


The difference between caring and being a carer

Until I became a carer myself, I never pondered that caring about someone and caring for them can be very different. Caring is what led me to become involved, to never question whether I was the right person, and to give very little thought to stepping away from almost every other element of my life. Because I cared, I felt it was my duty to help out, and I quickly developed a sense of guilt about doing anything less than everything. But caring isn’t just about making sure medication is taken, clothes are put on, meals are provided and the person is washed and looked after.

There’s the emotional support, the bills, the meetings, the doctors appointments, and really tough decisions around end-of-life care. I ended up deeply strained, hardly sleeping, suffering frequent anxiety episodes and my first brush with migraines, almost entirely neglecting to care for myself in terms of the very basics of eating and washing.

In the end I wasn’t providing anything like perfect care. If I lived that part of my life again, I’d pause to try and separate my care from stepping up to care, and give more time to considering the enormity of the task and whether I was suitable to take on so much. I’d try to be more assertive in remembering and making time for my own needs and capacity, and find it in me to say I needed help and that I couldn’t actually take it all on. Because not being able to do everything does not mean you are getting it wrong.


Remember yourself!

Deeply related to the above, when caring becomes all or a large part of your life experience, it’s important to remember your needs. If you find yourself struggling to meet the basics of looking after yourself, it’s absolutely time to reach out to organisations that can help, starting with adult social care, relevant charities, and organisations that support carers.

Importantly, the same is true of your work, your relationships and your hobbies or interests. Those things matter, and if they all fall away, the care plan isn’t working for anyone. It is much more helpful to everyone involved to say that you can’t cope, or are struggling. And the likes of video games and hobbies may seem trivial in the grand scheme of caring for somebody, but they are not. Holding on to the things that make you happy, give you respite or feel part of who you are isn’t self indulgent.

Giving yourself time isn’t slacking off. Exclusively putting the person you care for first isn’t realistic. But I stuck at it through some strange sense of guilt and obligation. Then, as I spiralled towards rock bottom, I found it in me to ask for help, adult social care connected me with a therapist, and I learned it was critically important to find time for me.

From that point, time with a yo-yo and a PS4 gave me respite, moments of feeling normal, and significantly improved my ability to actually care. I bought a few too many yo-yos in that time, but they provided amazing escapism, as did Uncharted 4. Doing some work while accepting support from visiting carers gave me a sense of valuer and independence.

As a freelancer in the games industry I started to be open about the challenges I was balancing with work, and every client without exception was understanding, kind and supportive. That taught me to be more open about my situation in general. After too many months I also started to make time to step away and call friends.

When your freedom or autonomy is restricted by the realities of being a carer, that human contact can be key in letting you feel connected with the world.


Managing negative emotions in a care scenario

I deeply love my parents. But I’m not going to lie – at times I felt trapped by their needs, and controlled by their dependance on me. That wasn’t really the reality of the situation, but it sure felt like it at times. I’m far from proud of it, but I sometimes found myself feeling deeply upset with them, or even irritated and angry. That was awful. There I was, experiencing negative emotions towards somebody I loved when they were suffering from a deeply testing illness and profound mental health challenges.

But being a carer is, in its own way, an intense, extremely close, potentially long-term relationship. And just like any relationship, including the best and most loving, there will be times when things are strained, or when you feel challenged by a person you adore. That really is OK. You might not want to feel such feelings, but they may come up. Those feelings aren’t wrong, and in the end I found it was better for everybody that I gave them time, let them flow, and recognised and worked through them.


You do not have to take it all on

Ultimately, so many of my decisions in the first few months were motivated by guilt. I felt I had to take on everything. I found myself starting to believe ideas based on nothing, even imagining that if I simply said ‘I can’t do it’ the authorities would say I had to. That’s not a reality. It might have been best that I said early on ‘I can’t do it at all’. Care would have been sorted, and I might have ended up having a more meaningful, less destructive role in my parent’s life. That’s easier said than done, of course, because as I found out, it’s easy to find yourself as a carer before you have time to do anything like think about it.

If you do find yourself there, just remember you can’t do it alone, you will need support and respite, and you can say ‘no’ to some or all of the responsibilities. Getting it right all starts with asking for help – help that is there and available.


Will FreemanFreelance video game journalist, copywriter, editor, author, consultant, event curator, researcher, awards judge, script editor and speaker.Work with: The Guardian, Edge, BAFTA, Vice, BBC, GI, Eurogamer, PCGamesN, Gamespot, Kotaku and more.Also covers and serves VR, toys, board games, technology, VFX and robotics.

 

Skills utilised:
News, Stories

The Positive Impact of The Last of Us

It’s been nearly 10 years since we first went on a journey across America with Joel and Ellie. Although I have played the game many times it’s always been funny to me how much of their journey is ingrained into my mind; everything from Joel and Ellie’s conversation about loss at the ranch to the tender giraffe scene towards the end of the story. It’s a game that stays with you and although it’s been 10 years, its impact is still as fresh as ever.

If you’ve played the game you’ll know what a ground-breaking piece of story-telling it is, and for people like myself it elicited an emotional response that I’d never had across any form of media. If you haven’t played it you’ll soon get the chance to, with the upcoming release of The Last of Us Part 1 on PS5 and I’ll tell you now, I’m very jealous of you getting to experience it for the first time.

For many this game was more than just a great piece of story-telling. It’s exploration of grief, love and healing stayed with people beyond the game’s running time. Even now ten years on there is a community full of people who not only love the world and characters that Naughty Dog created but have stated that the game has had a positive impact on both their personal development and their mental health, and that’s what I want to talk about.

In The Last of Us Part 2 Ellie has a beautiful tattoo going down her arm, and as I’m writing this I am looking at the very same tattoo on my ankle, as well as a firefly on the back of my shoulder. Although references to the game are on my skin I’ve never actually stopped and asked myself why The Last of Us has had such an impact on me.

It’s amazing how much my love for this game ties into my mental health. Back in 2013 I had crippling anxiety; we’re talking about panic attacks at school and sometimes not even being able to get out of bed. Looking back, this was a terrifying time for me and I think a lot of it stemmed from not feeling like I ever fitted in.

I bought The Last of Us during a rough patch in my life and it’s difficult to describe how much comfort the game brought me. Make no mistake, The Last of Us is a game about love and loss but to me it was also a game about healing. I remember thinking if two people can find a way to heal in a world that’s gone to hell, then why can’t I?

It also must be said how much the game influenced me as a writer. In creating characters with such depth and a world so wonderfully realised, Naughty Dog helped me find my purpose and unlocked a love of story-telling that has stayed with me ever since. Looking back, The Last of Us is the reason I studied screenwriting and the reason I got into the games industry.

These are just some of the ways The Last of Us has had a huge impact on my life, but I have also reached out to the vast and varied community of fans to unpack what the game means to them.

Ellie – Cosmic Hearts Founder & Twitch Streamer

“Ultimately The Last Of Us is about exploring how far you’d go for the people you care about, contrasted and combined with the brutality of human nature. Within these two extremes is a story about very broken, very flawed human beings, which I think we can all see a little of in ourselves, and it’s nice to be reminded every now and again that people aren’t perfect.

On top of this, everyone has someone they love, and everyone can empathise with the pain and grief of losing someone, whether it be through death, the end of a relationship, drifting away from a childhood friend.

Despite not being in a zombie apocalypse, we can still empathise with Joel’s motivations and while we might not agree with his behaviour, you are compelled to help him save someone that he cares about because you wouldn’t wish that on anyone. To see him make the decisions he does and soften and grow to care for this girl alongside us makes the ending so much more powerful, and reminds us that humanity is flawed.”

 

Rosie – Communications Officer and Community Manager at Safe in Our World

“I think TLOU was the same for a lot of people – you were able to watch a really complex and emotional story play out with so many different types of characters surfacing within it. We saw representation from the LGBTQIA+ community, which was few and far between within the narrative driven stories.

We saw characters go through very real trauma in this fictional world; the game wasn’t afraid to tackle these topics and challenge players emotionally.

The connections that these characters made in such a bleak time allowed me to remember that no matter how desperate the situation might be, there are still people that are rooting for you, and there is still hope.

I fell in love with this game during a time in my life where I wasn’t sure I could care about anything anymore, and that in itself is a testament to the world that was so carefully created by Naughty Dog.

Jake – Freelance Poster Artist & Illustrator (Naughty Dog, Sony, Gun Interactive)

The Last of Us has managed to resonate with countless fans as it explores the very human themes of love, loss and hate. Naughty Dog’s magnum opus has helped shape both my personal life and working career.

The journey of Joel and Ellie taught me video game maturity and the impact entertainment can give a user.

It became the catalyst which has brought me to interact with many like minded individuals. I’m happy to label friends, let alone drove my ambition to eventually work with the incredible people at Naughty Dog, Sony and PDSG Creative on the Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection key/cover art. Without the experience of playing the original TLOU at release I would not be the person I am today nor be in the working position I am thankfully sitting in.

Riotbones – Freelance Illustrator (Lost in Cult, Filmmakers Without Cameras)

I’ve always been drawn to stories of people with complex and messy backgrounds and questionable, but difficult to make choices, and I think the setting of The Last of Us was pretty much the perfect sandbox for this to be explored

Loss, at the end of the day, is something we all inevitably have to grapple with because it’s so universal, and I appreciate the layers and the depth the game expresses by interrogating how we deal with loss and everything else that comes with it —life isn’t as simple, after all—and not a single game has really resonated with me in terms of the emotional weight and subsequent consequences of loss as much as The Last of Us did.

Nearly 10 years on, it’s moving to see how much of an impact The Last of Us has had, both in improving individuals mental health and their personal development. This is not only a testament to the impact that videogames can have on our wellbeing but also shows how they can truly change us. Now, with the release of The Last of Us Part 1, it offers a whole new generation the chance to discover this game and the journey that Joel and Ellie go on.

With that, I’m sure that 10 years from now a whole new generation will be talking about how the game changed and inspired them.

 

Ellie / Rosie / Jake / Riotbones

 


Harry Stainer

Prev. Marketing and Operations for Grads In Games, freelance writer, book person on Instagram & occasional scriptwriter

Skills utilised:
Stories

The Effects of Burnout by Callum Underwood

Callum Underwood wrote a tweet thread about his burnout, and has kindly agreed to have it published on our website as one of our industry stories.

I’ve been off Twitter since February, and wanted to give some insight as to what’s happened, since I basically just disappeared.

In short: I burnt out, hard, but I’m ok. I’ve left Robot Teddy for my health. I’m not sure many will care, but it is perhaps cathartic to write some things down.

After a week of daily panic attacks (and months of struggle), I informed the teams at Robot Teddy, Thunderful, and IndieBI that I would be taking some extended leave to figure some stuff out. I’d done too much for too long – and it caught up with me. I was CEO of Robot Teddy, CSO of IndieBI, and doing consulting on the side.

I felt unstoppable, and enjoyed piling more onto my plate. My better friends warned me, but I ignored them, I thought I knew what I was doing.

Two to three weeks off turned into two to three months, turned into six to seven months without working. What I thought was a mental health break turned into a full breakdown followed by months of burnout, and attempts to repair my brain and body. I became a hermit from the industry. When I took time off I had developed IBS (helped by not eating much), was having panic attacks (helped with meds), consistent anxiety (sort of helped by meds), along with daily headaches and occasional palpitations. I was in constant fight or flight mode. RSD in overdrive.
—–

Burnout

To talk more about the burnout – everything became a trigger. Decisions which were easy six months ago became major points of anxiety. I had stopped working for fun and was working to not drown, and I was drowning hard. I had a very illuminating conversation with a friend about burnout a few days before I stopped working.
It helped… so much to put things in perspective, and gave a label to the various mental and physical issues I was experiencing. It’s one reason I took things seriously.
During my time off – I spent a LOT of time with my wife and kids (two – aged 6 & 3). It blew my mind how busy I became with family and village life, and more than anything showed me how much I’d been missing by working so much. Seems obvious in hindsight. I was juggling so much at work, and genuinely enjoying almost every aspect of it (my management skills leave a lot to be desired, I believe). I just lost sight of what was a normal workload, and was always chasing the next win.
Over Christmas I negotiated a deal which covered key staff salaries for 3 years. I lasted literally a day before thinking “what’s next? Need another win”. Looking back, I’m kind of disgusted with myself. I couldn’t even give myself 24 hours of celebration before I moved on.
So… I burnt out, hard. Spent 7 months trying to fix my brain (therapy, touching grass, avoiding any and all work-related things (including twitter)), and body. Not surprisingly, the IBS chilled out a LOT, and the headaches and panic attacks stopped. I told Thunderful that although I had recently been acquired by them with Robot Teddy, I needed to leave for my own health. To their credit, they’ve been nothing but consistently kind about it. Robot Teddy is literally named after my dogs. I never thought I’d sell, never mind leave.
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Next Steps

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It’s very bittersweet – my clients were mostly people I’ve known for years, and I grew very close with them. The fact that all of them said congratulations when I said I was leaving to look after myself says a lot I think. It’s no secret most my self validation came from my work. To wrap up; I’ve left Robot Teddy, I’m going to work on IndieBI 2-3 days a week, do some small solo consulting, and most importantly, make sure I pick up and drop off my kids at school every day, and spend more time with family.
Finally – one regret was always being too busy to say yes to people who could have really used a yes, and not taking enough time to focus on what’s important.

Skills utilised:
Stories

How Minecraft Helped Me Combat Loneliness by Sky Tunley-Stainton

It was Christmas Day and I was 6,000km away from my partner and family. I loved my job and had made good friends while abroad, but it was very isolating to be away from my loved ones at a time that was so built around routine and togetherness.

I got a message from my partner to join our Minecraft server. We’d been spending time on the server together from afar, so I was excited to be able to see him and hang out for a little while. What I found when I logged in is honestly still to this day one of the most thoughtful things anyone has ever done for me.

2 minecraft characters sit on a sofa together

In front of me, in the center of our base, was an enormous spruce tree covered in coloured glass blocks and light sources. We weren’t far along on the server at the time, so it must have been pretty difficult to create something on that scale. Beneath the tree were several chests (which were, of course, re-skinned as gifts for the season as always) and an enormous gift made of wool blocks. My Christmas gift that year was a set of fully enchanted diamond armour and tools, and inside the wool gift were two Minecraft cats for me to tame and keep.

If anyone’s ever drawn a picture for you, written a poem, or produced anything creative for you, you’ll know how this gesture made me feel. Even years later it’s a memory I treasure and helped form my belief that games are so powerful when it comes to forming and maintaining relationships.

Last year, on our anniversary, it was my partner’s turn to be away for work. Each November we would usually watch a fireworks display together, but with him away in Scotland – and with Covid restrictions still in place – this wasn’t going to be possible. Inspired by his thoughtfulness in previous years, I spent hours in Minecraft working out how to craft all the different types of firework rocket and setting up a (very rudimentary) redstone fireworks display. We logged in and, as the Minecraft sun set, we were able to watch the fireworks together as we always did.

This isn’t something unique to me, either: the game has been used for people all over the world to stay connected during what was perhaps the most isolating time of all of our lives. For just one other of many examples, The Warren Project ran a Minecraft server to connect young people during lockdown, helping them maintain friendships, and make new ones, from afar.

At some of my loneliest moments, Minecraft has helped me connect and share experiences, proving that games can be vital in the fight against loneliness.

Words by Sky Tunley-Stainton

Skills utilised:
Stories

Outgrowing Button Mashing by Ben Huxley

My last job was a cashier at a petrol station.

At the end of the shift I had to count up the day’s takings while making sure a hundred-quid float remained in the till. Terrible with numbers, I counted the coins and notes, subtracting the float with a calculator – all while a supervisor glared over my shoulder. Fuel requests beeped, queues got longer, coins fell, clinked, and rolled under the counter. £5 and £10 notes fell and scattered like autumnal leaves. My arms and hands flapped and jabbed respectively at the touch screen monitor.

Some thrive under pressure; others don’t. For me, pressure unleashes a flustered panic, mindlessness, the proverbial headless chicken let loose in public. When gaming, it manifests in button mashing: hammering the controller and hoping for the best, the headless chicken confined to fingers and thumbs. In the past this has worked for me. It’s how I got through Tekken, Devil May Cry, God of War, even the Final Fantasy 7 Remake. It takes a long time, and a lot of luck, but eventually I knock the keys in just the right order to snuff the last boss.

Last month I bought Sifu, the new beat ‘em up from French studio Sloclap. I’ve always been a sucker for martial arts films, especially ones where a single hero takes on a horde of enemies: Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger, Iko Uwais in The Raid. I thought Sifu would let me live out that fantasy, dispensing the goons with ease as a fighting master. This wasn’t the case. Sifu is hard. And for someone who button mashes when the going gets tough, it’s impossible. And that’s without exaggeration or hyperbole. It’s literally impossible to button mash your way through Sifu.

The game opens with a prologue/tutorial which I swept through with ease, excited to get started. Reader, it took me a whole day to finish the first stage. Sifu’s roguelike gimmick is a magical ageing charm, in which our character ages every time our health bar depletes. Once we pass our seventies, the run is over, and we have to start again. My avatar finished the first stage as a weary and grey 79-year-old, and I felt like one myself.

I’m never going to finish this, I thought. And with my button mashing tactic, I never would have. There are five stages, and you continue at the same age you finished the last. Repeating the same stages again and again are mandatory.

I don’t know what motivated me – a rare 7 hours of sleep, maybe – but the next morning I started again with a new aim. I didn’t want to simply finish the game. I wanted to learn to play it. If that meant experimenting, taking time to learn, and losing more often, so be it. Surrounded by six foes with baseball bats, I wouldn’t thrash with my thumb, but observe what they did. Do they swing high first, or low? Do I react with a parry, block, weave?

I died constantly because gaming this way was new to me. I’ve tried applying mindfulness to gaming (link to previous article?), but I’ve never expected constant failure to this extreme. Learning the enemy’s routine took hours of trial and error, which sounds like a boring slog, but I was enjoying it more.

I would go into a Sifu run expecting pandemonium; an intense rush of unfairness where things will go wrong. The fact that I was expecting this changed everything. As the pressure rose and the plethora of fists, boots, and bottles gravitated to my 59-year-old avatar, I took a deep breath and told myself it’s okay. It’s just me and the game; nobody’s watching; this isn’t a competition. It took me a couple of weeks to finish it, which is way longer than average, but that’s what I’m getting to.

Single-player games are personal journeys that one usually takes alone, like reading a novel. This makes them a safe space for trying new things, taking risks, and cultivating patience without any social pressure. Pressure can trigger instinctive reactions that often make the situation worse. It sounds glib to compare button mashing with life-debilitating stress responses, but hear me out.

At the age of 29, I have unlearned a negative instinct that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. Pressure is unavoidable, but with a little training we can learn to unlearn our bad instincts. It’s possible to rewire your mind to actually enjoy certain pressures in life. Within reason, of course. I now play games differently to just last year; I see improvement quicker, and experience deeper satisfaction than ever before. My friend, aware of my previous habits, couldn’t believe his eyes when I finally let him watch me play Sifu.

Video games provide a safe environment for training before, say, starting a shift at the petrol station during peak hours. If I can unlearn button mashing, I can unlearn my headless chicken routine. It will take a bit longer, but now I have hope that it’s possible. You can do it too, just don’t expect it to be easy (Sifu certainly isn’t).

 


Ben’s Muckrack

Ben is a freelance writer based in North Wales. He believes games are one of the most important and undervalued art forms, and aims to share their value to as many people as possible.

Skills utilised:
Stories

Being a Carer in the Video Games Industry

Working within the games industry can present a number of benefits and challenges that we cover in our day-to-day life, but not many of us have covered what it is like to be a carer whilst working in the games industry. We want to change that.

We spoke to a number of carers within the video games space about what their experiences have been like and how carers can access support within their roles. Their words speak for themselves.

“As a carer for a sister with a learning disability, the main thing I do is probably that I spend considerably more time with my sibling than most people would spend with theirs. My sister shares my passion for videogames, and its basically standard practice at home that once the working day is done that she sets up in my room (where all the gaming tech is) and boots up whatever game she’s currently gripped by (it’s set to be Final Fantasy 14 for the foreseeable future).

Recently I also started driving her around for her various clubs and activities like her training for Special Olympics, which has been a big help to my parents. It affects my work in games in a couple of ways. In my day to day the location from where I work can change to accommodate getting her to where she needs to go, and if we’re both at home for the day I take breaks to check in on her. In a larger sense, I’m very keenly aware of accessibility in games, particularly in the sense of how games teach their players how to play their game.

In my work as a marketer I like to try and keep accessibility in mind and include it in my feedback for clients when we discuss their games.” – Adam Clarke, Game If You Are

 


“I’m Jon Calvin, Operations Director at indie specialist marketing agency Game If You Are. I’ve been working in the industry for around 7 years, I started out working as a games journalist, freelancing for sites like PC Gamer and Eurogamer, and then transitioned into indie marketing full time around 2017, that’s where I’ve been since. Outside of work, me and my partner act as a full time carer for my daughter, Summer who is 5. She was born with an incredibly rare genetic condition known as Herc 1 Gene Mutation, it is considered a severe intellectual disability and means she is unable to walk, talk or care for herself in any way. It’s so rare in fact, she is the only person in the UK diagnosed with the condition and one of only 6 in the world!

What is it like to be a carer and work in the games industry? My daughter was born just as I was really getting into my full time career in the games industry and thankfully I was lucky enough to work for a very supportive company during that stressful time. It’s hard to imagine how many people cope in a quite demanding industry, it definitely added stress to what was already a challenging position. That challenge can come in many forms, often the working hours can be long in this industry and the jobs highly competitive, that often combines to create an environment in which overtime is considered the norm.

silhouette pictured in forest at sunset with hands to face in stress

For parents of disabled children like myself, this can cause a lot of undue pressure, and this was certainly something I struggled with breaking into the industry. I have clear boundaries now, but it is very hard to get employers to understand that, saying I have to clock off on time today as my daughter needs me to care for her can be tough, having to refuse weekends as you have to be there for the person you care for can leave you feeling like you’re putting yourself behind others who can do that. That’s hard in a competitive industry where expectations are high. Like many disabled people with complex needs, my daughter also requires lots of hospital visits, this can create difficulties with company’s you work for especially when crunch is not only expected but necessary. I was very fortunate in that I worked for a company that appreciated my individual position, but many people aren’t as fortunate in this industry.

On the positive side, my job was remote from the beginning, as the majority of jobs in games marketing are. For someone who is a carer this makes a huge difference, it means you can be there so much more when you’re needed. It means you don’t have to face lengthy commutes or long days at the office where you have little to no contact with the person you care for. Events can certainly be a challenge though, and I think that is something the games industry could get better at accommodating in general, not just for carers but for parents too. As an experience, it certainly affected my working life in many challenging ways. Games marketing can be quite a stressful job as it is, but carers like myself face a lot of outside concerns, worries and pressures that often go unseen.

The cost of caring for someone full time can be emotionally, physically and financially draining on every level, but it’s a topic rarely raised in any industry, not just games, those who care for others and the unique challenges they face are often forgotten.

I’ve found a lot of resources useful over the years including many local charities in particular. Of course, charities like Safe in Our World and Special Effect offer some great resources, as well as Care Jam run by Code Coven that I took part in this year. I’ve also found Carers UK a helpful resource and personally found a lot of help from the Newlife charity. I also have always found a lot of strength in connecting with other carers in the industry over Twitter or other platforms to discuss and share our experiences, it’s great sometimes to just chat to someone who understands what it’s like.” – Jon Calvin, Game If You Are

Care Jam 2021 - presented by Caring Across Generations, Code Cover, Counterpoints and National Domestic Workers Alliance. Supporters include BAME, Games for Change, POC in Play, Raise the Game, Rise Home Stories & Able Gamers

 


“It’s impossible to talk about being both a carer and a creative without it being wholly through the lens of the Covid Lockdown. Working in the care industry has both its benefits and its hindrances and these have all been brought to the forefront when compared to how life was before covid, and how life is for many people around me who were not frontline workers.

For one, I was never worried about keeping my job. I had a steady income all through lockdown, which prevented any financial stress. It also gave me a way to occupy myself, and a way to socialise with the people I support, and my colleagues.

group of people sit around a campfire at dusk in a forest socialising

However, caring can be a mentally demanding job, especially when supporting those with complex needs. While it’s usually to delight to interact with these people, having such a massive responsibility for many aspects of their lives (depending on their capacity), can leave you drained by the time you are home. It also doesn’t help that I feel I have both a professional and a personal obligation to be extra careful in regards to covid, even now that the restrictions are being lifted. Some people are extremely vulnerable even when vaccinated, and I can’t imagine how it would feel to accidentally bring it to my workplace. This has a fairly negative effect on my social life, meaning I have been missing out on many gatherings and events. All of this has an on affect creative motivation, especially when you’re only just trying to break out into certain industries.”

Twitter and Discord communities have been a godsend for someone like me. Whilst I have been able to discover places where I can have my reviews published and can promote my charity project, I can also interact with and learn from a seemingly endless stream of interesting people. – Sean Robertson

a desk with pc, monitor and games set up


“My situation is a different kind of heavy since I’ve needed daily support myself with my disability since teenage. I’ve gone through hard depression and agoraphobia periods due to my chronic illness and it’s required a lot from my family. Past years I’ve been a carer for my father and it’s getting more tough with time.

I have my own challenges and being a carer has its own. I’m so happy to be able to take care of dad but I get tired too. I would love to be able to talk with other carers, especially those who work from home. Concentrating on your work is often affected and you need to juggle between feeling selfish and remembering to take care of yourself too. I never needed physical caretaking, nor did my father so far. Let’s hope it stays that way. The emotional side of things can be as hard as the physical. I’d say it can be even harder at times.

Empathy and understanding is here the key – as it is in many life situations. My employers have always been supportive and showed kindness, it’s helped me greatly. I don’t have to hide or make white lies, I can feel safe and comfortable with speaking about the struggles, and my work schedule is sometimes altered accordingly.” – Tarja Porkka-Kontturi


I struggled to re-start my freelance career after the caregiving period finished (it ended with two deaths) and, after a while, I decided to tell the story of that year through a narrative video game (Linda & Joan), which I’ve been working on for the last two years.

Part of the experience of caregiving and grief, for me, was the striking loneliness and lack of resources and, even though my family’s story is unique, the themes are, of course, common to everyone at some point.

So, I guess, I felt some responsibility to share and hopefully provide a resource for others in the future — for those currently going through similar things, or those who are anxious about the future In summary: I think my response at the lack of obvious support was to make something to fill the gap, or at least, one small brick in a gap-filling wall! I’m glad that there are other projects like yours that are also adding bricks. – Russell Quinn


I’d like to thank all those who got in touch to contribute to this article or offer their support. It has been a wonderful learning experience for me in understanding more about what carers face on an every day basis, and how it can affect your mental health – and I hope it’s been the same for you! – Rosie

Skills utilised:
News, Stories

Keep On Keeping On: Death Stranding Proves That Positivity Promotes Successful Change by Kieran Harris

Change. It’s a scary word and one that can unleash a wave of anxiety and crippling doubt when we know that it’s coming.

Change can come in many forms, be it our appearance, location, workplace or even what we have for breakfast. The mere thought of our routines being slightly altered can swallow us up and force us to stop in our tracks and have second thoughts. Yet, what we don’t always seem to consider is that change can be and almost always is a good thing. If something is changing it’s because it either needs to or because we want it to, so sometimes we need to concentrate on the positive aspects of change instead of allowing ourselves to freeze in what can be important moments in our lives.

Nothing encapsulates this sentiment of positivity bringing about successful change quite like Death Stranding’s online features. Hideo Kojima is perhaps a little smarter than we imagined as he created a world where working together is not just ideal, it’s absolutely necessary. This wonderful game pre-dated the real-world pandemic yet it trained us for it better than we even realised. In a world where people required others to fetch necessities and keeping your distance was a way to keep everyone safe, Death Stranding saw us playing a delivery man taking long journeys to people isolated from the dangers outside.

What’s more important though is how players could work together to make a positive change. The actions in your game impacted the world of others – provided you’re playing online of course – but only ever in positive ways. There’s a real sense of community in Death Stranding in a world where it’s pretty much empty, which really resonates with us all as people living during a pandemic. For example, you could leave signs lying around so that when another player gets to that location they have warnings about potential hazards, or even just a positive message to encourage them on their endeavours.

Perhaps the most interesting and poignant addition to the gameplay of Death Stranding is how people work together on structures. A fresh world on Death Stranding is desolate, barren and dangerous. However, as you progress you can find materials to construct helpful buildings and highways, allowing for places to stop and safe roads to travel. These roads are shared across players and each person can donate materials to improve the constructions making it safer for everyone to play. One day you can load the game and have open landscape with nothing around, then suddenly through the efforts of others you can return to the area and a highway the length of the world could be there providing a direct path to your next destination. Or even better, a zipline system that lets you speed through the world through the air. It’s intuitive game design for sure but it’s also a great indicator of how people can work towards one goal and accept that change is not always a bad thing. Realistically, the game wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for Guerilla Games allowing Kojima Productions to use their engine!

Moreover, you can leave a ‘like’ on the helpful guidance that you receive but you can’t leave a ‘dislike’. Likes are given automatically when you use something that’s left by other players and you can give more likes as a sort of “tip” as Kojima puts it. When making the game, Kojima said: “I didn’t want to give “thumbs down”. I didn’t want to give any negative in this game; it was a positive intent when I started this game.” A statement as wholesome as this shows that the game is achieving what he envisioned; everyone working together in a fundamentally human way, with no egos and only an appetite for healthy change towards a common goal.

This creates a real sense of camaraderie amongst players and a feeling that you’re making a positive change. Sometimes, just focusing on the good that a change can have, even if not necessarily to yourself, can make you feel much better about it. Sometimes change is inevitable and unavoidable but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be okay because it will be. There are always people who can support you through your change even if you may have not met them yet, they’re waiting to do their part just like in Death Stranding.

Working hard together does breed successful and positive change and as difficult as it may sometimes seem to be, trying to focus on the positives can help train ourselves to accept change as good. We can all learn something from Death Stranding about encouraging each other and remaining upbeat even in our toughest moments to get us through to the other side and it’s perfectly doable if we all work towards our goals.

 


Kieran Harris

Kieran Harris is a writer from the West Midlands, UK. He spends most of his time going to gigs and playing video games. He studied Creative Writing and English at university and loves nerding out to amazing stories and learning how to craft them for his own endeavours.

Skills utilised:
News, Stories

What Remains After ‘Edith Finch’ – by Harry Stainer

After my Grandad’s funeral I went into his old bedroom and as I looked around the room, I spotted many of his belongings – his fake Rolex watches, his books and old fishing gear, a hat he always used to wear on holiday.

For a brief moment I am brought out of this sobering day and into fond memories of him, and the stories his friends told me of him as a younger man – only to be snapped out of it a second later. Looking at these objects it reminded me of playing ‘What Remains of Edith Finch’ a few months earlier. It dawned on me how much the game illustrated a profound understanding of the grieving process and helped articulate all of the thoughts and feelings that come along with such a traumatic life event.

Death is something that those who play video games are incredibly used to; if you’re Nathan Drake and you miss a jump ahead of you, the punishment is the loss of a character’s life, only for you to succeed the same jump a few moments later after your checkpoint has reloaded. It’s a constant threat in most of the games that we play, but it rarely holds any true consequences. However, in ‘Edith Finch’ that is not the case; you can’t die in Edith Finch but its story asks player to think about the messy nature of death and how grief has a habit of staying with us long after someone has passed.

One of the central plot points of the game is how the Finch family believed that their family were cursed – that all the losses in their family were caused by something that was out of their control and this was the reason they all met their demise. As the plot unfolds and you go through each room in this house, discovering how each Finch came to pass, it dawned on me that this ‘curse’ wasn’t just literal. For me, I always interpreted this curse as the collective grief that hung over the Finch family    – these losses are not something that they can just be free of and they have stayed with long after the have tried to move on and, in Ediths case – leave the house. This curse illustrates that there are no beginnings and no endpoints to loss and more importantly, shows how a loss can completely consume you and feel like a curse when you can’t find a way to move forward or come to peace with it.

As you go around the house Edith will comment on objects and parts of the house that bring up memories for her. Anyone who has been in the home of someone they have lost will understand the melancholy mood swings when seeing their handwriting on a note or an item that they used to wear everyday – it showcases how objects can tie us to moments and the people associated with them and although this can sometimes be hard – it also keeps a part of them with us.

However, despite its melancholic nature there is a lot of salvation in Edith Finch and the way it confronts the messy nature of our relationships. Loss isn’t ever neat; the whole reason we are returning to the house in this game is because of how unresolved our protagonist’s feelings are with all the ones that she has lost. Trying to understand how you feel about loss can take time and Edith Finch often feels like a story about that very theme. In the game’s final moments Edith states the line:

 ‘If we lived forever, maybe we’d have time to understand things. But as it is, I think the best we can do is try to open our eyes, and appreciate how strange and brief all of this is’.

This line offers us some kind of acceptance from Edith, an acknowledgment that the grief doesn’t go away – it’ll always be a part of her, and she won’t always be able to understand the messiness that comes with it. As we grieve, we grow around loss and finally begin to appreciate other things in life again. It’s a bittersweet way to end a game, but it rings true to all those who have been through this experience.

I found Edith Finch a hard game to find conclusions from in my initial playthrough – it leaves you to pick up the pieces and form some sort of opinion of the events that have happened. In the time after my second playthrough of ‘What Remains of Edith Finch’ the conclusions I have taken from it is that the stories, objects and memories we have about our loved ones tie us to them. We can find comfort and understanding from them, knowing that these things can make us cherish the ones we had, and within the messiness find peace.

There is no timeline to stop grieving and if you are struggling, there are bereavement counselling options available. Reaching out for support is a very positive step to help overcome the distress you might be feeling. At a Loss is a useful resource for helping people who have had a bereavement find the support they need.


Harry Stainer

Marketing and Operations for Grads In Games, freelance writer, book person on Instagram & occasional scriptwriter

Skills utilised:
Stories

Is BioShock a Christmas game? How Rapture helps me through the festive period following the death of my uncle by Joe Donnelly

The festive season is a time for giving. A time for family and for friends, for pulling crackers, wearing silly paper crowns and reading aloud even sillier jokes. It’s a time for watching too many novelty television specials that haven’t aged well, and for debating whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. It’s a time for asking the same questions of BioShock as a Christmas video game, and… hang on, what? That’s a new one. Let me explain. 

No matter which side of the annual ‘is Die Hard a Christmas movie?’ fence you find yourself on, the fact that cinemas up and down the country now allocate screens to the 1989 Bruce Willis-starring action film at this time of year some 30-odd years on would suggest that, actually, many people believe it is. Listen, I don’t make the rules, I simply follow them. Because despite all the violence, the explosions, the hostage situations, and the yippee-ki-yay-ing, the simple fact that John McLane’s debut gun-toting adventure unfolds on Christmas Eve, for many people, makes it a Christmas movie. The fact that the events of the original BioShock take place in the wake of a New Year’s Eve party places it in the same festive period, which, coupled with the fact that I used Irrational Games’ 2007 first-person shooter to get through a particularly difficult holiday season following my uncle’s suicide the following year, means I now view BioShock through the same tinsel-wrapped lens as many Christmas movie-lovers do Die Hard.

Tying BioShock to Christmas in overarching narrative terms may be a wee bit of a stretch, but in practice, revisiting Rapture now plays a huge part in my build up to the big day itself. My uncle sadly took his own life on May 12, 2008, whereafter I used video games as a means of escapism, to gain perspective and to press pause on what was an increasingly horrible reality for me at the time. I’m sure many of you have used video games in similar ways in the aftermath of loss, and BioShock was my own game of choice, as I found solace in smacking splicers upside the head with Jack’s red-painted drop-forged wrench, nullifying Big Daddies with the deadliest ADAM-infused superpowers, and taking down every last one of Rapture’s autocratic dictators with unwavering precision.

Admittedly, it takes a special game to entice me back after the credits roll, but I found myself in the familiar throes of the shooter once again in late December that same year, experimenting with new Gene Tonic and Plasmid combinations; again revelling in the path of destruction I could blaze through the now iconic setting and the sense of achievement, and subsequent endorphin-rush, toppling the likes of Peach Wilkins, Sander Cohen and, of course, Andrew Ryan could afford.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but BioShock was inadvertently marking the first step on my own mental health journey, which has since led to me being diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder – afflictions levied by the brutal nature of my uncle’s passing, so say the doctors and mental health professionals I’ve since sought the services of in the intervening years. While storming the dimly-lit corridors of Point Prometheus and the sprawling thoroughfares of Apollo Square, I wasn’t fully-aware that I was distancing myself from the grief and looming shadows I’ve learned to live with since, but I’m forever grateful for the respite they were able to provide at a time when I wasn’t ready to face the darkness head-on.

These are strange memories for me, because while I associate playing BioShock at Christmas time in 2008 with my uncle’s death, something I’d naturally prefer not to think about at any given time, they also remind me of my uncle himself. It’s now been well over a decade since my uncle passed away, and yet returning to the watery depths of Rapture ignites a sense of connection in me that perusing old photographs and recalling old family stories that involve my uncle does not. Playing single-player video games can be a very solitary, pensive and personal experience, which is why BioShock has since played an integral role in my build-up-to-Christmas ritual, with me nipping back into random old save files for short bursts at a time – in the same way many of us watch Elf, Love Actually or, if you’re so inclined, Die Hard at various points in December.

For me, it’s a comfort thing, and I encourage you to do the same: to ignore your pile of shame and to play something that makes you happy, brings you joy, or makes you feel safe over this Christmas period. Is BioShock a Christmas video game? Probably not, but it’ll always have a special place in my own preparations. Now, before you go, I’d like you all to do something for me – a Christmas wish, if you will. Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Re-read this article and jot down all the letters that are in bold throughout the copy below the opening paragraph. Read what you’ve written down, and would you kindly have a nice, safe and self-caring festive season.

 


Joe Donnelly
Joe Donnelly is a Glaswegian writer, video games enthusiast and mental health advocate. He has written about both subjects for The Guardian, VICE, his narrative non-fiction book Checkpoint, and believes the interactive nature of games makes them uniquely placed to educate and inform.

Skills utilised:
Stories

Where’s that music coming from? How fight music can help teach us reframing by Alex Dewing

I’m certain that we have all been in a situation where we’ve been overwhelmed by emotion seemingly out of nowhere.

They’re situations like those in video games, where battle music swells when you thought you were just out exploring. At least, that’s how I envision it, and I think it’s an analogy that helps, since this kind of video game music demonstrates a technique incredibly pertinent to dealing with emotions of any kind: reframing.

Reframing is a therapeutic technique that asks you to reframe, or re-examine, a situation, thought, or emotion. It invites you to take the time to look at what it is you’re thinking or feeling from a different point of view, and can help you feel better about an issue or aid in uncovering new ways to deal with it. That isn’t to say that reframing aims to undermine your emotions; instead, it is simply about understanding that there are more ways to view a situation than one, and that positive thoughts can easily replace or comfortably exist alongside perceived negative ones.

It sounds simple, but that’s not always the case in practise, especially since it can be hard to envision the effects of reframing. This is where combat music comes in. The first time Field Battle music sprung out of nowhere while I was wandering in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild I remember being hit with an immediate sense of anxiety, my brain and body telling me to start to panic even though the enemy were nowhere to be seen. After finding and dealing with the relevant Bokoblins, I carried on and the next time Field Battle played I was a little less scared than I had been before.

This is how we can link combat music and reframing (two things that otherwise should not easily go together). As you keep playing your game, the impact of the musical cues lessen and transform in a way that is clear to see. It’s a change in your immediate response to a piece of music that illustrates how over time you can change your response to things in real life when reframing is put into practise. Rather than going straight into ‘panic mode’ as you are likely to do the first handful of times fight music begins to play, your reaction alters, instead simply prompting you to look at your situation and ask “Is this helpful?”.

The space this provides you helps you to validate your feelings and reactions while also allowing you to see them from a new angle. Imagine: fight music begins to play and you see that your enemy is far in the distance, they pose no threat to you now; but if that music hadn’t sounded you might have run straight into the ambush, so now you can safely retreat until the frenetic battle music is replaced with soothing atmospheric sounds. While negative thoughts or feelings won’t disappear or magically change, reframing will gradually help lessen the the paralysing effects they can have.

Combat music and reframing both also find similarities in the ways they can bring a sense of control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation. Whether you’ve stumbled upon a random encounter with a wild Wooloo in Pokémon: Sword or have reached a fight sequence in Twilight Town in Kingdom Hearts, combat music itself will almost universally play before combat actually begins. It’s essentially giving you the chance to take stock of a situation, to decide whether to fight or flee – or maybe find another route altogether. Reframing offers you that same sense of control as, through the practise, you can learn to better control how you view things in your life and consequently how you feel about them. Sometimes all you need is space and a different viewpoint for things to feel less overwhelming.

Combat music in video games is inherently created to evoke well-designed anxiety. Some games’ soundtracks choose to leave no space to breathe at all; games like Hotline Miami or Crypt of the Necrodancer, whose pulsing adrenaline boosting soundtracks encourage the player to an almost unrelenting extent. Games like Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, or Pokémon, however, use this kind of music to punctuate periods of exploration, gathering, or platforming, heightening the music’s sense of anxiety due to its unpredictability. But arguably, games wouldn’t be as fun without these moments and songs. The enjoyment, triumph, and return to relaxation that they provide a player with make it all worth it — much like in real life.

It’s probably not surprising to learn that reframing isn’t far removed from mindfulness. Like this type of meditation, reframing isn’t about an end goal. It isn’t about changing your mind or suppressing emotions. It’s just about finding space to step back with newfound objectivity and calm. Combat music makes it clear that we have more control over our emotions than it often feels. And that, as with most things in life, sometimes all it takes is time, practice, and a new point of view.


 Alex’s Portfolio
Alex is an entertainment writer and (wannabe) community manager. An avid gamer, cartoon fanatic, and lover of pop culture, she is dedicated to diversity on-and-behind the screen and is the host and producer of video game podcast The Lag.

You can find them on Twitter at @alex_dewing

Skills utilised:
Stories

“The Benefits of Finding Mindfulness in Virtual Reality” by Jack Ramage

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

Time and time again, mindfulness has been shown to be a helpful mechanism to benefit our mental wellbeing.

Although the pandemic is showing signs of subsiding, it’s left a toll on the mental health of countless individuals in society. Now, more than ever, it’s important to use new technologies to make mindfulness more accessible. Although the app market has become saturated with mindfulness and meditation apps, few have made the leap into the rapidly growing virtual reality market.

Ben*, a 22-year-old student from Edinburgh has dealt with anxiety since he was a teen. When it’s bad,

“it’s like a blanket, covering all aspects of my life” he notes, “in some occasions, I’d have to cancel plans and miss lectures just to cope.”

That was until one evening when Ben stumbled upon a VR game that would alter his life substantially.

That VR game, or experience, was DeepStatesVR: a virtual reality software with an abundance of virtual environments which are, according to developer Marc Zimmermann, “designed to calm your mind and drift away.” There is no set win or lose mechanic in DeepStatesVR – it’s a portal into another environment, an experience that can be a valuable retreat from the, often overwhelming, outside world.

Although still in the early stages of development, one environment stood out to Ben above the rest: a level fittingly named ‘A Bliss of Solitude’. Once inside the environment, you’re met with a soothing voice which leads you on a guided meditation session. “It really clicked with me. It is also a kind of musical experience, once you spawn into the world it will ask you to start humming, and your hum will be enhanced by the experience back into your ears in a really beautiful way.” Ben says.

Although it hasn’t completely cured his anxiety, it has helped Ben develop powerful breathing techniques at times when it’s most needed. He explains how he’s been able to apply the lessons taught by DeepStates VR in the real world, in particular the mindfulness breathing techniques ‘The Bliss of Solitude’ offers. “It’s greatly benefited my daily life” he notes, “sometimes when I’m in crowded spaces and feel myself becoming anxious I try to envision myself in the virtual environment [and the] calming feelings it brings.”

Marc highlights how one of the most frequent compliments he receives is that DeepStatesVR allows them “to practice going into a meditative state on a regular basis”. It’s a powerful, behavioural tool in which people can establish habits to benefit their mental health. He adds, that unlike a “structured guided meditation by a practitioner – the game allows you to escape into a VR world whenever an individual feels like it, meaning you don’t rely on a strict schedule”. It adds a level of flexibility and autonomy, “it’s something people enjoy because it’s optional – not forced on an individual at a certain point in time.”

He notes one of the most touching responses he’s had from a fan of his game came in the early stages of development. On discord, he was approached by an anonymous individual who mentioned how his mental health condition made it difficult to hear the sound of his own voice. “The element of audio feedback, hearing yourself humming in the guided meditation stage, allowed this person to get used to the sound of his own voice.” He was able to hear his voice without feeling negative emotions. “That was really touching,” Marc adds.

Of course, there are downsides to placing therapeutic value on virtual reality. The largest obstacle to VR is the price: not only are the virtual reality devices themselves costly but often expensive computers are needed to run the software. However, for those fortunate enough to be able to possess the hardware, stepping into a virtual dimension to focus on the present can be incredibly valuable.

* Individual has been given a pseudonym to protect their identity.


Jack Ramage is a freelance features journalist based in Manchester, UK.

With an MA in Journalism and a BSc in Psychology, he covers social issues, culture and mental health. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Skills utilised:
News, Stories

Sightseeing in Spider-Man: how ditching web-slinging for walking photography saved my mental health during lockdown by Joe Donnelly

I crane my neck and stare in awe at the art deco skyscraper before me, 102 stories of limestone and granite towering over the busy New York City streets below. I’ve passed this building countless times before, granted, but from this angle – at ground-level, rubbing shoulders with thousands of pre-occupied pedestrians – there’s something so humbling about basking in its shadow.

Two streets over, I sense an armed robbery in progress but I ignore it. It’s my day off, I think to myself, before leaving this one to the boys and girls in blue. What I do instead is pull out my camera, take a snapshot and the read the following message as it flashes across my screen:

LANDMARK DISCOVERED 100 XP
Empire State Building
Midtown

For me, the in-game photography suite in Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man is second to none, making full use of its gorgeous scaled-down slant on the Big Apple. Since its PlayStation 4 release on September 18, 2018, and its Remastered iteration on PlayStation 5 in November last year, players have wowed with amateur galleries of Marvel’s favourite web-slinger perched upon the lightning rod of the Chrysler Building, dangling from the apex of the Washington Square Arch, and zipping around the sun-kissed Manhattan skyline, to name but a few of the game’s most commonly snapped photo-ops.

Throw the superhero caper’s comic book combat and high-altitude traversal into the mix and you have something special – to the point where there are few things more satisfying than capturing one of the eye watering beauty spots outlined above. Or a perfect slow motion roundhouse kick just as your foot connects with the jaw a faceless Kingpin goon. Or ticking off another of the game’s extensive list of ‘Landmark’ locations – a mix of real-world and fantastical sights, alike such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Wakanda Embassy and the Avengers Tower – before slapping on a hashtag and sharing the scene on social media.

With so much to see and do the scope for replayability in Spider-Man is huge, which is why it quickly became one of my favourite go-to games during the last year and-a-half of quarantine amid the ongoing global pandemic. Like so many people during the longest stretches of lockdown, my mental health suffered. On my darkest days, while struggling with the isolation of the “new normal”, I became seriously excited at the mere thought of visiting this virtual version of Manhattan as a break from an increasingly uncertain reality.

And it was during these process that I fell in love with a whole new way of playing. Equipped with only a camera, I set about completing the game’s ‘Landmark’ challenges exclusively on foot, taking snaps of the city’s most popular sights while soaking in its atmosphere at ground level – something often missed while traversing above.

Before unlocking fast-travel, swinging from building to building is the fastest way to get around in Spider-Man’s urban sandbox, so much so that it’s easy to forget the sprawling world below. During lockdown, at a time when holidays and real world exploration became impossible overnight, I delighted in exploring Spider-Man’s game world at a thoughtful pace, in essence guiding Peter Parker through an unorthodox, non-combative walking simulator, paying no mind to thwarting Doc Octopus in Story Mode or the dynamic crime set-pieces unfolding all around in Free Roam.

I’ve always loved the therapeutic elements of walking simulators – games such as Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Firewatch – whose expertly-paced narratives promote mindfulness and calmness; and I’ve always enjoyed playing games in entirely different ways as primarily intended, such as the real-world-aping properties which underpin Grand Theft Auto 5’s role-play scene.

Playing Spider-Man as a walking photography simulator, then, is hardly how Insomniac intended its larger than life action adventure game to played, but I nevertheless found myself enjoying it most while wandering around the streets of a world so rich in atmosphere, character and life as I played tourist in a digital city that never sleeps.

On the evening of Sunday, March 22, 2020, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnston addressed the nation on the telly and told us the country would enter lockdown the following day. If you were able to work from home, you were advised to do so. We were told to limit contact with others, to avoid cuddling and to wash our hands thoroughly while singing Happy Birthday. We were told to steer clear of public transport, and we were told to limit outside exercise to just one hour per day.

It was rubbish. But I had New York. I had Peter Parker, a camera, the Chrysler, the Flat Iron, Central Park and St Patrick’s Cathedral. I had the Empire State Building and the huge shadow it cast deep into the hustle and bustle of this make believe Fifth Avenue. I had a world whose rules remained the same when the real world around us was thrown into chaos.

If your mental health has suffered in the last 18 months, I hope that you’ve found the strength to talk to someone – a friend, a relative, a mental health professional or maybe even all three. If you’re not quite there yet, or maybe just want to lose yourself in a video game for a little while, I can’t recommend grabbing a camera, stepping out in your favourite Spidey suit and hitting the road on foot enough. 


Joe Donnelly
Joe Donnelly is a Glaswegian writer, video games enthusiast and mental health advocate. He has written about both subjects for The Guardian, VICE, his narrative non-fiction book Checkpoint, and believes the interactive nature of games makes them uniquely placed to educate and inform.

Skills utilised:
Covid 19, Stories

Because Of Clem by Jake Smith

Because Of Clem Ieuan Clement Mappledoram Carter, born 19th of November 1995; a person who had a thirst for knowledge and who wanted to know everything, no matter the subject.

Growing up, Clem was a lover of sports, animals, video games and so much more. Clem was also one of the kindest souls you could ever meet. We’d have the most incredible adventures, often brought on from our gaming sessions. We’d go looking for washed up treasures along the riverside, wondering what we could possibly find. The adventures, the humour, his interest in everything you had to say, I think this helped me more than he ever understood, as I was suffering with mental health issues at this time.

Clem was able to take me out of that reality and provide some of the most hilarious and fondest of memories. I don’t know if he ever realised growing up, that his kindness made the world of difference; it sure did for me. Growing up Clem went at full speed in his education, always learning and extending his vast knowledge; it was incredible to see.  

As we both got older, we started trying to collect retro games to see if we could get the rarest of the rare from charity shops and second-hand shops, or take part in challenges to see how much we could buy from Sainsbury’s with just £1: he won, it was hilarious. C

lem excelled through school; he was gifted and very intelligent, constantly learning and being curious about everything that life had to offer, always asking what was going on in people’s lives, just wanting to know more and more.  

Sadly, Clem in his late teens and early twenties struggled with addiction, but despite going through these hard times, Clem was someone who always had time for everyone, still showing kindness and changing lives in so many different ways along the way. He could put a smile on anyone’s face, something which is still present when you think of those memories from past days. For someone to be able to keep on being kind through his own struggles was inspirational. Stories about Clem from so many people in his life are still told. Despite his struggles, he studied hard and tried his best to get back up to speed in his University studies.  

Tragically, Clem lost his battle with addiction in 2017, a heartbreak that was felt by so many people from such different backgrounds. His funeral attracted hundreds, each and everyone with something lovely to say and wonderful stories to share. The thing about Clem was that he was easily able to light a room in so many ways. The memories he created were so full of kindness.

This leads to the wonderful and inspirational move from his dad. Clem’s dad, Ian, set up Thread of Gold, with the aim of carrying on Clem’s legacy of kindness and to help others in the same way he did. The Thread of Gold Twitter account encourages people to share positive stories of kindness, tolerance and inclusion, and each week on a Monday evening, tweeters from around the globe share something positive or something beautiful, using the hashtags #SmallBeautiesHour#ThreadOfGold and #BecauseOfClem.

Clem’s kindness knew no bounds. It’s rare to meet someone like that, who has the ability to encourage so many people, and despite Clem not being here, he is still changing lives for the better. The memories made will never be forgotten. If we can all keep on pushing and growing Thread of Gold, we can continue all the work that Clem did to uplift so many, even in their darkest times.

If you want to follow the Thread of Gold journey you can do so on Twitter.

Skills utilised:
Stories

Genetic Haemochromatosis & Music Escapism by Steven Coltart

Across 2016-2017, I worked as Audio Lead on ‘Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier’.  A massive personal undertaking, and a project I am still especially proud of for a number of reasons.

I was individually responsible for not only composing the soundtrack, but also the implementation of these assets within Unreal.  This allowed me to really shape the music across a large number of choice based pathways, using a bespoke UE4 system.  Additionally, for the majority of the project I was sound designer too (Calum Grant later joining me who played a huge part, an ex-student of mine – more to come on my role in education later).