Burnout is a common thing felt around every industry there is, but in the games industry, especially for developers, content creators and gamers, burnout is rife within.
The definition of burnout features below:
“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job”.
There are ways we can show the symptoms of burnout through both cause and effect in video games, and there are games that bear resemblance to the concept of burnout. One of which is Red Dead Redemption 2, which we’ll discuss below.
Now burnout may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of outlaws in the dying wild west trying to survive, but that’s exactly what we’re highlighting. Dutch Vanderlind’s gang are trying to survive in a time that is nearly gone; there’s no room for outlaws any more, society is evolving and leaving many things behind, including their way of life.
After a robbery in the town of Blackwater goes wrong, the gang are forced to flee and lay low in a nearby camp. They’re looking for ways to earn money to stay alive, while also trying not to raise suspicions with the locals and Pinkertons. The gang is desperate, pulling off odd jobs just to make enough money to make it to the next day. Dutch’s headspace slowly declines and clings onto every possible plan he can come up with, and the player (Arthur Morgan), loyally obeys every command in an effort to help in every way he can, despite beginning to question his way of thinking.
There are clear signs of Dutch’s mental health declining during the game. He carries the burden of many people relying on him, whilst under the influence of a manipulator. The pressures of everything simultaneously is a lot to handle. This is where themes of burnout begin to bleed into the game’s narrative. The whole gang are feeling it; they are trying every way possible to just settle, be in peace and have enough money to live on for the rest of their days.
It seems to be a continous cycle of trying and failing, losing people, stakes being raised and having to move on. The gang can’t catch a break. Every day it takes a toll on all of them in different ways; they’re stressed, desperate to just settle down, but with a manipulator and the declining mind of Dutch, things just seem to spiral out of control.
Now obviously in real life, we’re not rolling with Dutch Vanderlind, trying to get rich and live out the rest of our lives in Tahiti, but you can compare it to real-life settings. Game developers want to bring their art to the masses, bring creative ideas to life, show people what they can do and provide incredible experiences. The games industry is notorious for period of crunch and deadline pressures which affects the mental health of those who work within it. In fact, in a recent UK census, 31% of those asked revealed that they live with anxiety, depression or both, when the national average is 17%.
This damaging work-life balance and strain can be seen across the creative industries. One example we see a lot in our industry is streamers and community managers. Having to manage entertaining your audience regardless of what’s going on in the background can be incredibly taxing on your own mental health and can easily lead to burnout, especially so if this sort of content creation is done as a side project in addition to a full time job.
Games, even ones that aren’t developed with mental health as a focal point, can tell us a story and easily relate to how we’re feeling. Red Dead Redemption 2 portrays burnout, the results of the burnout and the extremes it led to for the gang. We all have our stories of how burnout has affected us and how we’ve coped.
The good news is there are ways to combat burnout. Taking real breaks away are a great way to just switch off from what is going on. Schedule free time and actually take that free time, whether it be going on a walk, playing games, calling friends or family, taking a nap… there are so many different ways to refresh your mind. Burnout has many different forms and reaching out to trusted people, talking to your GP or booking an appointment with a mental health professional is always a good idea when you’re struggling in any way, shape or form.