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How Minecraft Helped Me to 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 was not 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

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News, 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:

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).

Field Recording_Wind.png

The majority of my ambiences and score were recorded in Norfolk.

One of the most popular parts of the project turned out to be my original score, and here is an honest account of how being diagnosed with Genetic Haemochromatosis during this time was used creatively to shape the narrative of the game through music.

As explained here, “Genetic Haemochromatosis is the UK’s most common genetic condition, directly affecting over 380,000 people.  Although it is commonplace, the condition is significantly under-diagnosed in the UK. Genetic haemochromatosis (also known as “GH”) is a condition where a person absorbs too much iron from the diet.  The extra iron is stored in the organs and soft tissues”– which can lead to organ failure if not detected and treated early enough. I was/ am very lucky it was picked up early by my GP.

As I am sure many can relate to in the games industry, I was putting in long hours over an extended period – it was fun though, apart from rural Norfolk upload speeds at the time!  However, I started to get joint pains in my hands and fingers (a slight issue when playing instruments and on the computer all day!).  These turned out to be common symptoms of GH that ultimately led to my diagnosis.  Treatment followed, that I worked around my schedule to not affect the production of the game in any way.  In fact, it actually helped me write certain themes.  There were some especially emotional character scenes in ‘Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier’, including ‘Tom’s Burial’ scene, which I composed and recorded after having a Venesection when feeling reflective. Music escapism is a fantastic way of dealing with stressful situations and can inspire powerful creative content too.

“Scores like Tom’s Burial and Martial Law seemed to have elements of consciousness within them that made me relate these scores not just to a situation but to a passing thought of a character which I respected deeply” ~ Indiependent

You can hear this piece from 2 minutes, 30 seconds here.

After that project completed, and I finished an agreed film score, I decided to take a short family pause after becoming a Dad.  Once I took this work break from the games industry, it became more difficult to get back in.  Especially as a freelancer based in Norfolk, as studios I spoke with at the time were not keen on remote based working.  Slightly different now! I took the decision to not relocate my family to London, and instead stay in a countryside location.  A then very tough call game work-wise, but a decision that during the recent lockdowns has been one I have looked back on as massive positive towards our mental well-being.

External to Planets, here are a couple of my personal favourite game compositions I’ve written with mental health connections:

Just Breathe’ Selected by UK Games Fund 2019 and showcased at EGX.  Follow Loki as he learns to navigate his anxiety and his emotions through a gameplay based on mindfulness. Accompany him through his distress, panics, relief and peace.  All he can do to progress is to Just Breathe…

Into Light’ the project I always look back on as the one that really got me started in a technical, implementation sense.  That was such a great team.

In recent years, I have also started to further develop my compositions across other media platforms, including my music being used on 2020 Emporio Armani Advertising campaigns. Still with my characteristic emotionally driven, cinematic sound.

I have always had a strong interest in supporting education, and have worked part-time for a number of years at the University of Hertfordshire to continually develop/ deliver specialist game music and sound design content across their BSc provision.  Recent graduates are in audio roles at studios including Frontier Developments, Ubisoft, and PlayStation; it is an area I really enjoy. Safe In Our World is embedded within my delivery there, and such a great (and important) resource.

I hope this story has particularly helped to raise further awareness of Genetic Haemochromatosis.  Don’t be afraid to take a break out, it can re-energise.

You can contact Steven, and listen to his music at the links below

Email / Website / YouTube / Spotify / Twitter

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Helping Others Find The Help I Received by Nick Powell

The hard part about wanting to help remove the stigma attached to mental health is that you have to take the nerve wracking step of telling people about it.

These days I find it best to get that out of the way quickly and get onto the topic of trying to help other people that may be experiencing mental health issues rather than worry about my own. So with that said:

I first realised I was having mental health difficulties a few years ago when in rapid succession I went through the risk of redundancy following an organisational restructure, a move into a new team with more responsibility and a troubled legacy project with a very large budget attached to it. Despite dreadful anxiety, nausea, weight loss and falling asleep on the sofa as soon as I got home it took me a long time to realise that this all could be classed as a mental health issue. I si