Need help?
Click here Need Help?
Need help? Click here

‘Duration playing video games is unlikely to impact wellbeing’

At the end of July 2022, a new research study has been published by the Oxford Internet Institute, which found little to no evidence for a causal connection between gameplay duration and wellbeing.

The Study

The study was conducted with almost 39,000 players game behaviour data across the span of 6 weeks, provided by 7 games publishers:

Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo of America; N = 13 646)
Apex Legends (Electronic Arts; N = 1158)
Eve Online (CCP Games; N = 905)
Forza Horizon 4 (Microsoft; N = 1981)
Gran Turismo Sport (Sony Interactive Entertainment; N = 19 258)
Outriders (Square Enix; N = 1530)
The Crew 2 (Ubisoft; N = 457).

The study is published at an interesting time, contradicting findings from a previous study from the same team in 2020, finding that ‘video games are good for wellbeing’.

The study does allow us to draw that the duration playing games doesn’t link to well-being, but it is important to note that since there was no control group (who refrained from gameplay throughout the study), we can only comment on duration rather than video games as a broader topic.

What’s new about this study?

Previous work linking video games to an array of human states and behaviours has not, (in the views of the authors) been robust, credible or relevant, being seriously limited by:

(i) Unsupported theoretical starting points

(e.g. some researchers take the starting perspective that video gameplay “displaces” social activity (i.e. time spent in a game is time lost to (it is implied) social interactions). Such evidence as there is suggests that this is an incorrect starting point

(ii) Limitations in experimental methods:

  • Examining gameplay in an experimental setting doesn’t capture natural gameplay
  • Measures of game behaviour have relied on subjective recall which is notoriously inaccurate
  • Studies often use cross-sectional (one-off) measures which don’t allow us to infer what causes what (i.e. if my gameplay is high and my wellbeing is low, there are at least three explanations for this association: (i) more gameplay causes poor wellbeing (ii) Poor wellbeing causes more gameplay (iii) some other factor (e.g. loneliness?) causes more gameplay and poorer wellbeing.
  • Often the selection of games themselves is limited so it’s not sure whether we can generalise (e.g. just because ‘The Last of Us’ might make me feel miserable, doesn’t mean that playing ‘Journey’ will do the same.

The current study overcame, at least partly, all of those limitations by using objective measures of players’ behaviour over a 6-week period and making three different measures of well-being across 7 games, which allowed the possibility of looking at causality in two directions. They also recorded players motivations towards gameplay as a means of gaining further insights into the causal chain.

Study Findings

So, what can we understand from this study?

  • Pretty strong evidence that duration of gameplay does not affect wellbeing (including affect and life satisfaction)
  • Pretty strong evidence too that wellbeing (affect and life satisfaction) do not influence duration of gameplay.

Regarding Motivation:

“Intrinsic motivation” was associated positively with wellbeing and affect
“Extrinsic motivation” was associated negatively with wellbeing and affect

“Our findings, therefore, suggest that amount of play does not, on balance, undermine well-being. Instead, our results align with a perspective that the motivational experiences during play may influence well-being [23].

Simply put, the subjective qualities of play may be more important than its quantity.

The extent to which this effect generalizes or is practically significant remains an open question.”

Safe In Our World’s Thoughts

We got together with our clinical board to discuss the study, and put together some of our own thoughts on the study.

  1. We thought that although the study is not perfect, (the sample size in comparison to the number of games and number of gamers is relatively small), the study is a well-motivated piece of research that has worked on previous limitations that have been used to draw conclusions with far-reaching impact.
  2. The study is not showing that games don’t make you feel better. It shows that duration of play doesn’t relate to wellbeing.
  3. It allows us to reject claims that have no evidentiary basis, and makes a fairly broad statement, but calls for further research to be conducted.

We think that this could align with the results found in the 2022 Mental Health Foundation Study, in which they found that players could benefit from self-reflecting on their gaming habits – again highlighting that the quality of a gaming session may be more beneficial to well-being than the quantity, which can be documented via a gaming log.

Safe In Our World continues to welcome further research and study into player behaviour and gameplay, wellbeing and the link between gaming and mental health.

Skills utilised:
News

Hub World: Anxiety

This August, our focus at Safe In Our World has shifted to the topic of anxiety and panic.

This month on Hub World, we wanted to look within our community for their stories, experiences, and coping mechanisms for anxiety. Anxiety is something we’ve covered a lot throughout various podcasts, personal stories, and games – so we wanted to bring it all together to highlight key stories within our theme.

What is anxiety?

Let’s start by looking at what anxiety is. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. For example, you may feel worried or anxious about sitting an exam or before a job interview. During times like these, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal.

However, anxiety can become abnormal if it interferes with your day-today activities.

heads of people walking within a crowd outside. Closer silhouettes are out of focus.

If being anxious means feeling more fearful and tenser than you would playing a game of high-intensity Mario Kart, than what physical symptoms should you look out for?

For example, you may experience:

  • a fast heart rate
  • a feeling of sickness (nausea)
  • the sensation of having a ‘thumping heart’, also known as palpitations
  • shaking (tremor)
  • sweating
  • dry mouth
  • chest pain
  • headache

Hub World Anxiety Stories

Lots of our Safe In Our World affiliates experience anxiety, and have been open in talking about their experiences. Let’s take a look at some:

Existential Anxiety & How FFIX Helped Liam Wilson – Safe Space Podcast

Ambassador Mxiety talks about how live-streaming a mental health talk show gave her purpose, after a particularly bad dip in depression and anxiety symptoms in 2017.

My mental illnesses, it seemed, had won and taken everything away from me. I left work defeated. I felt no control over my life anymore and saw no reason to keep going at all.

Ambassador Lara Jackson talks about her experience in playing Journey, how it eased her anxiety, and how she found importance in ‘walking simulators’.

There’s no anxiety over saying the right or wrong thing, trying to impress people or attempting to make small talk, because you simply don’t have that power.

Games & Anxiety

One of the reasons that Safe In Our World stands today is because of Emily Mitchell, and her game Fractured Minds. Emily won a Young Game Designers BAFTA competition at just 16 for her portrayal of her anxiety within Fractured Minds.

We have a number of games in our list relating to anxiety, check them out below!

  • SymSym aims to show the player what social anxiety is like. The game is challenging, as is navigating social anxiety, which reflects well as a daily struggle that many face.
  • Journey Journey is the embodiment of the phrase ‘it’s about the journey, not the destination’. This game is a highly meditative experience which follows the life cycle of a lone wanderer, who’s making a pilgrimage to a tall mountain peak.
  • Celeste Help Madeline survive her inner demons on her journey to the top of Celeste Mountain, in this super-tight, hand-crafted platformer
  • Kind WordsKind Words provides a safe space for you to write out these feelings, as you sit in a cosy virtual room and send anonymous letter requests to a vast community of players.
  • You Feel Like ShitYou Feel Like Shit is a website aimed at helping you ground yourself whilst practising self-care.

Thought Processes

We spoke to SariaSlays, one of our Ambassadors, who also experiences anxiety.

When I used to study Psychology there was something that really stuck out to me as an analogy that I try to use in my daily challenges with anxiety that I’d love to share. It’s based on CBT constructs, but I just always used to enjoy how it was explained!
“Anxiety puts blinkers on us, much like race horses whose only goal is to get to the finish line. With anxiety, these blinkers can block out a clearer view of how a situation should really be viewed, and instead forces us to zone in only on the threatening elements of a situation which can trigger the most anxiety. It’s basically a part of our instincts, our fight or flight response, but it’s not always a helpful way to look at things.
A great way to start removing these blinkers is to challenge yourself, challenge your thoughts – because thoughts are not always facts, and when we’re in an anxious state we are less likely to see that clearer picture. The best thought challenge for me is “What would someone else say about this situation?” because I am a champion at giving other people great advice, and not practicing what I preach!
Putting myself in someone else’s shoes really brings me back to reality and helps me see that things might not really be as terrible, scary, threatening as it may have initially seemed.
And it may not be easy, but working your way towards removing those blinkers will be a positive step not only towards winning your race against anxiety, but also being able to finally see everyone else who is cheering you on in the crowd!”
Check out previous Hub World articles below and find resources on anxiety here.

Skills utilised:
News

Fighting toxicity in gaming with Dr Kimberly Voll (Safe Space Podcast Season 2, Episode 6)

In this episode, Rosie is joined by Dr Kimberly Voll, Head of Studio for Brace Yourself Games, Co-Founder of the Fair Play Alliance and is on the Advisory Council at GDC. In this episode we focus around toxicity in gaming, and the measures that companies can use to combat it.

We chat about previous work that Kim has been involved in, including her role at Riot. At Riot, Kim focused on player interactions, reducing harassment and toxicity in gaming. Kim further talks about how companies can actively work towards promoting healthier player interactions in-game and within the workplace.

We also cover the gamification of healthcare applications and the use within education. How can we measure what games can bring to other industries?
Kim also talks about their experience within GDC as an advisor, as well as her role as Co-Founder of the Fair Play Alliance.

Links

Fair Play Alliancea global coalition of gaming professionals and companies committed to developing quality games. The promote the sharing of best practices in encouraging healthy communities and awesome player interactions in online gaming.

Brace Yourself GamesBrace Yourself Games is an indie game studio based in Vancouver, which was founded by Ryan Clark in 2013.

Read more about the Safe Space podcast here!

Skills utilised:
News

Mario Runs for Me by Ben Huxley

My therapist tells me it’s the “flee response.”

A spark in my chest triggers an electric current which travels through my body, conducted by muscles and sinew to my extremities, where it shoots back to my chest, and before I’m aware my body is in motion, I’m running as fast as I can in any direction. Of course this isn’t scientifically or anatomically correct, but it’s my experience of a panic attack.

Some sufferers freeze; they’re paralysed as they hyperventilate, or shake, or grind their jaw (there are plenty of physiological responses to panic). But I’ve always ran. Attempting to keep still is futile – it’s a dark parody of a toddler struggling to keep still on their birthday, overwhelming dread in place of exhilarated joy.

Trying to keep still during an attack is futile, like lying in a dark coffin as someone hammers in the nails – I need to get out of there, fast. It isn’t a thought-out response, but instinct, a literal knee-jerk reaction. It’s not like running helps, either. Rather than leave my system, the panic remains, often while I’m exhausted, halfway up a hill – which only makes it more mentally taxing. I don’t sleep well, either – which is bad, because my body needs a good eight hours after what I’ve put it through.

It always ends, though, which is the thought I tell myself every time. The panic might last days, or it might last ten minutes, but it always comes to an end at some point. Mindfulness has helped me with stress, anger, sadness, and mild anxiety – as has my medication – but panic has always been a tricky issue.

For years and years I dreaded the day I couldn’t run, for whatever reason. Maybe I’d be in a wheelchair, trapped somewhere, or paralysed. Maybe I’d actually be trapped in a coffin, like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. Either way, I knew that one day I’d be panicking, and I wouldn’t be able to run – and the thought of that day was enough to make me nervous.

That day eventually came. It was earlier this year, during a visit to A&E. I won’t share the nitty gritties, but I was in a hospital bed, unable to move, and a panic started to brew. Walt Whitman said, “I sing the body electric.” That moment I almost screamed it. The panic was there in every sense; the inability to think, the electricity, the pain, the urge to move, to jump up, to sprint in any direction. But I couldn’t. The habitual response that I knew I couldn’t do without… well, I just had to do without it. I couldn’t run because I was trapped.

What I did next was a rare moment of rational and mindful thought (in case you hadn’t guessed, I’m usually on the mindless and reactive side). I knew that scrolling through socials wouldn’t help; that absent-minded venture we all do, almost against our own will, under the trance of everyday boredom. Aware that I needed to keep my mind occupied, I decided to download a mobile game (thankfully, I was in a magical area of the hospital with Internet).

I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want: a free-to-play candy-crusher, or a mind-melting puzzle. I needed to work my brain, and yet not stress myself more. The search itself became a decent distraction for a while, but eventually I stumbled upon Super Mario Run. I was suspicious to begin with; surely this can’t be a legit Mario game, on the Play Store, available for download on an Android? I quick Google told me that, actually, it was. Released six years ago, and I’d never heard of it.

Just the sight of Mario is a comfort to me, as I’m sure he is for many. That cheerful Italian plumber who waltzes through his acid-trip of a universe without a care in the world was, at that point, in that hospital bed, my saviour. Not just because of the initial uplifting sight of his mustached smile, but because Super Mario Run, it turns out, is an ideal companion during a panic attack.

It looks just like New Super Mario Bros. on the DS and Wii (it was developed by the same team), but it plays like an auto-runner. Mario runs from left to right, and all we need to do is tap the screen to make him jump. This isn’t an endless runner, though – like the early 2010s mobile craze Temple Run – because levels do have an end. And there are a lot of levels to master.

Speaking of mastering; it obeys Bushnell’s Law, in that it’s easy to learn but difficult to master. In a time of crisis when I need a quick distraction, this is ideal. Each level has three stages, that is, three levels of difficulty in the collectable coins. The replay value is outstanding – it took me a while to get everything, and I still go back to it now (during a panic attack, or just during a bus journey). It’s also worth mentioning that you get a Toad Garden to grow and tend to.

I still sometimes feel the need to run, when a crisis hits maximum level it can be hard to keep control. I’m not saying “this game will cure your panic attacks!” either, because every brain works differently. But I hope anyone reading this with panic (or any other) issues will take solace in the fact that a healthier coping tactic can appear when you least expect it. I never thought I’d see the day that I don’t need to run anymore, because Mario runs for me. But here we are.

 

 


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:
News

August: Anxiety & Panic

This month, the team at Safe In Our World will be focusing on Anxiety & Panic.

We’re going to be exploring what anxiety can look like, its relationship to panic attacks, and how we can support ourselves and each other when experiencing it.

Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. Whether you’re nervous about a life event or anxious about sitting an exam. During times like these, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal. However, if it begins to interfere with your day-to-day activities, this is a sign to reach out for support.

We have a lot of resources already looking into what anxiety is, how it can present itself, and how we can support ourselves here, but there is a wider conversation to be had within the community on how we can use games to reduce anxiety, and highlight examples of accurate depictions within characters.

Here are just some of the things you’ll be seeing from us this month:

  • Mental health related games highlights
  • Twitch LDN Stand – 6th August
  • New podcast episodes
  • New streams
  • Discord Community Games
  • Information on Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder
  • ‘Mario Runs for Me’ – How the mobile game helps Ben with panic attacks
  • How Indie Games Turn Negative Emotions into Stories

 

Skills utilised:
News

Transferring Our Sim Satisfaction to Our Real Selves by Kieran Harris

There’s just not enough hours in the day, is there? To work, clean, wash, eat, exercise, drink, sleep and relax is a lot to pack into 24 hours and our priorities are very rarely on the things that really matter here: Eating, exercising and sleeping.

Let’s be honest, for a lot of us (myself absolutely included,) the relaxing part usually takes the majority of our time once work has been finished and who can blame us? That’s what we all want to do. The problem is that it’s at the cost of balancing our physical health too, and when our physical health isn’t great, your mental health is sure to follow it.

When we relax, one of the many things we do to wind down is to play some games. Transporting yourself away to a fictional land experiencing the lives of others is wondrous and exciting, it separates us from the worries and struggles of our lives. Yet, many of us play simulation games to relax that tests our ability to work at something very real but in a virtual way.

Perhaps the biggest example of this would be the EA powerhouse The Sims. For years by playing The Sims we’ve created our dream scenarios using our virtual selves to shape the life we wish we could have for real. The Sims gives us the tools to work towards our dream job, home and lifestyle and we become masters of keeping our virtual selves happy and healthy. We love nothing more than seeing those sad emoticons become big and smiley, showing the progress that we make by completing a simple task like eating something healthy or indulging in a nice bit of exercise.

Each little step we take in-game is a step to making our Sim happy, both physically and mentally. Your Sim has wishes, and those wishes are the game’s way of giving you small and simple steps that build your sim’s happiness. More recently on The Sims 4, you have whims, urges and wants that will build their (or our) satisfaction.

We don’t hesitate to complete the tasks that will raise our Sim’s satisfaction, so why do we struggle so much to raise our own?

When you consider that working towards progress on a game is not actually for our Sim’s benefit but actually our own, it’s easy to realize that actually we could be using this time to actually truly help ourselves. Gaming is an incredible tool to de-stress, to lower anxiety and to have fun but like all things, too much of it can be detrimental. Some of that time needs to be used to focus on our body and The Sims is a perfect example for how to satisfy our needs.

The Sims teaches us that looking after ourselves is simpler than we make it out to be. The simple progress bars detailing hunger and other important health stats is something we could easily apply to our real selves. If you imagine that you’ve not done any exercise for the day so your progress bar would be empty, I’m sure as a gamer you’d feel completely unfulfilled.

Managing ourselves is simpler when we gamify our needs. I’ve taught myself to not think of exercise as a chore but think of it as an objective. Picture that feeling you get when you see your Sim with the happy icon showing that they’re currently feeling fulfilled. It’s incredibly satisfying looking at a Sim that’s done everything they need to be happy and healthy, leaving them to improve their skills at a hobby or aim for that promotion at work. Each whim we complete is something we too could do for ourselves. That New Year’s Resolution doesn’t have to be a temporary mindset, it can be a wish that you’re determined for your Sim to achieve but this time it’s for you.

The easiest way to do this that I’ve found is to make something visual to represent my feelings. It could be a chart, a tally, or even something as simple as a list. Just as we see the feelings of our Sims change as we play, create yourself something physical that can help you quantify your need to complete these tasks. If we do this, we can apply those same urges we have with our sims to ourselves, making managing our body much more engaging.

If your Sim is hungry, lacking sleep or lacking exercise, they’re sad and we are exactly the same. These three things are hugely important not only for our body but for our minds too. A healthier body is a healthier mind and we feel energized and prepared for the day ahead if we’ve satisfied our own needs. Sometimes what we think we need actually isn’t good for us, so it’s up to us to find out what helps us as individuals. It’s about making the same effort we do with our virtual selves as we do in real life as the long-term benefits will surely speak for themselves.

I’m no expert in any of these fields and of course problems can be had with each person so please do seek a professional should you need help. Yet I am someone who is slowly learning myself to take control over my body in the same way I’ve controlled my characters on something that is ultimately insignificant and I encourage you to try the same. The Sims is a wonderful game and a great reminder to just take care of ourselves. It teaches us that by working through our desires step by step we can be happy and live an incredibly successful life. It is, however, still a game and our body needs to come first so that our mind can also be happy. Gaming is an integral part to our happiness, we just need to ensure that we listen to The Sims and keep everything balanced.

 


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

Safe In Our World Host Gayming Mental Health Panel for DIGIPRIDE

Safe In Our World will be hosting a mental health in gayming panel within Gayming Magazine’s DIGIPRIDE event on Tuesday July 26 (8PM BST / 3PM ET).

Hosted by our wonderful Ambassador Mxiety, the Safe In Our World community will be coming together to discuss their experiences as LGBTQ gamers & give mental health care tips.

Marie will be joined by:
The Demented Raven: Safe In Our World Ambassador

Ben Grant – Mental health professional, gamer and advocate

Stuart Burnside – Video Game Certification Analyst at the British Film Institute

We also asked our community for their own contributions around being an LGBTQIA+ gamer:

“As a pansexual gamer, identifying as a cis woman, in particular, I have had a good experience within the gaming scene. But the sad reality is that people still suppress the fact that there is a diversity in gender identities.

So as a pansexual woman, I’ve always just been considered a bisexual woman. People just couldn’t understand that there could be more than just men and women and were completely ignoring how I could feel.

I’ve never faced any issues in the gaming scene so far, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I can report that we still have many transgender or queer people that fight for acceptance of their peace even within the gaming community. In order to help them, we have to get off our asses and do something! We are unfortunately at a point where much still needs to be done for acceptance, and the prevailing sexism is still quite high.

I will always stand up for my community because that is the only way we can show those who are hiding that we will fight for them and give them mental support.”

Rebecca Cantarella – EXCEL ESPORTS

League of Legends Team Manager

“Having largely grown up surrounded by people with very heteronormative attitudes and ways of thinking, the online gaming communities I engaged in as a teenager actually played a crucial part in me being able to come to terms with my own sexuality and identity.

Furthermore, these communities not only enabled me to learn about identities and terminology I had no prior idea of but also provided me with a safe space to talk about these things.

These sorts of communities have been absolutely crucial for my mental health in terms of the clarity and encouragement they’ve provided.”

Anni Valkama – Super Rare Games

Head of Saying Stuff

Skills utilised:
News

The Psychology Behind Hellblade with Paul Fletcher (Safe Space Podcast Season 2 Episode 5)

In this episode, Rosie talks to Paul Fletcher, Professor of Psychiatry and a neuroscientist, known for advising Ninja Theory in the depiction of mental health within video games, specifically for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and their depiction of psychosis. Paul is also on our Clinical Advisory Board here at Safe In Our World.

Paul goes into depth on he was involved within the development of the game, including the incorporation of those with lived experience of auditory hallucinations to create Senua as she is in the final game.

a screenshot from Hellblade where Senua is rowing through a dark river with bodies hanging and wooden spikes. In the foreground Rosie and Paul are pictured below a SIOW Pink Cloud with "The Psychology of Hellblade"

We also discuss the ins and outs of how clinicians can become involved in development to create real people, especially with considerations to the complexities of mental health and personality.

We also discuss our theme of July, which is the trio of nutrition, exercise and sleep, and the prospect of using planned behaviour rather than impulsive behaviour to stack the odds for us to make healthier choices.

Links

Paul’s Twitter

Skills utilised:
News

How can we motivate ourselves to eat well when experiencing mental ill-health?

Let’s be honest: eating well and getting the right nutrition is a daunting task at the best of times, but seems nearly impossible when you’re suffering from mental ill health.

 

Food has an intrinsic connection with how we are feeling, but how we are feeling is also strongly linked to the types of foods we eat: and this connection is often a vicious cycle. Missing essential vitamins and minerals can cause us to feel weak, tired, and lethargic, as well as increasing the chances of feeling depressed or irritable. Then there’s comfort eating, wherein we will typically crave carb-heavy or sugary foods that make us feel better and are “easy.” This article pools together some suggestions from the Association of British Dieticians and Everyday Health to help you break the cycle of low mood and poor nutrition in ways that don’t seem too overwhelming.

  1. Understanding the link between certain moods and foods.

The below table provided by the Association of British Dieticians helps to highlight what types of vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be attributable to certain moods.

Missing Vitamin/Mineral Effect on mood Foods that can help
Iron Feeling weak, tired, and lethargic all the time. The risk of anaemia is reduced by eating enough iron, particularly from red meat, poultry and fish, beans and pulses, fortified cereals. Avoid drinking tea with meals.
All B vitamins Tiredness and feeling depressed or irritable. Fortified foods including wholegrain cereals, animal protein foods such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
Folate / folic acid Increased chance of feeling depressed, particularly important in older people. Folate is found in liver, green vegetables, oranges and other citrus fruits, beans, and fortified foods such as yeast extract (Marmite) and fortified cereals.
Selenium May increase the incidence of feeling depressed and other negative mood states. Brazil nuts, meat, fish, seeds, and wholemeal bread.

 

  1. Get your groceries delivered if going to the store feels like too much.

Rather than buying take-out or junk food, try getting your groceries delivered if you’re able to, as this can ensure you can still eat good, fresh foods that can improve your mood, but avoids the sometimes-intolerable trip to the supermarket.

 

  1. Eat meals with others – in person or virtually

Eating with others helps to support more mindful food intake, as well as allowing you to spend quality time with friends or family members, which can help improve your mental wellbeing in its own right. If you’re unable to see people in person, try having a meal over a video call.

 

  1. Try replacing some foods in your diet with healthier ones.

You can start small if you need to: for example, having nuts instead of crisps as a snack. Nuts offer plant protein, fiber, and better-for-you fats, as well as being more likely to fill you up. You could also use spices instead of salts to add flavour when cooking to lower your sodium intake. Even taking very smalls steps like this can, over time, have a big impact.

 

  1. Have a list of low-effort meals for use on bad days.

When going through a depressive episode, or even just on stressful or exhausting days, cooking can be a huge barrier to eating well. Having a bank of low-effort meals can help you be prepared to eat well without having to take time cooking, create washing up, etc. Some examples from Everyday Health include:

  • Avocado and egg on whole-grain toast
  • Canned tuna with rice (and if you’re feeling up to it, sautéed veggies)
  • Greek yogurt with a handful of unsalted nuts and frozen fruit
  • Whole-grain toast with natural peanut butter and a chopped banana
  • Smoothies containing frozen fruits, leafy greens, and Greek yogurt
  • Low-sodium canned soups or other canned foods

 

Above all else, remember to be kind to yourself. When living with depression or other mental health conditions, things like making dinner can be an uphill battle. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you need it – whether it’s having someone do your grocery run for you or with you, or simply offering you some moral support and motivation.

Skills utilised:
News

An Interview with Autistica: Molehill Mountain Edition

Andy Clarke, Molehill Mountain Product Owner at Autistica, sat down with us to chat through Molehill Mountain, an app to help autistic people understand and self-manage anxiety.

What is Molehill Mountain and what is the purpose of the app?

Molehill Mountain is an app designed to help autistic people understand and self-manage their anxiety. We wanted to create a source of support that was digitally and freely available, as anxiety is very common among autistic people. It is estimated that 30-40% of autistic people have symptoms of anxiety disorder.

This is much higher than in the general population, where the percentage is 10-12%. Sensory issues are also common in autistic people and can be an extra cause of anxiety. In addition, common autistic traits such as rumination and alexithymia (a difficulty identifying emotions) can make anxiety worse and treatments such as talking therapies less effective.

How did Autistica begin the journey of creating a wellbeing focused app as an alternative outlet to existing resources?

Autistica initially worked with researchers at King’s College London on producing a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) workbook for autistic people with anxiety. It was a printed guide with advice and activities. This was a great start, but the material seemed more suited to an app so you could access it anywhere and at any time.

Autistica and KCL then worked together on the first version of the Molehill Mountain app, which was released in 2018. This was a relatively small project, but allowed us to see whether there was an audience for this type of app.

This first version of Molehill Mountain was a success. However, there were features which had to be left out due to the pressures of time and budget. For instance, we had included a tips section but not the CBT activities. In light of this, Autistica and KCL then obtained a larger grant to build the current version of the app, which is when I joined the project.

 

What inspired Molehill Mountain, and how is it different to other mental health apps?

There are many anxiety apps, but none really focus on the specific needs of autistic people. By working with autistic testers, and autism researchers, we’ve been able to personalise the app in a way that makes it more relevant and effective for autistic users. For instance, most anxiety apps focus on phobias and general anxiety. Autistic people can experience these forms of anxiety, but they are also affected by social anxiety and sensory issues and these are reflected in the design of the app.

For example, we ask the user to log their anxiety. If you start typing “pla”, a neurotypical anxiety app might suggest “plane crash” as flying is a common phobia. However, we also suggest things like “change of plan” and “open plan office” as these are more relevant to autistic people. This sort of thing can seem unimportant from a usability point of view, but it helps an autistic user feel that the app is designed for them.

We also reflect this approach in the tips section. The first tip acknowledges that sensory issues such as crowded environments, harsh lighting, random noise and strong smells can be all be major causes of anxiety. You may not find these as prominently featured in a neurotypical anxiety app.

We give more space in the tips to conditions like alexithymia and rumination which are more common in autistic people and can affect how they experience anxiety or respond to treatment for anxiety. We also try to avoid phrases or advice which may be triggering.

Tell us about the development of the app through having input from autistic people with lived experience of anxiety

We involved autistic people throughout the development of Molehill Mountain. I started this phase of development by reviewing the first version of the app which included feedback from user interviews and user testing. We also went through the app screen by screen to check for any usability issues.

Together, this allowed us to identify some existing issues and possible solutions. I then did an online survey and followed this up with in-depth user interviews. At that point, I was particularly interested in hearing why people had stopped using the app. This was a good approach as the survey identified two useful groups: on one hand, there were those who didn’t find the app relevant to them and had abandoned it relatively quickly, and on the other, there were those who had used it so much, they had got bored of it.

We did some further user testing for our initial designs and went through several iterations of this. After launch, we then did a survey and some additional user interviews.

At each stage, we looked at several forms of data in parallel. I think that this is good advice for anyone developing an app or a game. Don’t just rely on one source of data or one approach to user research. If you have analytics data, do some user interviews as this can add depth (analytics can tell you what is happening, but not why). Likewise, the interviews can suggest things to look for in the data and surveys can confirm if an issue raised in a user interview is widespread or rare.

What do you think the main take-home is for people using Molehill Mountain?

If I was to give one bit of advice about using Molehill Mountain, it would be to “give it time”. Some people will download Molehill Mountain and do one or two check-ins before quitting. This is too early. We know that anxiety affects a lot of autistic people so they would see a benefit if they kept using the app for a little while longer.

This is very common issue and affects all self-help apps, not just Molehill Mountain. In this version of Molehill Mountain, I included some details inspired by fitness trackers like progress charts and check-in streaks to provide more feedback and encouragement.

You need to use Molehill Mountain for a while to start to see the benefits. For instance, we have progress charts in the app and it takes a week or two until you will start to see a pattern in the check-ins. You will also start to notice your most common anxieties and get to the more tailored tips.

 

Are you planning to evolve the app in the future?

At the moment, we’re taking a pause from actively developing Molehill Mountain. We could develop it further, but for now it seems better to take what we have learnt from developing the app and apply it to other issues. At Autistica, we have set visionary and ambitious 2030 Goals, which will help us achieve our mission to see all autistic people live happier, healthier, longer lives. The goals are centred around support post-diagnosis, employment, public spaces, annual health checks and attitudes to autistic people. I think there is great opportunity to develop apps covering these fields, and we will of course revisit Molehill Mountain in due course.

 

We’re always delighted to chat with the names behind the games, and this was no exception. You can check out the game highlight on our mental health related games and apps page.

Skills utilised:
News

How VR breathing game DEEP helps with sleep, anxiety, and long-COVID by Joe Donnelly

After first playing Deep, I had to sit down. In fact, that’s underselling it. After first playing Deep – a meditative virtual reality game controlled by breathing – I felt so relaxed, so totally and utterly chilled out, serene and warm and fuzzy inside, that I could’ve laid down and slept for a week. Right there, on the show floor of EGX Rezzed 2015, inside London’s bustling Tobacco Dock events venue, among its scores of busy revellers shuttling between blockbuster demo booths and food stalls selling gourmet burgers; drifting off to the rhythmic bleeps and bloops of the retro gallery’s chiptune soundtracks.

I didn’t, of course, but instead sat on a wooden bench opposite the room that housed Deep and other similarly unorthodox indie projects. As I gathered myself and my thoughts, I watched through the glass doors of the Leftfield Collection Hall with excitement as someone else strapped on the VR headset I’d worn moments before. I smiled a big daft smile as Owen Harris, the game’s mastermind and director, helped the would-be player slip into the breathing belt that wrapped around their chest. And I let out a little chuckle as I watched the player’s smile stretch wider and wider beneath the rim of the Oculus Rift VR headset strapped to their face and covering their eyes. This person was experiencing exactly what I had, and exactly what Harris had hoped players would at that video games expo seven years ago.

Using a virtual reality headset, headphones, and a custom-built self-calibrating belt that ties players’ real-world breathing patterns to how the in-game avatar navigates their gorgeous underwater surroundings, Deep creates a gamified version of diaphragmatic exercise. Creator Owen Harris first conceived the idea as a means of controlling his own anxiety, saying that while deep-breathing exercises have never cured his anxiety and sleeping issues outright, they have helped control them. Deep, in essence, recreates the process, which, on-screen, sees a reticle expand and contract in tandem with the player’s breathing – with the player character sinking or ascending with each inhale and exhale, as they float around a gorgeous underwater network of bright coral reefs and schools of tropical fish. It’s difficult to put into words how much better I felt after spending just 10 minutes with Deep at EGX Rezzed in 2015 – so much so, I slept like an absolute baby on the flight home to Glasgow later that evening. Since then, Deep as a concept and project has come a very long way.

After spending a year touring Deep around similar video game events across the globe – as well as art exhibitions, museum showcases, and even the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City – Harris and the game’s art director, Niki Smit, partnered with Radboud University’s Games for Emotional and Mental Health lab. At its core, Deep has always been about soothing and relieving anxiety in its players, primarily by way of diaphragmatic breathing, but with professional researchers now on board, the efficacy and credibility of the project on a scientific level could finally, properly, be explored. Several published academic papers followed, proving that Deep indeed can help players to diminish anxiety, improve their mindset, outlook, sleep patterns, and belief in their own capabilities, among a host of other positive outcomes.

In early 2020, buoyed by all of the above and with a clear vision of where it wanted to be next, the team behind Deep was gearing up for a new edition of the game – a version Harris described as a “grand expression” of everything Deep had explored in the fields of art, science and health to that point. Built on top-end hardware, this was to be the definitive version of Deep, one which put “visual splendour above all else.” When the pandemic hit, however, Harris said he and his team’s worlds were brought into sharp focus, and while the thought of swimming in a vast and vibrant world remained undoubtedly appealing, Harris reckoned building the game exclusively for high-spec (and thus expensive) VR headsets was “self-indulgent, elitist and selfish”.

To this very end, on February 3, 2021, after a year of planning, iterating and reiterating, Harris announced Deep was coming to the Oculus Quest.

Fast forward five months from its Oculus Quest announcement, and Deep featured at the Cannes Film Festival’s Cannes XR, a tech-focused off-shoot that runs alongside the main event. As part of the Unity for Humanity showcase, the team behind Deep showed off how the game will operate on Quest, with the most obvious difference being: here, in order to track the player’s breathing – in lieu of the regular edition’s custom-made belt – the Quest’s hand controllers are positioned on the player’s chest, moving in and out with each breath. With shots of glowing coral reef, dark and mysterious caves, and beautifully expansive underwater sprawls, Deep as it will feature on Oculus Quest looks every bit as wonderful as the game I first played many moons ago at EGX Rezzed, and I can’t wait to see how it’s received by players on a wider scale than ever before.

Deep is still without a concrete launch date for Oculus Quest, but I’m certain it’ll be a hit for anyone keen to help alleviate anxiety, relax, work on mindfulness, or improve sleep. This is a game that started out as a pet project of one person, used exclusively as a means of switching off from the stresses and mundanities of everyday life, that grew and evolved, re-evaluated itself and its purpose, and is now on the cusp of being released to the masses.

As a video game critic, one thing I’ve always admired about the best, most profound and impactful games I’ve played over the years is their scope to stick with me. If I’m still thinking about a game one week, one month, or, if the game is good enough, one year into the future, then it’s likely a hit and well worth your time. I played Deep for 10 minutes seven years ago at a busy games event. I think that tells you all you need to know about how much of an impression it’s left – and I hope you take the time to let it make one on you too in the not so distant future.

Skills utilised:
News

A Fairer Games Industry with Rami Ismail (Safe Space Podcast Season 2 Episode 4)

In this episode, Rosie is joined by Rami Ismail, an independent game dev and influence within the games industry.

Rami was a part of Vlambeer, and is a part of The Habibis Podcast. Rami has created Meditations, developed presskit(), and is a big voice within the game dev space in advocating for change.

Rami talks about his new passion in flying, and why having something completely separate from every day life is so important to him. Rosie and Rami discuss the state of the global games industry, Rami’s journey into that from developing at a young age, and the changes he’d like to see within it.

We deep dive into the #1ReasonToBe GDC Panel, it’s origins from the #1ReasonWhy movement, and why it was such a powerful panel within the industry. Rami talks about the powerful games narratives that we just aren’t seeing within games at the moment, and how we need to use the voices of the truly global industry in order to make it a fairer place to exist within.

Links

Rami’s Twitter

The Habibis Podcast

Rami’s Website

Skills utilised:
News

Finding Balance: Can a person in ED recovery participate in exercise and focus on eating a healthy diet?

In 2019 I started going to the gym for the first time in my life.

Until then, I’d been strictly Not A Gym Person. I would be bad at everything – sweaty, red-faced – and everyone would look at me and think about how awful I was. But I found I actually enjoyed exercising.

Over the next few months, I reveled in personal bests, sticking to a regular workout plan until I was going to the gym 6-7 days a week. Slowly, old habits started to creep back: I could only eat certain foods if I worked out extra; or I would skip meals on days when I couldn’t make it to the gym; or I would obsess over how I looked in one video of me deadlifting; or I would decide my arms weren’t the right shape; or none of it mattered because I was getting fat anyway (hint: I wasn’t).

someone out of focus holds two ropes in a gym, whilst someone is mid-press up next to them.

In 2020, like all of us, I was unable to go to the gym anymore. I spent most of my time horizontal, living vicariously through Animal Crossing. This continued for 6 months before I started working again. Now that I was no longer actively wallowing in despair (most of the time, anyway), I decided I needed to start eating well and exercising within reason. I walked to and from work daily and went to the gym a couple times a week. This time, my brain decided to fixate on what I was eating, and those same controlling habits crept back in. I would record everything I ate, obsessing over calories and protein and fat and adding and adding and adding, reducing food intake to numbers. The calorie limit I allowed myself became more and more restrictive until, luckily, I was able to realise what was happening.

Nowadays, I try very hard to find balance and above all to be kind to myself: I remind myself daily that I do not need to punish myself for not going to the gym, or for having a meal with friends. It can be exhausting to have a mental battle over seemingly the smallest thing, but I am trying to listen to how I feel and how my body feels, rather than fixating on measures and finding reasons to feel shame.

So, can a person in eating disorder recovery participate in exercise and focus on eating a healthy diet? Well, sure. But is it a whole lot harder when you have to constantly combat your own brain and make a conscious effort to avoid relapse? Yeah, absolutely.

My journey is not the same as everyone’s, but the way you think about things like exercise and nutrition when you have or have had an eating disorder can be fundamentally different from how one might “normally” perceive these activities. This month at Safe In Our World we are highlighting exercise, nutrition, and sleep. But be mindful that these things do not look the same for everyone: when, where, and how someone exercises will vary, and the way they maintain a healthy diet will differ, too.

Here are some resources that might help:

National Alliance for Eating Disorders: Exercise During Recovery

BEAT Eating Disorders

 

Words by Sky Tunley-Stainton

Skills utilised:
News

July: Exercise, Nutrition and Sleep

This July, our monthly theme is shifting to the trio of exercise, nutrition and sleep.

We know that these three things, when kept in check, can give us a boost in our mental wellbeing. But how can we use games as a vehicle to learn healthier habits?

This month, we’re going to be exploring the concepts of how games can promote healthy living, both physically and mentally. Through game highlights, podcast discussions, articles, resources, analogies and more, we’re going to work through it together.

And we’ve got a hell of a schedule waiting for you! Take a look.

Here are just some of the things you’ll be seeing from us this month:

Making video game foods with Rosie and Sky [Stream] – we’re going to be tackling the fan favourite butterscotch cinnamon pie from Undertale, and it will be chaos.

Games highlights

Gaming for Good with Karla Reyes [Podcast]

A Fairer Games Industry with Rami Ismail [Podcast]

Nature for Wellbeing Exclusive Partner Training

DIGIPRIDE Panel with Gayming Magazine

How VR breathing game DEEP helps with sleep, anxiety and long-COVID

Finding Balance: Can a person in ED recovery participate in exercise and focus on eating a healthy diet?

Planned vs impulsive behavior with Paul Fletcher [Podcast]

Transferring virtual care to in real life self-care using concepts from The Sims

 

So, stay tuned, keep talking, and most importantly, stay Safe In Our World.

Skills utilised:
News

Life Is Strange with Katy Bentz (Safe Space Podcast Season 2, Episode 3)

In this episode of Safe Space, Rosie and Mikayla chat with Katy Bentz, aka Steph Gingrich from the Life Is Strange series!

Rosie, Katy and Mikayla are in the foreground on a backdrop of Haven Springs; there are trees, mountains, and a record store

Katy talks about her experiences as a voice actor, touching on the distinction between the games industry and the film industry, and how to handle audition rejection.

We discuss the impact of characters like Steph for the LGBTQIA+ community, and Katy’s experiences playing a character that is so adored within the LIS fandom. Katy recalls some of her favourite moments from recording True Colors, as well as her favourite interactions with the LIS community.

Links

Katy’s Twitter / Katy’s Twitch

Life Is Strange True Colors

Skills utilised:
News

Be in Safe In Our World’s Video Campaign

Safe In Our World is calling all gamers out there to help us champion everyone’s mental health throughout our industry.

Through games and play we share the stories that billions of people across the world engage with. We want to create a video to positively show the variety and diverse range of people that play games, and we need your help.

We need YOU to record a short clip of yourself, from your phone, saying “I am a Gamer”. 

If you would like to record as a group then please say all together “We are Gamers”.

How to Film

In order to get the best quality and consistency for all submissions, All participants are asked to try and follow these suggestions when shooting your short video.

Best possible filming device used if possible – Latest iPhone/Android, any access to a filming kit. 16:9 || 4K or 1080p HD

A 15 second portrait of each contributor would be helpful – Camera or phone mounted on a tripod a few feet away to capture a head and shoulders video portrait in 16:9 format. We would like to have two versions:

  1. Straight down the lens not smiling.
  2. Straight down the lens smiling with phone cameras in landscape mode.

Turn off all background noises, quiet room or area.

For those who want to go even further: some footage of you playing games – must be filmed either over the shoulder with them in context (no full screen play). A few various other shots (maybe webcam footage if you are a streamer), close up of hands playing controller/mouse, eyes, etc.

Please send your video to benn@safeinourworld.com by the end of July.

Help us tell the story of Safe In Our World where we are asking all video game companies to unite and commit to change, for the wellbeing of all of us together.

Skills utilised:
News

Stonewall: Pride Month 2022 Highlight

As part of Pride Month 2022, we’re highlighting companies, charities and organisations doing great work within the LGBTQ+ space, and today’s highlight is Stonewall.

 

What is Stonewall?

Stonewall is an organisation that stands for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people everywhere. The work of the charity has helped bring the issue of LGBTQ rights to the mainstream political agenda, changing both attitudes and policy.

 

When did it start?

Stonewall was founded in 1989 by a small group of people who had been active in the struggle against Section 28 of the Local Government Act. It was later granted charitable status in 2003.

 

What was Section 28?

Section 28 was an offensive piece of legislation designed to prevent so-called  “promotion” of homosexuality in schools; as well as stigmatising lesbian, gay and bi people, it galvanised the gay community.

What does ‘Stonewall’ mean?

The Stonewall Uprising began on June 28, 1969, when a gay club in New York City called The Stonewall Inn was raised by police leading to six days of violent clashes between the police and the gay community of Greenwich Village. The Stonewall Uprising served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the US and around the world.

 

What has Stonewall done?

Since 1989, Stonewall has been instrumental in LGBTQ+ rights movements:

  • An equal age of consent for gay and bi men
  • The end of Section 18 in Scotland, England and Wales
  • Same-sex couples being free to adopt children
  • LGBTQ+ people being free to serve openly in the armed forces
  • Protection from discrimination at work
  • The right for same-sex couples to have civil partnerships
  • The right for LGBTQ+ couples to be legally recognised as parents
  • The right for same-sex couples to get married
  • LGBTQ+ inclusive teaching in the national curriculum

Skills utilised:
News

LGBTQIA+ Characters In Video Games: A Spotlight

We’ve seen developments over the years in more characters within video games identifying as LGBTQ+, and whilst there is still more work to do, we wanted to celebrate some of our favourite kickass characters from games that are in the LGBTQ+ community.

Life Is Strange – Alex & Steph

screenshots of steph gingrich from True Colours

Where would we be without this wonderful duo from Life Is Strange: True Colours? Alex and Steph have been fan favourites since True Colours first came out in September 2021. Alex, the main protagonist of the game, is a bisexual character who begins the game reuniting with her brother Gabe in Haven Springs, Colorado. Her kindness and tenacity is a huge asset to the character, and is why so many players fell in love with her! Steph is a lesbian who, depending on the player’s choices, can romance Alex. We talk a lot about Steph’s character in an upcoming podcast episode with the voice actor Katy Bentz.

 

The Last Of Us – Ellie, Riley, Lev

a mashup of Ellie, Riley, Dina and Lev from The Last of Us

The Last of Us has a number of LGBTQ+ characters within the series, with Ellie, one of the main protagonists initially hiding her sexuality from Joel. Her lesbian identity is unveiled in the Left Behind DLC after Ellie and Riley share a kiss within the mall. Bill, a gay character is also within the first The Last of Us game. In The Last of Us Part II, Dina’s character is introduced as bisexual and as a love interest for Ellie. We also see within the sequel an introduction to the first trans character within TLOU universe; Lev.

 

The Outer Worlds

Photo from The Verge

Parvati is an asexual character from The Outer Worlds, and is a fan-favourite. Gayming Mag have a great article looking into their character more here.

 

Tell Me Why

Dontnod’s Tell Me Why moved so many players with their powerful story telling and engaging story, but Tyler’s representation within the game as not only a trans man but a complex character outside of that, was inspiring to both players and game devs alike. Dontnod’s collaboration with GLAAD and using lived experience was a huge factor in creating Tyler.

 

Technobabylon

Max Lao; one of Technobabylon’s 3 main characters, who is a tech-savvy operative on the police force. It is discovered within emails within the game that she is a trans woman, who previously attended an all-boys school.

 

Mass Effect

Liara T’Soni is the very first queer (and romanceable) character within the world of Mass Effect, with her own DLC within the second game. Mass Effect has a number of LGBTQIA characters within the series in total, and this article by Gayming Mag goes into greater detail on each of them!

 

Dragon Age

Dorian is the first male companion who is a romance option exclusively for a male protagonist within Dragon Age, making his debut in Dragon Age: Inquisition. He is a charming character, a mage, and an inspiration for David Gaider to continue to integrate LGBTQIA+ characters within his future game narratives.

There are so many characters within the games universe that have well-written LGBTQIA+ characters, and these are just a few highlights from our community! If you’re looking to delve into more LGBTQIA+ characters, our friends at Gayming Mag do fantastic work in queer culture.

We’ve found resources such as Represent Me and LGBT Characters Wikia to be brilliant in documenting LGBTQIA+ characters across fiction and video games.

Skills utilised:
News

Character Creation and the Privacy of Playing with Gender

Video games have offered queer nerds a safe space to explore aspects of themselves for decades.

I’m not the first to have noticed, and more personally felt, this phenomena and I most certainly won’t be the last. From romancing characters of the same gender, to opening up a new save and creating a character of the opposite one, games have always been playgrounds for positive exploration of sexuality and, especially, gender.

Gaming is often a solitary hobby with the majority of releases focusing on single-player campaigns. Because of this, gaming is often also a very private hobby, with players retreating to their bedrooms or studies after school or work to tune out the rest of the world and dive into the one loading up in front of them.

It’s this privacy that is important to why video games lend themselves so well to gender exploration. Players can dive into a new skin with a sense of security, knowing there’s nobody to perform for.

See, there is still an awful societal pressure for queer people to know exactly how to label themselves as soon as they are comfortable coming out, particularly queer youth. Society perpetuates the idea that changing your mind, discovering something new about yourself, or growing into a new identity is something to be ashamed of. I’m sure you’ve heard the stereotype prescribed to bisexuality as the ‘in-between’ step towards ‘realising you’re actually a lesbian / gay man’ or the similar belief that coming out as non-binary is just one step away from coming out as binary transgender.

For many people, discovering themselves does lead them from one label to another, but these stereotypes have come to assign a certain amount of shame to that. These should-be-comforting moments of self-discovery can become tainted as wrong-turns, when in reality they’re often natural progressions.

This is where the privacy of video games, and character creation, come in. Not only does creating a new persona to inhabit allow you to test the waters of presenting and identifying in a different way, but you can experiment and change that persona as you go, sometimes within games and sometimes between them. All within the privacy of your own save files.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons, for example, was the first game in the Animal Crossing franchise to remove gender restrictions in the game. Previously you would be asked to choose ‘girl’ or ‘boy’, often in bizarre dialogues where the question isn’t specifically asked but is instead assumed on whether you think your name is ‘cute’ or ‘cool’…you know, the two genders. Clothing options and haircuts would be restricted depending on this choice, and it couldn’t be changed without creating an entirely new character.

New Horizons, however, let’s you change your gender marker whenever and clothes and haircuts are available to all. In an interview with The Washington Post, Aya Kyogoku, the game’s director, spoke about this flexibility of gender in New Horizons:

“We basically wanted to create a game where users didn’t really have to think about gender or if they wanted to think about gender, they’re also able to.”

This freedom offers small and private moments of gender affirmation, including when that affirmation comes in freedom from gender; letting you run around knowing your character’s gender marker is set to boy while you terraform in your most ‘girly’ cottage-core dress with not a single villager caring (something I did myself).

What happened with New Horizons is just one of the examples of the ways game designers are beginning to push better representations of gender. More games are allowing a mixture of traditionally feminine or masculine traits within one character, including non-binary identities, and are providing a wider / mixed choice of pronouns. While this has been in the works of several developers over the years, it came more to the forefront during Covid when separation from society was greater and people had the space and privacy to experiment in real life as well as in their
games.

During this time, I myself remember playing Arcade Spirits, the already very queer dating sim from Fiction Factory Games. On opening the game, I was met with a character customiser where I was able to give my ‘me’ a cute blonde bob, a masculine build, and, for the first time, they/them pronouns. It was one of the first times I had been able to experiment with these pronouns; despite wanting to see how they felt for me, I wasn’t yet comfortable asking others to try them out.

But there, alone in my bedroom with a cup of tea and my laptop propped up on plushies, it felt private and personal and good. After I finished the game, I was able to recognise that, while those pronouns did feel right for me, there were times where I missed more gendered ways of presenting and interacting in-game. This Arcade Spirits version of me didn’t quite capture ‘me,’ and it was affirming to uncover that without the onlooking eye of others.

That experience could not have been the same were it broadcast and shared with others, and Arcade Spirits is only one example of how powerful the intimacy with video games can be. It’s why there is so much queer joy waiting to be found in games, because there is always excitement in the fact that we can try again and again to learn more about ourselves whenever we load into the next character creator.

Skills utilised:
News

How can community managers within the games industry practice self care?

Our Charity Manager, Sarah, recently spoke to GIBiz on the importance of mental health training within the games industry, especially for Community Managers.

Sarah Sorrell

So, how can community managers within the games industry practice self care, set boundaries, create psychologically safe work cultures and welcome imperfection?

Sarah dives into the fundamentals of why community managers seem to have the most endless remit of all within the games industry, and why mental health training course brings together key techniques in supporting yourself within this role. At the moment, we’re on our second round of training Community Managers free of charge in managing their mental health. You can read more about the course, and our achievements at this page.

There are many steps that people working within the industry can take, within the community-focused role, to help set effective boundaries, provide opportunities to learn, achieve balance and connect with others in the same situation, and it doesn’t just come down to the Community Manager to implement these changes.

Sarah talks about the importance of those in senior positions to support their Community Managers, and how setting the precedent of a healthy work life balance is imperative to fostering a safer workplace culture.

The evidence is that many organisations struggle to create and sustain a culture where people feel okay speaking truth to power — disagreeing with the boss can still carry negative consequences. Senior leaders need to step up and take genuine responsibility for creating cultures that empower diversity of opinion and ideas.

It’s also vital to become self-aware, with what might be causing your stress, change of mood, or even in decision-making. We must welcome imperfection to embrace what is it to be a person, rather than a robot, and by moving away from a perfectionist mindset, we can be kinder to ourselves as well.

If you’re interested in reading up more about the tips that CMs can take on board regarding their mental health, and how workplaces can support them, check out the rest of the article over at Games Industry Biz.

Read the GI Biz article here.

Skills utilised:
News

Custom Pronouns in the Sims 4 with Momo Misfortune (Safe Space Podcast Season 2, Episode 2)

In this episode, Rosie and Sky chat to Momo Misfortune. Momo is a Twitch partner who is known for streaming The Sims, as well as campaigning for pronouns in the Sims, and a founder of YOUphoriaTV which is stream team focused on uplifting the voices of Nonbinary and Gender Non Conforming creators on Twitch.

We discuss the incredible causes such as Able Gamers, Trans Women of Colour Collective that they have supported, and the Change.org campaign Momo made for adding pronoun options into The Sims 4 which had almost 25,000 signatures before it became a reality.

Momo talks about It Gets Better as an Ambassador and their connection with The Sims 4, and also about their experience with chronic illness and how it affects their mental health.

Links

Skills utilised:
News

Global LGBTQIA+ Support

During Pride Month, we wanted to compile a list of resources aimed at supporting the LGBTQIA+ community, but specifically focusing on trans friendly communities.

Below, we’ve put some international resources for those who need it; everyone deserves mental health support.

 

United Kingdom

Mindline Trans

Emotional and mental health support helpline for anyone identifying as trans, non-binary, gender variant, and their families, friends, colleagues and carers.

Their phone line is open Mondays and Fridays, 8pm to midnight. Ring 0300 330 5468.

Switch Board

A one-stop listening service for LGBTQ+ people on the phone, emails or through instant messaging.

Their phone line is open 10:00 – 22:00 every day. Call 0300 330 0630, chat on their website or email at chris@switchboard.lgbt for support.

The Beaumont Society

The Beaumont Society is a national self help body run by and for the transgender community.

The Beaumont Society operates a national 24 / 7 information line. This information line contains the telephone numbers of all the societies regional organisers who are available to speak to for advice, details of where to go for a good night out – even a friendly ear to listen. Call 01582 412220.

Mermaids

Helping gender-diverse kids, young people and their families since 1995.

Call 08088010400 Monday to Friday, 9am – 9pm to speak to a trained member of the Mermaids Team.

Gendered Intelligence

Gendered Intelligence, established in 2008, is a registered charity that exists to increase understandings of gender diversity and improve trans people’s quality of life.

LGBT Foundation

The LGBT Foundation are here to offer support and advice on a range of topics. Our service is non-judgement, and we are here to talk through whatever is on your mind. When you call, you will find someone on the other end of the line with a friendly voice and a listening ear.
Call on on 0345 3 30 30 30 (Monday-Friday 9am-9pm) or email helpline@lgbt.foundation 03453303030

Ireland

LGBT Ireland

National LGBT Helpline on freephone 1800 929 539 (7 days a week)

Transgender Family Support Line on 01 907 3707

Or use this instant messaging service.

BeLonG To Youth Services

At BeLonG To, we offer non-judgmental, confidential support. We’re here for you. BeLonG To is an LGBT youth organisation catering for young people between 14-23 years. 

 

United States

PsychCentral

Support for Trans, Nonbinary & Gender-Expansive Folks including a list of hotlines and support.

Trans Lifeline

The Trans Lifeline has answered over 100,000 calls since it launched in 2014. It operates with the determined mission of providing “direct emotional and financial support to trans people in crisis — for the trans community, by the trans community.” Call 877-565-8860 (Press 2 for Spanish)

To reach the Trans Lifeline toll-free from anywhere in Canada, dial 1-877-330-6366 https://translifeline.org/

oSTEM

Text ‘oSTEM’ to +1 (313) 662-8209 anytime, from anywhere.

LGBT National Hotline

The LGBT National Hotline is for all ages.

They provide a safe space that is anonymous and confidential where callers can speak on many different issues and concerns including, but not limited to, coming out issues, gender and/or sexuality identities, relationship concerns, bullying, workplace issues, HIV/AIDS anxiety, safer sex information, suicide, and much more.

Call 888-843-4564 Monday – Friday 1pm-9pm PT / 4pm – 12am ET or Saturday 9am-2pm PT / 12pm-5pm ET

The Trevor Project

Founded in 1998, The Trevor Project defines itself as “the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25.” 

Trevor Lifeline: Call 866-488-7386 | Trevor Text: Text ‘START’ to 678-678 (Operates 24/7, 365 days a year)

 

Australia

Twenty 10

We work with people across Sydney and New South Wales who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender diverse, non-binary, intersex, questioning, queer, asexual and more (LGBTIQA+) people and others of diverse genders and sexualities, their families and communities.

We are a Sydney based service working across New South Wales, providing a broad range of specialised services for young people 12-25 including housing, mental health, counselling and social support. For adults we provide social support and for people of all ages we offer telephone support and webchat as the NSW provider for the national QLife project. We also offer inclusivity training and consulting for organisations and service providers across most sectors.

Phone: 02 8594 9555 – (Intake/support line is staffed 1-3PM weekdays)

Reach Out

Reach Out offers a list of emergency, national and state based services.

If you’re feeling distressed and want to talk to someone right now, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or one of the other contacts in the urgent help section, all of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7.

 

New Zealand

OutlineNZ

Our free confidential support line is answered by trained LGBTIQ+ volunteers. Leave a message if we can’t answer and we can call you back. Call 0800-688-5463 – 6pm-9pm every evening.

There is also a free chat service.

 

France

SOS Homophobia

Ligne d’écoute anonyme
01 48 06 42 41
Lundi au vendredi de 18h à 22h
Samedi : 14h – 16h
Dimanche : 18h – 20h
Sauf jours fériés

 

Germany

Lesbenberatung

Center for Councelling, Communication and Exchange

+49 30-215-20-00 (information line)

They offer meet ups for young queer people between the ages of 16 and 27 once a week (german speaking), and will soon offer counselling on social and medical transition for all trans people.

 

We also have more resources, support lines and games relating to the LGBTQ+ community on our previous pride article, and global mental health support lines on our Find Help area.

Skills utilised:
News

Another Day, Another Interview

In this interview, Rosie catches up with Another Dollar Studios; a student game dev team from Falmouth University about their game ‘Another Day’.

The game was part of the Cornwall House exhibition during the G7 Summit in 2021, and portrays the daily struggle experienced by those living in isolation in a claustrophobic environment during lockdown while suffering from depression and anxiety.

 

What were the inspirations behind this storyline?

 

Another Day was a deeply personal project for much of the team. Being students ourselves, and some of us having our own complex histories with mental health, we put a lot of ourselves into the project. The result is an amalgamation of our collective experience as students during nationwide lockdown.

 

The game for me (Rosie) perfectly illustrated what it was like having depression during the lockdown – how do you want players to perceive this game who may be less familiar with this feeling?

 

Thank you, we took a lot of time and effort to try to ensure that the experience felt right.

One thing the team identified during the idea development stage of the project was how difficult it can be for people who have not experienced depression to relate or empathise with those who are struggling, which can lead to them becoming isolated from friends, family members and colleagues when they really need their support.

Games are a powerful medium for storytelling and sharing experiences, arguably more than films or books, as players do not passively watch events, but actively take part – when reading a book or watching a film, we refer to the main character and their actions in the third person, however when playing a game we refer to the player character’s actions as if it was ourselves performing them. We want players to use the game as an educational tool to gain a better understanding of mental illness and what it can look like when someone is struggling.

We hope that this will be able to allow those who have not gone through the experience to feel empathy for people in their lives who may be going through a similar situation to the player character in Another Day. Although the experience may not be fully familiar to every player, small elements will be, even if it’s something as simple as struggling to complete a simple daily task.

We also want to emphasize the importance of reaching out to those who may be struggling. Depression and anxiety can be incredibly isolating, and popping round for a cup of tea, a phone call or even a text can make all the difference to those who are feeling low.

If someone feels they are able to better understand a loved one who has depression after playing this, it would be truly amazing.

 

Another Day made it feel tiring to get up and do the basics – a lot of people who experience poor mental health will likely relate to this – why did you choose to tell this story in this way?

 

We knew from the outset that if we were going to make a game tackling mental health, we wanted to reflect reality, and not glamorise the experience for the sake of making the game more ‘fun’. We decided to lean into the inherent strength of games, using deliberately tedious mechanics with a heavy amount of repetition which become increasingly arduous to convey the difficulty that mundane tasks present to people with depression.

In addition, as the in game week progresses the player character’s self-talk becomes increasingly negative regardless of the player’s efforts to choose the more positive dialogue options. Dialogue branches depending on the selected options, but will always end up in the same place. This lack of agency was a deliberate choice to represent how oppressive mental illness (in particular intrusive thoughts) can be, and how difficult it can be to break free from the cycle of negative self-talk.

This focus on everyday tasks emulating a real world scenario helped to maintain the relatability of Another Day. We hope that those who have struggled with their mental health may find it validating to see a literal representation of their struggles, while those who have not experienced mental illness may understand how overwhelming and exhausting simple tasks such as brushing your teeth can become.

 

What were your biggest challenges and successes in creating a game that touches on mental health?

 

When engaging with any sensitive topic, it is incredibly important that delicacy and compassion are your primary tools in representation. Certainly, there were times we wanted to add in features or mechanics that, while sounding good on paper, would have likely detracted from the overall message we wanted to deliver.

Working closely as a team to ensure that all elements of the game reflected the experience that we wanted to create, as well as discussing our personal experiences and conducting extensive research and QA testing helped to ensure that Another Day represented depression and anxiety as accurately and respectfully as possible.

In addition, protecting the mental health of our players was important to us, and it was crucial that we made sure that the game’s trigger warnings were well written and clearly visible on our page, to ensure that players are able to make an informed decision before playing.

Protecting the mental health of the team was also highly important, especially as for many of us the game reflected personal experiences. The team made an effort to look out for and support each other, and in addition to holding daily team meetings to check in with each other, we held regular online game nights where we could chat, bond and let of some steam without the pressures of work.

Another challenge was maintaining a balance between it being a video game and a piece of educational media. Another Day was never intended to be a fun game, but a certain level of engagement needed to be attained so a player would not lose interest while playing. We tried to achieve this through an engaging narrative, and through the collectable books and games that the player can find around the apartment, which provide light relief from the rest of the game.

As a team we feel that we managed to create engaging player experience that tells an earnest and authentic story about someone struggling with their mental health. We were incredibly happy with the feedback we received when we released the game, as many players informed us that the game had left a lasting impact on them, and that they felt that the game dealt with mental illness in a sensitive and accurate manner.

 "Your team is relying on you to get that done; how could you be so selfish?" There are two responses: "There's just not enough time." and "I know."

 

What would you like to see from other developers when addressing real-world problems?

 

When representing serious topics by gamifying them the difference between doing more harm than good and doing good is a serious grey area. While the intent can be to spread awareness for a topic, harm can still be done.

Accuracy and sensitivity is key. Perpetuating harmful stereotypes, spreading misinformation, insensitive depictions of real world issues and glorifying or romanticising serious situations adds to stigma and can be incredibly triggering for players facing these issues. While it is hard to foresee the impact a piece of media can have on its audience the most important thing any developer can do is put in the effort: do research, talk to people who have struggled, listen to professionals and above all else, include representation of serious topics to represent them and not for their shock value.

We would love to see more developers using the unique medium of videogames to raise awareness and shine a spotlight on issues that are in dire need of discussion. While there have been some stand-out successes, our industry has barely scratched the surface of what can be achieved in this area. We can’t wait to see what more talented developers are able to make in the coming years!

a screenshot of an email in-game from the company director asking about the player how they're doing, as they haven't been completing tasks assigned in their usual time.

 

What is your biggest take-home for players of Another Day?

 

For those who have gone through or are going through struggles; you are not alone. Although it can be tough, there are people who are there to help.

For people who haven’t experienced mental illness, hopefully they have a better understanding of what mental health can do, possible ways to identify those who may be struggling and ways they can help. – Jacob (Programmer)

To those who have experienced or are experiencing mental illness: I want you to know that you are not alone, and that your experiences are real and valid. It can be such an incredibly difficult, horrible space to be in, and it can feel like you may never get out, but things can and will get better. Be kind to yourself. Don’t suffer in silence because you are concerned about judgement or you are worried about being a burden to others – there are people who can help and support you.

To those who struggle with their mental health: I hope that this experience can be a cathartic, validating experience for you. You are not alone, and you are not weak. You are loved; sometimes you’ve just got to pick up that phone. – Samson (Designer)

To those who know someone who is struggling: Reach out and tell the person how much they mean to you. Listen to what they have to say. Be patient and understanding.

To everyone: Mental illness can happen to anyone, sometimes with no obvious reason. It can be incredibly challenging and debilitating, and it is important that we work together to break the stigma surrounding it, and look out for each other. – Katie (Writer)

Your struggles are valid. No matter what anyone says, including your own brain. If you are struggling, you deserve help and support. If you are struggling it is important that you seek help, and for people who know someone who may be struggling, it is beyond essential that you reach out to them. We’re all in this together. – Kim (Writer)

We’ve added Another Day to our list of mental health related games and apps.
Play Another Day.

A dim studio apartment, everything has a dull tint to it. There is a notepad in the corner with the task "Brush Teeth" on it.

Skills utilised:
News

Minecraft, Medication and Matching Outfits with Sky (Safe Space Podcast Special Episode)

In the latest special episode of the Safe Space Podcast, Rosie chats to our latest team member Sky.

We talk about loneliness, and how Minecraft was a big part of helping combat it during a time where Sky and their partner were living far away from each other. We also delve into Eating Disorders, Self Harm and Medications and how conversation around such topics is fundamental to reducing the stigma.

Of course, there is cat talk, specifically that Sky has a matching outfit with her cat Jerry. Sky opens up about their work in the cinema industry in Saudi Arabia, and how she has got to where she is today in championing mental health for Safe In Our World.

Links

Sky’s Twitter

Skills utilised:
News

no layouts found