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Existential Anxiety and how FFIX Helped Liam Wilson (Mental Health Month Podcast Special)

In this short series of stories as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, Rosie talks to Liam Wilson from Sock Monkey Studios about his journey in mental health, and how supportive workplaces are foundational to supporting our teams and employees.

We also discuss the power of FFIX in Liam’s story and how a story arc within the game helped with his existential anxiety during a particularly difficult time in his life.

Listen to the episode here.

Skills utilised:
News

Recognising PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health issue that has existed for a very long time.

First diagnosed as a medical condition called Shell Shock during WW1 – when soldiers in the trenches were psychologically broken by the horrors of combat – and  renamed Battle Fatigue during WW2, the condition was examined in more detail following the Vietnam War.

Veterans returning home from combat in SE Asia suffered greatly from feelings of detachment, hostility, numbness and rage. Suicidal thoughts – along with actual deaths – were also common.

But because these mental wounds were with them after  they had returned home (rather than in the field)  and were, in many ways, invisible to the outside world, it took some time for the medical profession to appreciate that these mental injuries could be widespread and long lasting; in the 80s the condition was reclassified with a new, more medical name – PTSD.

The other learning that came about during this time was that PTSD isn’t just something that affects military personnel; nor is it only triggered by direct experiences of combat and warfare. Today it’s recognised as being prevalent in survivors of mass or school shootings, near death experiences (both accidental or due to ill health), victims of sexual assault, people caught up in terrorism and more.

But while the condition is widely known and spoken about, recognising PTSD in yourself can often be challenging; yet it can have adverse effects on a person if left untreated.

PTSD usually manifests itself a few weeks after the event; although for some people it can be months or even years. Delayed PTSD can be a tricky one as people will often put the problem down to something else (i.e. it can’t be that – it was months ago, I’m fine. Maybe it’s XYZ).

The National Health Service in Britain lists the following symptoms of PTSD (although this list is by no means exhaustive)

  • Re-experiencing is the most typical symptom of PTSD. And can manifest itself as
    • flashbacks
    • nightmares
    • repetitive and distressing images or sensations
    • physical sensations, such as pain, sweating, feeling sick or trembling
  • Avoidance and emotional numbing
  • Hyperarousal (feeling ‘on edge’) which can in turn lead to
    • irritability
    • angry outbursts
    • sleeping problems (insomnia)
    • difficulty concentrating

Quite often, symptoms can be accompanied by other feelings or actions. Depression, anxiety and guilt are not uncommon. Drink and drug abuse can often accompany someone suffering from PTSD. Even feelings of physical pain or dizziness can occur.

Sometimes it can be hard to spot some of these feelings in yourself – especially when it comes to mood related issues – as, quite often, the change can be gradual and you may not even be aware of it yourself, but friends and family will and many will flag this to you. Your initial reaction may well be denial, anger, irritation etc; this is to be expected, but try and be mindful that they are doing this with the best of intentions and they may well be right. Take a step back, think about what’s been said and see if there’s truth in what they say.

Understanding and accepting there may be issues is, to coin a cliché, the first step on the road to recovery.

Skills utilised:
Crisis Hub

Safe In Our World Launch Safe Space: a Mental Health Podcast

We’re delighted to launch the Safe In Our World Podcast: Safe Space!

The podcast will be hosted by the Safe In Our World Team: Rosie Taylor, Jake Smith and Sarah Sorrell, and will feature a multitude of guests to discuss a variety of topics touching on mental health and video games.

We will be delving into mental health in the context of the games industry, through chats with key figures, Level Up Partners, influencers and content creators who exist in this space. We’ll be discussing the importance of representation within games, and the importance of lived experience, and how games connect us.

We’re also keen to explore the ins and outs of content creation and mental health, neurodiversity, community management, mental health stories and lots more.

It’s fair to say we’re excited to cover a broad variety of topics within mental health in games, get some brilliant guests and listen to a variety of perspectives!

The first episode aired on the 23rd September, with an introduction to the team, Safe In Our World and an insight into what to expect from the podcast.

Follow the podcast on Twitter!

Skills utilised:
News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Skills utilised:
News

“Teamwork in Thomas Was Alone” by Ben Huxley

A few months ago, a friend introduced me to a gem from 2013; a simplistic looking indie release called Thomas Was Alone.

Created by Mike Bithell, it was originally a flash-based browser game (remember those?) so we couldn’t be further from triple-A blockbuster. The avatars are various rectangles that the player controls to solve puzzles. Its ideas, however, are more profound than any screenshot would have you believe; it credibly attests, among other things, that none of us are useless. As we slowly wade back to the physical workplace, this is a fact worth remembering. Everyone can contribute, and you’re not looking hard enough if you think otherwise.

Thomas Was Alone is set inside a computer mainframe, where AIs have mysteriously become sentient. Thomas, a red rectangle, is one such AI. While he is initially alone, he soon makes friends with various other rectangles, and it soon becomes evident that the gameplay revolves around making these characters work together.

The first person to accompany Thomas in his enigmatic journey is Chris. He’s a small yellow square who can’t jump very high, but believes he can do just fine on his own. He develops a hatred towards Thomas, partly because Thomas can jump so much higher, and Chris feels like more of a hindrance than anything. But it becomes clear that they need each other; Thomas needs to jump on Chris to get to higher platforms.

The next character to join the four-sided fellowship is John, a tall yellow rectangle with an impressively high jump. He thinks highly of himself, and wants to parade his skills to this new audience. Like Chris, he is forced to change his ways in the face of the evidence. John can’t complete the tasks on his own, and he becomes humbled by the necessity of teamwork.

Claire is a large cube who we first meet as platforms around her are crumbling. Like Chris, she can’t jump very high. She also moves slowly, and due to her size can’t fit through small spaces. She seems depressed, and as the world crumbles, she doesn’t make much of an effort to escape. In her depression, she seems ready to give up. As she hits the water, however, she floats. It turns out that she can swim, and is the only character who can. She realises she can help others across the water, and Claire begins to feel like a superhero just after she hits rock-bottom.

There’s more to this world than those who can jump and swim, and those who can’t. Each rectangle we meet is a complex and well-rounded (or edged) character. Laura makes an appearance later in the game, and she’s one of the few characters with a backstory – most of the rectangles become sentient just as we meet them. Laura had a group of friends before she met this group (we can only assume that they, too, were sentient AIs in the form of rectangles). While we never hear the details of this friendship, we know that they used Laura before disappearing from her life.

She is a long rectangle like John, except she’s horizontal. As other characters jump on her, they bounce considerably high. Having been jumped on plenty of times in the past, Laura has trust issues. However, continuing with the wholesome nature of the game, things take a turn for the better. As Laura reluctantly helps her new friends, they help her too. Her trust in others is gradually built back up, and she realises she’s found a group who won’t abandon her.

Using minimalistic shapes was a brave decision on Bithell’s end. He’s revealed in an interview that the rectangles were placeholders for something more complex. Whenever the characters were changed to something other than rectangles, however, something was lost. I wonder if that “something” wasn’t only in gameplay mechanics, but also in the artistry. The simplicity of these shapes makes it easy to draw metaphors. In fact, the whole point of minimalism as an art form is to reveal the truth by stripping away anything non-essential.

Stripped down to our simplest visual form, these squares are us as we work together. I won’t reveal the ending, or where the story goes at the midway point, but it’s enough for now to talk about these shapes and how relatable they are. You might feel useless and unable to help. You might not see the point in trusting a group again, after some event in your past. While it may be daunting, and occasionally frustrating, helping each other along is better than going solo.

It shouldn’t be too much of a spoiler to say that the trophy for finishing the game is called “Thomas Was Not Alone.”


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

Life Is Strange Through The Lens by Georgie Peru

Playing as Max, an 18-year-old photography student, Life is Strange was primarily developed to deal with the struggles teenagers face. The game covers difficult subjects including cyber-bullying, mental illness, and suicide.

When Max was a young girl, she was given a Polaroid camera by her parents. This major gameplay element accepted her into Blackwell Academy and allows the player to complete optional photograph objectives throughout Arcadia Bay.

During her photography class, Max experiences a strange vision of a tornado destroying the local lighthouse. In the midst of a panic attack, Max knocks her camera off her desk and rushes to the school bathrooms, and quickly hides in a cubicle when two students storm in fighting, resulting in the death of a girl. Desperate to save the girl, which is quickly revealed to be Max’s childhood best friend, Chloe Price, Max witnesses discovers her unique powers – the ability to rewind time and change the past to help her and others around her.

As the story evolves, players can decide whether to use Max’s powers to alter the past or not. When a school bully is forced to get a taste of her own medicine, do you choose to show her compassion or humiliate her further? Life is Strange doesn’t shy awry from dealing with tough issues – using a combination of virtual photography and Max’s rewind ability, players are compelled to make decisions, for better or worse.


Bullying

Life is Strange is full of psychiatric themes, either explicitly or implicitly. The game aims to explore these through Max’s investigative nature, wielding her Polaroid camera, and gathering the materials needed to make potentially life-changing decisions through her rewind ability.

One of the more challenging stories focuses on Kate, a student who is relentlessly bullied by her peers and online. As Max explores Kate’s dormitory, it’s soon clear that Kate has a very judgmental family. Following an incident where Kate is drugged at a party, leading to a compromising video of herself, she falls into severe depression.

Discovering more evidence using her camera, Max discovers that Kate covers up her mirrors so she doesn’t have to see herself. Her room is filthy, her beloved Violin hasn’t been played in weeks, and it’s soon clear that Kate feels utterly helpless and hopeless.

Despite the game offering multiple opportunities where the player can support Kate, she ends up on the roof of a building, intending to commit suicide. If the player has paid enough attention up until this point, through the features of virtual photography, there’s a strong chance you can convince her to come down.

Life is Strange makes a huge effort not to trivialize the issues surrounding mental health. If the player hasn’t attempted to build a relationship with Kate or is insensitive toward the issue, the implied suicide attempt shows things can go horribly wrong. Although Max’s power is a major gameplay factor, the developers made a point to remove her abilities from this scene, dealing with depression and suicide on an entirely human level.


Our World

Despite Life is Strange being a game, what makes it really poignant is that it takes place in our world as we know it. The characters aren’t unlike people we would meet in our everyday lives. This makes the underlying themes of mental health even more prominent, allowing players to get closer to the details through Max’s camera and her abilities.

Tackling issues like suicide, depression, and bullying are confronted head-on in Life is Strange. But more than just presenting us with issues and scenarios that involve or could lead to mental health issues, the game offers openings to players to further delve into key and trigger moments, being in the right place at the right time.

It’s clear from the story that Blackwell Academy left Kate feeling alone and desperate. Turning to her photography teacher, players will catch the last part of Kate and Mr. Jefferson’s conversation, but if you choose to rewind time, Max will hear Mr. Jefferson accusing Kate of being an attention seeker, with Kate walking away saying “Nobody cares about me, nobody”.


Through the Lens

Equipping players with the ability to rewind time and Max’s pivotal Polaroid camera, Life is Strange puts matters into the hands of the beholder and challenges a wealth of psychological issues.

The game finds its footing and establishes a deep connection with players through taxing themes like ADHD, sexual orientation, abuse, neglect, and more. By allowing individuals to “hide” behind a camera, Life is Strange explores the effects of morality, as well as the outcomes of ignoring obvious signs of characters’ struggles and the events that play out from the choices made.

Skills utilised:
News

Red Dead Redemption 2 and Burnout

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.

 

Skills utilised:
News

Sym

Sym introduces you to a teenage boy named Josh, who struggles with social anxiety.

Sym builds a world in which this is displayed in a unique black and white world that coexist with each other, a world he has created to escape his fears. Players will navigate through a world full of puzzles and obstacles to guide Josh through his journey.

Alter egos Caleb and Ammiel both help him navigate these worlds; Caleb lives in a world that is on the fringe of reality, fighting to overcome fears whereas Ammiel longs for isolation and detaches himself from any form of human contact, a relatable conflictual feeling that affects many people with anxiety.

There are points within the story where Josh is overwhelmed by all of the stimuli surrounding him, to the point where the cocoon that takes him into the dark world which feels like his safety net, simulated by the dampening of the audio, visuals and gameplay.

Sym 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.

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Safer Together: Thank You

On May 1st 2021, we launched our very first #SaferTogether fundraising campaign as part of Mental Health Month, in an effort to raise awareness of our mission, encourage positivity, playing together and reaching out for support.

The fundraiser spanned the whole month of May, with Safe In Our World All-Star Community streams within the first week. 

Safer Together raised over £23,000 in total, which will make a huge difference towards our future initiatives, investing in the evolution of the charity and allows us to continue in our mission. 

Thank you to everyone who supported us through streaming, donating, sharing, playing with us, or watching the multiplayer chaos ensue over the month of May. We’ve seen some amazing examples of how games bring us together, and can support our wellbeing through opening conversations that are challenging to have, through the medium of games.

We’ve clipped together some of our highlights of the last month, through community streams that we were lucky enough to participate in, or dip into. If you have clips that you’d like to share from your #SaferTogether streams, tag us on social media and share with us, we’d love to see!

We kicked off Safer Together by talking to a wonderful panel alongside Ukie’s Raise The Game to discuss the ins and outs of imposter syndrome, how it affects us, and what we can do about it. This panel was recorded, and you can watch the panel discussion here.

Special Thanks

Though every single person who supported the campaign is incredible, we’d like to give a special thank you to the following people who went above and beyond to support the charity within Mental Health Month.

Corsair, Curve Digital, Embracer Group, GameByte, Good Vibes Gaming, Hannah Rutherford, NZXT, OPMJobs, Playground Games, Raccine Malcolm, Ripstone Games, SevenSquared, TkLayla, Wired Productions

& everyone who got involved with the Safe In Our World Community Streams! 

Skills utilised:
News

Coming out, chilling out and welcoming in: the wonderful games of Nicky Case by Joe Donnelly

Nicky Case is a Canadian indie developer whose free and readily accessible browser games challenge us to think differently on a range of sensitive subjects which can hugely impact our mental health.

Coming Out Simulator is a semi-autobiographical text-based adventure that asks players to weigh up the pros and cons of coming out to traditionalist, conservative parents. Parables of the Polygons explores collective cultural bias and how seemingly harmless decisions can have distinctly harmful consequences for segregated communities. And Adventures With Anxiety offers a unique take on exploring the body’s natural response to stress by placing players in control of anxiety itself.

When we talk about video games as learning tools, Nicky’s wholesome, intuitive and thought-provoking games are up there with the best – whether you can relate directly to their subject matters or not, their scope to educate and inform is second to none. They are personable in nature, conversational and perfectly suited as browser games, to be enjoyed free of charge at the click of a mouse.

Here, we examine what makes each game tick and stand out from the crowd.


Coming Out Simulator

Coming Out Simulator claimed first prize at the NR8 Game Jam in 2014, under the theme “stepping outside your comfort zone”. Pulling from Case’s own lived experience, the game introduces its themes subtly at first – via dialogue prompts, players can choose how they broach the subject of coming out: either gingerly, matching their parents’ reprehension; or by doing so with vociferous defiance, rebelling against their parents’ outmoded outlook.

What unfolds is an often comical, sometimes sad, but always enlightening tale which shines a light on narrowmindedness, confidence and courage through the lens of sexuality, being yourself and being accepted for who you are.

As a straight male who grew up in Glasgow in the 1990s, my exposure to the LGBTQ+ scene was limited. Activities or actions which were perceived as different or other were often billed as “gay”, “bent” or “queer”, and while not intended as homophobic slurs, that’s exactly what they are. Games like Coming Out Simulator can help cement the rejection of casual homophobia.

I consider myself a rational-minded person, which means I’ve always appreciated the personal and social challenges coming out must present those who strive to do so. But Coming Out Simulator really helped me understand it – at least, as much as I could from a heterosexual standpoint. By putting me in the shoes of a gay character, I was in turn better able to empathise with the scenario. To this end, it’s no surprise Case has received tonnes of positive feedback from players who’ve found themselves in similar situations in real life.


Parables of the Polygons

Parables of the Polygons is a collaboration between Nicky Case and indie developer Vi Hart which is based on the work of game theorist and Nobel Prize winner Thomas Schelling. In his 1971 academic paper titled ‘Dynamic Models of Segregation’, Schelling outlined how a small preference to live next door to neighbours of the same colour could result in the complete segregation of entire communities – illustrated crudely by coins and graph paper.

In Parables of the Polygons, Case and Hart replicate Schelling’s work with a simple interface that asks players to move blue squares and yellow triangles around a grid in order to encourage diversity. Levels can only be completed when each shape is happy in their allotted space, spared from complete isolation in an area populated by their polygonal opposites. Ultimately, Parables of the Polygons strives to illustrate the so-called “tipping-point” in society and the challenges of achieving total equality. No one naturally wants to be an absolute minority, yet in a world where notions of segregation and pre-conceived stigma persist, even passive bias avoidance doesn’t work – active measures are all that can force change.

Parables of the Polygons was released in 2015, but is arguably more important than ever in today’s ever-divided world. The Black Lives Matter movement alone proves there’s a long way to go in race relations terms on a global scale; while the isolation wrought by the ongoing global pandemic underlines the need to unite and lean into what makes our multicultural societies so special.

At the time of writing, Case and Hart’s game has been translated into 11 languages, including Japanese and Arabic. Now, while I’m of the view games like this can help alter how we view segregation in the real world, I also believe seeing teams of blue squares and yellow triangles smiling together side-by-side will warm your heart in real life.


Adventures With Anxiety

Today, there are so many brilliant video games which explore anxiety through the eyes of their protagonist – Will O’Neill’s Actual Sunlight, Matt Gilgenbach’s Neverending Nightmares and Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest are but a few stellar examples which spring to mind.

But what if a game presented anxiety as the protagonist itself? Hardly orthodox but that’s exactly what Nicky Case’s Adventures With Anxiety does. Mind blown, right?

By asking the player: what is the function of fear? Adventures with Anxiety helps players understand what the function of anxiety actually is and, in turn, better positions them to deal with the disorder in daily life. In practice, the game is an intriguing mix of the puzzle, fighting and narrative adventure genres, and is the result of copious Google Scholar research into various methods of treating anxiety, including CBT, Psychodynamic and humanist therapy.

While keen not to spoil the plot here – you should experience that for yourself – the game ultimately sees players controlling anxiety and the human they look after concurrently, so as to maintain a rounded learning approach.

As someone who has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder, Adventures of Anxiety has made me reconsider how I view anxiety myself, and also how it can affect others different to how it impacts on me. Since its release in 2018, Case has been wowed by players who’ve reported their own therapists to have recommended Adventures With Anxiety, which tells you everything you need to know about its standing in the modern mental health discourse.


Nicky Case’s full repertoire of games is absolutely worth checking out in, however each browser game explored here can be played free-of-charge here:

Coming Out Simulator
Parables of the Polygons
Adventures of Anxiety


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

Skills utilised:
News

Safer Together: Mental Health Month Fundraiser & Save The Dates

Safer Together is around the corner, so here is some useful infomation about what we’re up to for Mental Health Month.

ABOUT SAFER TOGETHER

This Mental Health Month we’re encouraging everyone to talk. Whether it’s to a friend, colleague, or a professional, talking is the first step to getting support, and we believe we’re safer together. 

We launched our first public Discord server: Safer Together, with the purpose of providing a public platform for gamers and industry folk to connect, find players for multiplayer games, discuss games, and be a safe community for all to talk or find resources. 

The Safer Together Fundraiser is looking to raise money for our future initiatives, invest in the evolution of the charity and will allow us to continue in our mission.

We are aiming to eliminate stigma surrounding mental health within the video games industry and its communities, so that every player and employee feels safe to reach out for help. 

The fundraiser will span the whole month of May, with Safe In Our World All-Star Community streams every day from the 1st – 7th May.


USEFUL LINKS & HEADLINES

Imposter Syndrome Panel in partnership with Ukie: On the 29th April at 4pm BST, we will be chatting with a wonderful panel about imposter syndrome and the effect it has on our mental health across the games industry. Tickets are *free* and you can grab one here.

Now available to watch here

Fundraiser Page:

Whether you’re looking to donate, support others or fundraise yourself – the fundraising page is where all the action will be across May.

For those fundraising for us, we’ve created some pretty fancy Safe In Our World limited edition merchandise that you’ll be sent if you hit fundraising milestones, including a 2021 #SaferTogether Pin Badge, Safe In Our World facemask/bandana and Safe In Our World Resuable Coffee Cup!


Safe In Our World Community Streams: Play With Safe

For the first week of May, we’ll be celebrating our community, and the power of social games, by having 7 days of Safe In Our World Streams! Kicking things off on Saturday 1st May with a custom lobby of Fall Guys hosted by Hannah Rutherford, followed by Mariokart chaos on Sunday with Gamebyte over on their Facebook page.

Monday is going to be back to Gamebyte for a wholesome stream on Animal Crossing Islands, and it’s to No Man’s Sky on Tuesday with our friends at Wired Productions.

Curve Digital and friends will be hosting a Human Fall Flat stream on Wednesday over on their Steam page, and we’ll be building what makes us happy in Minecraft on Thursday.

Finally, to tie up the week, Hannah will be hosting Among Us with the Safe In Our World community, which you will not want to miss!


For the remainder of May we’ll be looking to share and continue to spread the message that we are #SaferTogether and will continue to rally for mental health to be normalised within general discussion.

There will be giveaways, there will be freebies, and there will be multiplayer mischief.

Skills utilised:
News

Hub World – Change

Hub World – Change (March)

Welcome back to Hub World!

This month, at Safe In Our World we have been thinking about change. Change can be a terrifying prospect – of course, nothing stays the same and in essence there are consistent, incremental changes as we progress through life. These are more ‘natural’ changes, that we are generally equipped to process over time. The tougher side of this is when you are directly staring down the barrel of change that’s either there by choice or, sometimes, forced upon us. These changes can also come in quick succession, often without adequate time to process each beat, and your current situation or societal pressures mean that maybe you won’t (or can’t) take the time to do so.

As someone who spent a decade ‘surviving’ and carrying immense burdens of responsibility, it has become overwhelmingly apparent how dangerous it is to not process change – positive, negative, and everything in-between. Without giving yourself the space, it all clogs up the brain-drain until it has no room left to function at its full potential.

As we head towards Easter, a time of new beginnings and new life, try and take some time for you – you don’t have to do anything special to fill that time, but remove external distractions and sit in the moment. If you feel sad, let it be so – let your mind and body process whatever it needs to.

Let’s take a look at how members of the Safe In Our World community feel about change and how they approach it in their daily lives!

Sarah Sorrell

I always used to fear change as it took me out of my comfort zone but I have learnt to stop worrying about it, try to be open to it and see it as a positive. Especially in a work related situation it may be an opportunity to learn a new skill or meet new people which can be very rewarding. I’ve found the more prepared and willing I am to just go with it, the less stressed I feel. And let’s face it, life would be pretty dull without any changes or new opportunities right?

Sarah Sorrell

Rosie Taylor

The most important thing I have learned to come to terms with when big changes come around, is that there’s no “right” way to react to it. Whilst there are healthier ways to cope than others, punishing yourself won’t change anything; it’ll just make you feel guilty. My best advice would be to make small changes each day to improve even just one thing, to see change in a positive light and go with the flow rather than fight against it. Celebrate the small victories, write them down, remember them and most importantly: share them with each other and celebrate each other. Lifting each other up even in the smallest of ways could not be more important right now.

Jake Smith 

I found that over the pandemic I was gaming socially with old friends again, life got so hectic that it was always hard to meet each other at times we were all home and able to play. I found myself connecting with old friends and making new ones along the way while managing to somehow break every game I get into, especially Red Dead Online, The Forest and Valheim. I believe that many wonderful memories have been created from these absolutely hilarious moments that I will never forget. Gaming has been a very good anchor over these very uncertain times and I feel I owe it a lot.

Amber Elphick

With running events for our gaming community, Switch Players Norwich, we had to change and adapt the way we entertain and communicate with our members. We had to go from doing regular, social, in person events to solely focusing on online. 

Thankfully our community has embraced the change, and even though we haven’t held an in person event in over a year, our online events are still thriving and our community has grown and flourished. We found that people were grateful that there was still a way to enjoy gaming together and that they didn’t feel isolated during the pandemic.

DJPaultjeD

In January 2020 I got word that the branch of the company I was working for, was shutting down. Bummer, I thought, but with the market as it was back then, I should have a new job in no time! The branch would close its doors on March 31st. The pandemic situation got real serious and close to home for everyone.
Where I thought it to be easy to find new work, companies issued a stop on hiring new people. I had no place to go. While looking for work, I started to teach myself how to code videogames, because that had always been a dream. I started off with some courses on freecodecamp and other tutorials to find a place to start. I found a Udemy course on game development with Unity. This was my first time ever working on an engine and learning C#.
I am nowhere near the level I want to be, but I took the first steps, and I feel damn proud about the changes I made.

Emma Withington is a freelance writer and PR account executive at Bastion who has worked on campaigns for a variety of titles, including Control and Final Fantasy XIV: Online.

She is currently spending time focusing on the wider community and how she can help others through her personal journey with mental health.

Twitter.

Skills utilised:
News

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 simply thought that my job was getting too much for me and I was worried I was on course for failure. I had supportive colleagues and bosses around me who I was able to confide in and access to doctors and professional help at work as part of my benefits which I naturally took advantage of. 

I was genuinely surprised when the GP told me that not only did I have anxiety, I was also clinically depressed. I was also relieved that there was a medical term for what I had been going through and I wasn’t just ‘overwhelmed.’ I started on the medication citalopram and a CBT course almost immediately and was surprised that I was seeing very little real improvement weeks and months later. It wasn’t until my interest in the subject of Mental Health was piqued following a webinar by Andrew Shatte organised by my employer during Mental Health Awareness week on the topic of resilience that I started to get a sense of how to manage my mental health.

I am not a mental health expert, but I do know that a healthy interest in the subject has engaged my critical faculties and I’ve applied them to helping myself by studying the vast amount of material available on the topic by pre-eminent doctors and psychologists.

The real breakthroughs in my mental wellbeing have come from reading the books of Andrew Shatte and Albert Ellis (whose work Shatte references and reframes) and realising certain truths for myself: “People don’t just get upset. They contribute to their upsetness,” Albert Ellis, and “You mainly feel the way you think,” also Albert Ellis. By keeping this in mind at all times, working through CBT exercises as explained by these experts in the field, and combining it with regular exercise and daily meditation I have a much healthier internal monologue, though it’s very easy to slip back into old habits, especially during trying times. Having a mental and physical fitness routine definitely helps address this. I can also say that I have had incredible support from my amazing wife long before I first went to the GP. Being the spouse of someone going through mental health issues can be a massive challenge in itself and anyone caring for a partner going through mental health difficulties should be aware that they can also look for help and support from charities and mental health organisations.  

I can also look back at a challenging 2020 that has brought us the difficulties of living and working under lockdown, and a 2019 that saw me made redundant and find new employment, and have the satisfaction of helping roll out the Mental Health Charter at my new place of work, Curve Digital, where I have an official function as one of our Mental Health Champions. This is without doubt one of my proudest career achievements to date. I have also been off of medication for over 18 months as I have found my coping strategies mentioned above adequate to maintain my mental health. Any decision to come off of medication should be taken in conjunction with a medical professional, and just the same as there should be no stigma surrounding mental health, there should also be no stigma as to whether a person needs medication or not to maintain mental health.    

My motivation for being a Mental Health Champion is simple – I want anyone experiencing the kind of things I’ve experienced to be able to get access to even more help and support than I did. If I imagine where I’d be if I’d never heard Andrew Shatte’s webinar or read the works of Albert Ellis or been encouraged to subscribe to Headspace, well it doesn’t bear thinking about to be honest, after all you mainly feel the way you think… and my inner monologue was far from nurturing in the past.

This is why I’ve shared this story with you and why I am honoured to work with the incredible people at Safe in our World and within Curve Digital’s HR and Leadership teams to end the stigma attached to mental illness and provide more support for those in the games industry that may need it.

 

Skills utilised:
Stories

Staying Positive During Lockdown

Lockdowns and restrictions are in place across the world, and it can be hard to stay positive; but it’s important to know where support can be found if you’re struggling.

As the situation surrounding COVID-19 is changing, we recognise it can be stressful and confusing. The team at Safe In Our World have created some useful tips, tricks, and games that have helped them to stay positive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve changed my routine so I do the horses in the morning rather than after work – it’s made quite a difference to how I feel!”

Kim, Trustee

Try to stay connected to people; whether it’s having weekly catch up calls with loved ones, visiting your favourite streaming channels/chat forums or spending time with your household.

“Each morning Sarah and I have a 10am coffee catch up, like we would do in the office. It’s a nice start to the day, and normalises working from home.”

Rosie, Charity Officer

Talk about your worries and how you’re feeling. Sharing your concerns with trusted people can lift a weight off your shoulders. There are a number of helplines available here if you’re not comfortable talking with people you know.

“Doing exercise during the morning or day is so much better than at night. Food is important too – don’t always opt for the sugary snacks.”

Leo, Chair & Trustee

 

“I’ve finally started doing a lunchtime workout a few times a week, just 15 minutes to get my blood pumping. Great for a midday energy boost!”

Beth, Web/Social Team

It’s important to be correctly informed regarding the ongoing situation, so ensure you’re reading from credible sources, such as the NHS website. Inaccurate information is easily spread, and can lead people to panic.

“I make sure I get a walk in every day (even when I don’t fancy it) just to get some fresh air. I live near a canal, so it’s nice to see some wildlife too.”

Sarah, Charity Officer

Look after your sleep – a good nights rest can make a huge impact on your physical and emotional health. Try to create a sleeping pattern you can stick to, to ensure you have a calm enviroment to wind down in.

“I’ve tried mixing in game communities more, with more social games. Not drinking as much caffeine and sugar has also had good effects on my anxiety.”

Jake, Charity Assistant

Recommended games during the lockdown: 

Playne

ABZÛ

A Short Hike

Persona 5

Meadow

Kind Words

Animal Crossing

Journey

No Man’s Sky

Skills utilised:
Covid 19

LevelUpMentalHealth: How a Supportive Work Place Helped Me Overcome My Mental Health Challenges by George Osborn

When you’re having a problem with your mental health, having a workplace that understands what you’re going through makes a world of difference to how you overcome it.

I learned this the easy way, fortunately, when I joined Ukie. I know that in terms of my public persona it’s reasonable to say that I project a certain amount of confidence, of happiness, optimism and care for others – especially in work situations.

But when I joined Ukie as their Head of Communications last year, my mental wellbeing felt far away from the outward contentment that I was projecting.

Last July, my life briefly broke apart. A long term relationship ended; I moved to London to live by myself for the first time; I then started a fantastic, but high pressure, job while I simultaneously wound down my business.

It was, in truth, a bit much. But initially, I didn’t engage with how I was feeling mentally. I constructed some defence mechanisms to keep me going in the short term. I then studiously ignored what felt like a burgeoning spot of darkness hovering just over my shoulder for as long as humanly possible in the hope it’d just go away.

By September, though, it wasn’t possible any more. A hard-working August (as all are in the games industry) and a fairly hard partying one had not washed away my feelings. Instead, I was increasingly weighed down each morning as I dealt with feelings of sadness, guilt and anxiety.

It prompted me to go and seek private help from a therapist. It’s something I’ve done before and found great value in. After all, if you’ll go see a doctor because you’re feeling physically unwell then it makes perfect sense to talk to a therapist to bring some clarity to your state of mind. Straight forward enough, I think.

Previously though, I had been able to see a therapist completely on my own time. I was self-employed on the last occasion I sought help, which meant that I could simply pick a time during the day and build my work around it.

Having just started a ‘nine to five’, I worried I might not be able to do something similar. I was concerned I would either not be able to get the help I needed at all (work comes first etc) or that I would have to cram it in around the working day in an uncomfortable way.

That’s where having a workplace with a culture of understanding mental health issues worked so well for me. I chatted with my boss extensively about my life circumstances and took the opportunity to tell her how I was feeling. I then asked if I could, quietly, book out an hour from 9-10 on a week day to have my sessions, mark it as private time and remove it when I felt ready to.

She agreed on the spot. With that came such a wave of relief. This wasn’t just caused by the fact that I could get the help I needed to at the time. It was also caused by the feeling that I was working in an environment where my mental well-being was catered for and where something sensitive to me would be managed humanely.

In the end, the arrangement didn’t last very long. The fact that I had been to therapy before, felt ready to talk and, fortunately, spoke with someone I clicked with meant I was able to come out the other side of it in three months.

However, it wasn’t the length of the experience that mattered to me. Instead, what mattered to me was that I felt I had room to deal with my mental health issues without feeling like it affected anyone’s perception of me. I was still George, I was just handling some personal stuff.

Since then, I’ve had the best working year of my life. It hasn’t been easy – it never is, unfortunately – but I’ve been able to work on a number of major campaigns and initiatives that have made a difference (including to other people’s mental health.) And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that I wouldn’t have been able to do all this without the support I received when I needed it.

So, when you’re thinking about how you can make your workplace as welcoming as possible, always, ALWAYS think about what you can do to foster an environment where someone feels able to talk about – and take actions to improve – their mental health.

A small act of kindness from a thoughtful boss made one of the toughest years of my life much more bearable. If you can make where you work similarly kind, I encourage you wholeheartedly to do so.

Ukie has signed up as a partner to Safe in Our World’s #LevelUpMentalHealth pledge to create workplaces with an environment that is safe and supportive for their team’s mental health. You can sign up your business here: https://safeinourworld.org/level-up/

Skills utilised:
Stories

Small Shoulders & Heavy Burdens: Coming to Terms with my PTSD – By Richard Lee Breslin

I never knew it at the time, but as a child growing up in the 80’s, I was an undiagnosed child with Asperger’s. It never crossed my mind at the time, as I was just a child that loved comics, football and wrestling.  I was also quite an isolated child I enjoyed time to myself, time to immerse myself into what imaginary worlds I could conjure up. But I also wanted to make friends, perhaps I was a little over-bearing in doing so.

I was clearly perceived by the other children as being different and consequently, I was bullied a lot. Not only by name-calling, but physically attacked too. It didn’t matter whether it was on the street of my house or at school, it was everyday, for years.

My mother always used to tell me “not to go round the corner”, but I never always listened. I was often in my own bubble. I became even more isolated and used to wander, sometimes for miles, which would always result in my parents frantically searching the streets for me. I used to think nothing of it at the time, I felt very little about what was right or wrong. But as a parent now, I understand that anxiety for your child.

I couldn’t pinpoint my exact age at the time, other than I was still in primary school, but there was a bridge that I would always cross on my way to school. During my many days of wandering, I climbed over the barrier, fantasising of what would happen if I jumped. At least to my memory, that was my first contemplation of suicide.

I believe it was around that time that I discovered my passion for videogames, as it offered me a new form of escapism. It initially started when my parents bought me a Spectrum 128k, so that I could “do my homework”, but let’s be honest, that never happened. I discovered games such as Dizzy, various text-adventures, Double Dragon and Robocop. Particularly, Dizzy was a game that I would lose countless hours to – I absolutely adored this series as a child.

However, not long after starting middle school, the bullying continued. The combination of having the confusion of unknowingly being autistic and bearing secrets led me and my family to move to another area of town to start a new life. The bullying did stop in the most part, but my anger at the world continued to grow.

I started drinking at the age of 12. From the age of 13, I started to take mild drugs. By the age of 15, I had become alcohol dependant and had also moved on to much stronger drugs. It got to the stage in my life that I thought I’d never live out my teens.

Much of my whole life would be lived in fear, but from the age of 15 to 20, it wasn’t the drugs or drink that kept me together – it was my love for videogames. Games such as Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64, Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill for the original PlayStation. As videogames had done for me as an 80s child, gaming in the 90s played a huge role in giving me some happiness in a time of my life. As I approached 20, I would meet a girl who would be my soulmate and nearly 20 years later, I’m happily married with one awesome child.

My life had changed for the better, but it was still far from an easy road.

When I met my now wife, I had come out of an emotionally abusive relationship, someone that made me feel worthless and resulted in me forming an eating disorder. I’m not the tallest at 5ft 10”, but at 10 stone and ribs showing, I was still convinced that I was fat. Throughout the years that followed, my drink and drug addiction continued to grow, to the point that my whole life was dependant on it. I knew more of what it was like to be high than sober. Yet despite having the love of my life, this is where I knew my life was on a downward spiral.

Thanks to my wife, I was urged to speak to a counsellor. I believe I was in my early 20s at the time.  However, this was not a positive experience. I was trying my hardest to pluck up the courage to speak of what happened to me as a child, but my hints were falling on deaf ears. What he told me was the worst kind of advice you can give to anyone with depression. He said: “there’s always someone worse off than you”.

This advice would set me back a good 10 or so years, before I felt worthy of asking for help again. In the years that followed, I always told me wife that when we have kids, I would stop smoking, drinking and taking drugs. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But after nearly three years of trying for a baby, the day my wife told me that she was pregnant, I stopped everything. It was really tough, but looking back now, it’s one of the proudest moments of my life. However, as crazy as it sounds, the birth of our child was when I hit the lowest point of my life.

If you suffered as a child, even when much of those memories are suppressed they can start coming back quickly when you become a parent.  You start to question if they’re real, did you dream this or was it just a childhood nightmare? I feared that I could never protect my son from the outside world.

Around this time, I had also developed severe arthritis on my hips that would practically leave me with barely any ligament or cushioning on both of the hip joints resulting in a horrible chronic pain.  I had two failed operations that rendered me physically disabled; relying on daily morphine just to take the edge off.

However, once again, video games played a huge role in my mental recovery. I discovered gaming was also a fantastic distraction from physical pain, as well as mental pain. I could take steps to make my mental wellbeing a little easier and fight back against the demons that haunted me on a daily basis. It proved to be more challenging than I ever thought it would be, but it was quite possibly my largest step in my road to recovery.

I wasn’t truly aware to the extent of how bad my depression had sank. My wife knew and I don’t think anyone else could have put up with my mental torment. I couldn’t put an exact number on it, but I had taken several overdoses via my strong medication following the birth of my son. I got really scared that the next time I would overdose, I would never wake up and my wife, and perhaps even my child, would find me on the sofa.

Speaking to a counsellor again helped realise how low my depression had sank since becoming a parent, and that depression following a birth of a was more common than I had thought. These counselling sessions were pivotal in my life. It was at this time when having Asperger’s was first suggested to me, later leading to the diagnosis. It was also the time when I summoned the courage to tell my wife what had happened to me as a child.

Being diagnosed with Asperger’s not only answered a lot of questions, but also helped me learn about my habits, social anxiety, importance of routines and how I could plan my daily life. This would be the last time that I would speak to this counsellor, but I was incredibly grateful for the impact that she had on my life. It would be a few years until I would get the ball rolling again and, in my heart, I knew that conventional counselling perhaps wasn’t what I needed.

I explained my concerns in quite some detail to a doctor. It was during this appointment that it was suggested I was suffering with PTSD. I didn’t want to believe it at the time, because I was always led to believe that only people in the military suffered with PTSD. I was only a normal, everyday person – how could I have PTSD? But the more I thought about it, the more I realised the trauma I had suffered at a very young age, as well as the years that followed, was the cause. So some months later, I took my doctor’s advice and would start my sessions of psychotherapy. This was a truly game-changing moment in my life.

It was also a scary time in my life. My memories were all in pieces and some of it didn’t make sense, but in the months that followed, these session were not only unlocking parts of my memory, but I was effectively putting together jigsaw pieces of my life.  At the time, I couldn’t see how reliving the trauma would benefit me, but these sessions helped me more then I could ever realise.

Life can be horrible and cruel, and at times nothing makes sense.  It feels like no matter how many loving people are around you, you still feel alone carrying a burden that no person should bear.

Your darkest times sneak up on your during loneliness. Sometimes time can be a healer, but it can also be your worst enemy, especially when you’re sat at home with negative thoughts. But it doesn’t matter what the generation it was in my life, video games have helped distract me from issues of self-worth, from those whispers that push you towards negativity.

No person’s story is exactly the same, but I guarantee to you, there is someone that can relate to you. For the best part of 30 years in my life I had held on to heavy burdens, but the moment I found the courage to seek help, was the moment that I began my road to recovery.

So if here’s one lesson I want you take away from reading this, please speak to someone. Whether it’s a loved one, family member, friend or a person that you’ve formed a bond with while gaming online – we live in an age now where we can communicate with more people than ever before.

To use a video game analogy; when we get tested in our lives and we continue to fight, every time we survive, every time we defeat it, we win. We keep on fighting until the next challenge comes along, and with each victory it makes us stronger. We level-up.

When you feel there is no point in carrying on, that no one could possibly understand, speak to someone. I promise you, someone does care and it might just surprise you who’ll be there for you when you need them the most.

Skills utilised:
Stories

The effects of ‘lockdown fatigue’ – and tips to tackle it

2020 has been a year where we just couldn’t have predicted the enormity of what would happen. In the first few months, most of the world was put into a lockdown where the mantra was stay at home, stay safe and try to slow down the spread of COVID-19. In normal times, most of us have a tried and tested daily routine, and the lockdown unexpectedly interrupted everything. For so many people, it took a toll on their physical and mental wellbeing, with many feeling anger, sadness and overall confusion. 

We asked a gamer and two people who work in the games industry on how it has affected them:

Lee Hunt from Koch Media had this to say about his lockdown experience:

Working from home has been something of a battle. As nice as the commute is, and as good as Teams and Zoom are, video calls just can’t replace human-to-human interaction. Working at home even in a “team” can often feel very lonely and isolated. It’s also hard to switch off from work when your home becomes your place of work. Taking regular exercise and finding the time to do things – like playing a game with your colleagues – are really good ways to boost your mental and physical health and help to forget about some of the challenges the world is facing for a while.”

Anni Valkama, a 100% video gamer and scribbler of stories, had this to say about her time in lockdown:

At first, the lockdown offered a seemingly perfect opportunity for retrospection and time to recharge. With furlough halting my work late-March, I suddenly had all this time on my hands to do all the things I normally could not do on a day-to-day basis. However, at the time I had no idea what three months in solitude (I live alone with no pets, partner, or friends) would do to me. Was it not for the distraction offered by video games and the existence of social media as means of communication, who knows how I would have emerged from this experience.”

Lorna Birrel, an industry worker, told us:

I already struggle a little with social interactions. I have days where my critical voice decides everyone hates me. I’m usually pretty good at handling it, but lockdown really knocked me off balance. Because of the isolation from my colleagues and friends, it’s harder to reassure myself that everything is okay. In online chats, people can wander away and get a cup of tea, or get distracted and forget to reply – but you don’t know what’s happened because you can’t see them. We all experienced this before lockdown, but now it’s the main way we talk to each other, it makes everything more disjointed. I quickly found myself exhausted by so much online interaction, and I’m still trying to find a balance that works for myself and others.

Another area I got worn out from quickly was all the work calls. We have been encouraged to have cameras on if we feel up to it, but as we can no longer tell who’s looking at who, even when I’m not part of the conversation I feel like I can’t relax – like someone might judge me if I slouch my shoulders and don’t look my best. 

As time has gone on, less and less people have their cameras on, so I think many of us are feeling burned-out by this. It doesn’t help that meetings have increased, because you can no longer casually walk over to someone and chat for a bit, and some people struggle typing everything out due to intonation being lost. I think we’re all doing the best we can, and there are some great upsides – no commute, more comfortable clothes (especially in heatwaves) – but the permanence of the distance, and not knowing when it really ends, is draining.”

Top tips

It’s clear that everyone deals with lockdown fatigue differently, but the most important question is what can you do to reduce it? Here are some tips that could potentially help:

1 – Exercise regularly.

2 – Try and maintain a good sleep pattern if possible. 

3 – Try to have a structure in your day. Plan ahead in the morning and stick to it as best you can. 

If you have trouble sleeping:

1 – Routine is key to help minimize stress.

2 – Getting outdoors and exercising now there are fewer restrictions will help. If you can’t go outside there are indoor exercises you can do. 

3 – Turn off your screens at night and avoid sugary foods. 

4 – Check your environment – is the place where you sleep too hot or too cold? Are there any LED lights that might be keeping you awake?

5 – Wind down, take a bath, read a book. It all helps.

6 – We sleep for a third of our lives! Instead of thinking of it as an inconvenience, try to think of sleep as a priority for your mental and physical wellbeing. 

 

Skills utilised:
Covid 19, News

Returning to work in a post-covid world

UPDATE TO UK RESIDENTS

As of Monday the 28th of September 2020 in the UK the government has since changed their stance on returning to work and now it is required of you to work from home if possible to limit the spread of COVID-19. The Rule Of Six is also in place, which limits you from meeting more than 6 people. Additionally, if you are not self-isolating when told to do so you can face up to a £10,000 fine.

ORIGINAL POST:

Six months on, restrictions are being lifted and many non-essential shops and services are back up and running. The idea of ‘getting back out there’ is easier for some than it is for others, and can be a big source of anxiety.

Returning to work, whatever you do, is a topic that is being handled in many different ways across businesses. This lack of consistency can make it even harder to know how to approach returning to work and what is best for you.

We conducted a Twitter poll, to see how you felt about returning to work:

As the poll suggests, people are anxious. Our way of life has completely changed since lockdown began and some of the most vulnerable among us may have been isolated for 4 months or more, with little to no contact with people face to face. The ongoing adjustments to lockdown have been tough for many and getting back to a normal routine is proving to be just as difficult. 

The government has written new guidelines on what you can do when it comes to workplace concerns. Below is one of the frequently asked questions about returning to work:

“What should I do if my employer is asking me to come to work, but I’m scared to do so given the pandemic?

Your employer should consult with you on how you can work safely and must ensure workplaces are safe if they are asking you to return…

If you remain concerned that your employer is not taking all practical steps to promote social distancing then you can report this to your local authority or the Health and Safety Executive who can take a range of actions, including where appropriate requiring your employer, to take additional steps.”

You can find more information on the Gov website HERE.

It is currently up to employers how they manage their return to work procedures. If you are unsure whether your workplace is taking the necessary precautions, these are the guidelines all businesses must follow:

  • Let you travel to work at quieter times of the day
  • Reduce how much face-to-face contact you have with the public
  • Make sure that staff stay at least 2 metres apart in your workplace

If you’re seeking more reassurance, you can read the Citizens Advice article on returning to work HERE

If you’re finding your anxiety is still fairly high, we provided some relaxation and coping strategies throughout lockdown that you can try in your own time. You can find them HERE

Sources: 

https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-what-if-i-am-scared-of-going-back-to-work-as-lockdown-eases-11986621 

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/coronavirus-workplace-safety-shielding-workers-a9646686.html

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/coronavirus-if-youre-worried-about-working/

Skills utilised:
Covid 19, News

A Free Ride to Friendship in the Elite Dangerous Community – by Barry Floyd

Here’s a bold statement to begin with. I firmly believe a video game and its community saved my life. How’s that, I hear you ask? What’s the punchline? Well, dear reader, the statement is the statement. Take it as read. I firmly believe a video game and its community saved my life.

On Boxing Day 2012 my 44-year-old wife, who I’d been with for 24 years, died having fallen ill just 72 hours before. The doctors at the hospital switched off the machinery at tea-time and, whilst most of the country settled down to cold turkey sandwiches and a Bond film, pretty much everything I’d known for most of my adult life crumbled and collapsed around me.

I won’t go into detail but, despite putting on a pretty darned good show of behaving ‘normally’, I lived the next few years like a wraith. Ghosting around in the remains of my old life and trying to mend something that couldn’t be mended. To block out my anxiety and self-loathing I’d drink and watch rubbish on TV. Anything to save me engaging with the outside world, away from work. I’d get home from work, go to my room away from my two grown up kids and cry for half an hour or so before coming downstairs, pouring a glass of wine and plonking myself in front of the TV. I’d thrown away the anti-depressants the doctor had prescribed. I think it was because I felt I didn’t deserve to be happy, but I can’t be sure. My head was all over the place at the time.

It was in the run up to Christmas 2014 that I jumped on Kate Russell’s ‘Slough Bells Ringing’ Christmas fundraising stream for the brilliant SpecialEffect. I saw her playing Elite Dangerous, chatted to her viewers and the combination caused a spark of my old self to reignite. It was enough to make me want to investigate more.

Six years later, having established myself firmly in the game and the Hutton Orbital Truckers community group, I look back and think of the friendships I have made in the community and the incredible support they’ve given me and SpecialEffect. I thank the stars for them, and for Frontier – for unknowingly reaching out for my hand and pulling me out of the abyss. So, as I said, I firmly believe a video game and its community saved my life.

I’m in a good place now. In 2017 I got together with my wonderful partner Ali (who also works for SpecialEffect and is very tolerant of my Elite obsession). I love my job, have great friends and look forward rather than back.

So, when the lockdown kicked in back in March, I thought long and hard about the possible effects of isolation on some of my Commander friends and saw an opportunity to try and pay them back for the care and kindness the community have shown me over the years. The engines of Baz’s Banter Bus rumbled into action.

The idea of the Banter Bus was to set something up in Elite Dangerous that would act as a gathering point to members of my Hutton Trucker community if they’d had a lousy, lonely, lockdown day or just wanted to join in a bit of fun in-game. Each evening at 9pm (UK time), there would be a sanctuary for them to visit and a group of like-minded gamers waiting to chat or just listen whilst we played.

The community’s technical guys set me up with a Banter Bus Teamspeak channel and publicised the Banter Bus each day on the group’s Facebook channel. At 9pm on 26th April, I sat down at my controls and heard ‘user has entered your channel’. The Commanders were answering the call.

Over the coming weeks, we established a core group on the Banter Bus who would be with me night after night. And most nights, other Commanders would jump on too. From the UK, USA and Australia, they came. The Banter Bus had become a thing. The exact thing I wanted it to be. A safe, constant place to go, chat and have a bit of fun exploring sites and places in the ether we’d never been to before.

And Frontier did their bit too. The wonderful Stephen Benedetti, one of the Elite Community Managers, joined us on the bus to chat and answer questions on the latest update to the game. Another example of how supportive Frontier are of community initiatives.

The Banter Bus was scheduled to stop after 26 days. On the last night, the 21st May, we cut the handbrake cable and let the bus carry on going and it’s been running ever since. That safe place, out in space, where Commanders can go for company and laughs is still there ready to welcome new faces and old. With a mix of gentle banter, puerile humour and friendship, the Banter Bus is a great example of how communities can support and help each other through some bleak times.

Did the Banter Bus help as far as mental wellbeing is concerned? I’ve no idea but I’d like to think so. The important thing is, it was there for anyone wanting to jump on and, if nothing else, it drew together a random group of the community who barely knew each other and established some firm friendships that will hopefully continue long into the future.

I’d love to see more community initiatives across all games that promote positivity, care and support of other players. I hope I’ve paid back a fraction of the debt I owe to my community and Frontier but will continue to try and lead the way in showing the haters how wrong they are about us gamers. That we can be – and are – a force for good.

 

Skills utilised:
Stories

Journey, Anxiety And The Unavoidable Importance Of The “Walking Simulator” – by Lara Jackson

One of my favourite games of all time is thatgamecompany’s Journey. Originally released for PlayStation 3 back in 2012, Journey is a relatively short game in which you play as a cloaked figure traversing the desert. Your goal is to reach the distant mountain, aided by collectible cloth-creatures which form your scarf, an item that allows you to float and fly across the various landscapes.

Journey will forever be one of my all-time favourite games as it taught me (and continues to teach me) the importance of tuning out the often overwhelming noise of daily life. It reminds me of the need for human companionship. It tells me that, in order to reach your goals, you’ll need to persevere through the worst of the storms. Journey is a masterpiece, and it’s been an instrumental tool in managing my anxiety. 

The Need For “Walking Simulators” 

One of my biggest bugbears in gaming is the derogatory use of the phrase “walking simulator,” or “walking sim.” It’s a term which is most frequently used to bash games which favour minimal gameplay and lots of exploration over, say, your typical shooter. Though it’s easy to dismiss such titles (after all, they don’t fit the bill of the stereotypical video game) there’s a lot to be said for so-called “walking sim” games.

Walking sims such as Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, Abzu and Journey might lack the bright lights and loud bangs of your average AAA action adventure, but they have, in their own right, become some of the most meaningful and memorable experiences you can have with a controller in your hands. 

By stripping out the glitz and the glamour of your typical video game, walking sims invite players into the lives and worlds of unimaginable creatures and characters. Diving into the depths of the ocean and swimming alongside schools of fish in Abzu, or wandering around an English town lost in time in Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, provides players with a virtual experience like nothing else. Games like these – and like Journey – create universes for their players to explore and discover at their own pace, without the need for complex goals or difficult-to-master controls. For those suffering with mental health conditions such as anxiety, they’re the perfect escape from the suffocating claustrophobia of your own mind. 

A Guiding Hand

When it comes to managing my anxiety, a game like Journey helps me in multiple ways. Unlike the huge and sprawling video games out there, Journey is a small and guided adventure, holding your hand but also encouraging you to take your time and explore the world around you. This is something that my own personal anxiety really finds helpful, as it serves to gently keep your focus on the game, allowing you to block out any real-world nastiness without the need for overwhelming complexities. Journey is a distraction that isn’t mentally exhausting, yet it offers more detachment from reality than, say, a simple puzzle game, thanks to its beautiful levels.

The world of Journey is split into a handful of different landscapes, including the golden sands of the desert, the dark depths of the tunnels and the snow-capped mountains you see in the distance. The game is a visual masterpiece, even now, eight years and a whole console generation after its original release (it did get a PlayStation 4 remaster and a PC upgrade). The world glitters and shines all around you, begging for you to take note of its beauty. The game’s simplicity and lack of realism adds to the feeling of existing in a magical world, and no matter how many times I’ve completed this game, I’ve yet to get bored of just wandering around and taking in the views. It’s a world like no other, and when you’re in a mental tangle, it offers you the chance to escape to a place a lot more mythical and far less cluttered.

Playing Your Personal Story (And Beating It)

The story of Journey is another reason why I credit the game for its positive effects on my mental health and wellbeing. Simply put, the story of Journey is crafted in a way which invites the player to draw parallels between their own life and the life of the nameless character you play as. 

You unlock the history of your people as you discover different tapestries around the world, but these segments are only explained through a series of images, leaving interpretation fairly open. Your character remains nameless, genderless and voiceless, allowing for a blank canvas which invites you to fill in the blanks for yourself. In Journey, you project yourself onto your character, becoming the cloaked figure.

The task of reaching the mountain at any cost is one that everyone can relate to. Whether you see it as a symbol of life, hope, love or loss, the story of Journey is about overcoming adversity, trusting your struggle and knowing that the end goal will be worth the pain. These themes, combined with the blank canvas playable character, guide the player into a story in which they persevere and overcome their own struggles, as well as those of the game. I’ve completed Journey dozens of times, and I still sometimes deeply need to remember the powerful message the game instills in me: I can be unstoppable.

This is a massively important message for anyone with any type of mental health struggles, and it’s wonderful to see such a complex idea laid out so simply, beautifully and effectively within a video game. 

My personal anxiety means I can get overwhelmed very easily, so having a simple and singular task to complete is one that I find immensely comforting. When you need to switch off, it’s sometimes hard to escape into other video games, especially those with huge and multifaceted quests and stories.

Facing The Music

One of my favourite aspects of Journey is the music, which comes from composer Austin Wintory. The soundtrack for Journey consists of some of my favourite musical compositions of all time, and sets a new standard for video game music as a whole. The music of Journey works along with the beautiful visuals of the game, but still manages to be its own entity outside of the on-screen story. It carries you with it, allowing you to soar just like your nameless character through its unburdened ebb and flow. 

I own it on vinyl and even sitting on my own and feeling the music, without playing the game, is enough to transport me to a calmer and happier place. 

Many of the scenes in Journey evoke the deepest and most personal responses within my core. The music of the game is so inextricably intertwined with this that the standalone tracks are powerful enough to be a cathartic experience, even without the need to turn on my console. 

Being There For Others

There are many, many wonderful things about Journey, but one of its most powerful and unique features is the game’s multiplayer mode. If you want to play Journey solo, you absolutely can, but I’ve found this can be a lonely experience. Sometimes you just need to feel like someone is there, like someone is experiencing this small slice of your life with you, and Journey does this in the most magical way imaginable. 

Journey will randomly match you with another nameless player, one who you can only communicate with through a series of musical notes. There’s no voice chat, which is perfect for someone like me, who struggles to find the confidence to speak with strangers due to my anxiety. Though that’s more than welcome in my book, it’s not what makes playing with others so special.

You’ve probably heard at some point in your life that you don’t always need to say the right thing to someone – sometimes you just need to be there for them. This is one of the core concepts of Journey. 

By stripping away the ability to communicate through words, players automatically bond without the need to worry about narrating the experience. 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. You can make your musical sounds, run around in circles, and you can draw a heart in the snow if you’re particularly creative, but that’s all. These are the only ways you can communicate in Journey, and it has a strange effect – it leads players to assume the best in people. 

You can’t harm yourself or other playable characters, you can just explore and continue onwards, which means the only option you have is to help each other. This game mechanic organically invites you to accept that this is what the other player will work towards too. It creates a bond between players which is only strengthened by the adversities you’ll face together on the path to the distant mountain. By the end, you’ve shared a wonderful, wordless experience with other humans which is not only rare, but also impossibly meaningful.

I’ve had some wonderful experiences with people in Journey, and I hope some of those people can say the same of me, wherever in the world they might be.

The Trouble With “Walking Simulators” 

The term “walking simulator” should, in my opinion, never be used as a slight against slower-paced games. Games which invite you explore, imagine, and consider the world around you are infinitely helpful to those with a range of mental health challenges. They provide players with an immersive experience that isn’t too mentally draining, and that can harbour a deep and meaningful message at its core. 

Next time you’re reading a review or purchasing a game which focuses on exploration or simple goals, I invite you to disregard the derogatory term of “walking sim.” Walking sims are one of my favourite genres of games, blurring the lines between a passive movie and the immersive experience of gaming. 

If you’re looking for a gaming venture that encourages you to take your time, forges friendship without expectation and which will show you that you can achieve more than you think, I highly recommend checking out Journey on PC, PlayStation and iOS.

Skills utilised:
Stories

How gaming helped me find belonging in an invisible world – by Anthony Haigh

Mental Health is such a difficult beast to live with. This is probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to write. Talking about myself has always been difficult. But I truly believe that by understanding other people’s experiences with mental health issues, it may help someone to deal with their own. Or even help to spot it in someone else. 

I’m sure many people will say, “Anthony? No, he’s always happy!” And yes, that can be true to some extent, but certainly I struggle with things. Generally, my childhood was amazing. I didn’t really want for anything. I had a good family who were supportive, although perhaps did not understand me fully. I really enjoyed gaming, from my 48k Spectrum to the Mega Drive and beyond. It was my ‘thing’ and unfortunately, none of my family could see the fascination. 

I would not spend hours playing video games – but it felt that any time I did, I should not be. I felt guilty, naughty, for playing Sonic the Hedgehog, even though I was captivated by it. I dreamed about producing something so amazing one day. I never let this negative attitude stop me playing – but even now, I still have that guilt when I’m gaming.

At about the age of 10, I started to feel more confident in myself and experiment with a new haircut. It wasn’t amazing, but very spiky and very cool at that time (a huge departure from my bowl-cut look!). We had a school photo and when I went to the front of the class to collect mine, the teacher said loudly and in front of everyone: “There, now you can see how stupid you look with your new hair!” The class laughed. I was totally shocked and didn’t know what to say. Now it may sound like a minor comment, but it was really a huge catalyst for everything that followed. 

From that moment, any pride in myself was lost. My hair went back to normal, I went quiet and decided that I no longer wanted to be seen. I constantly thought, “Does everyone think I look stupid?” I was no longer joining in and every comment made was cutting me deeply. I always got good reports from school but this resulted in other kids bullying me more for being a nerd. It was easier to be invisible. My only escape from this – to be cool again – was gaming. Being that one person who was good at games gave me that something I could talk to other kids about. And there were other nerds like me! 

Through school, the bullying continued and got worse but I always tried to keep it from bothering me. I learned to wear a mask as the more you showed it hurt, the more you got bullied. So the mask went on and no one knew. 

As it came to choosing my career, working in games was high on my list. But the industry was very different then, it was harder to get into. Adding to this, my household felt it was a waste of time. So, I went into hospitality. Work went very much like my schooling, with bullying during split shifts and long hours. I lost track of what few friends I had made in school and my only friend became the console sat in my room. 

Throughout my career, I have felt like the invisible man. Opportunities have been overlooked, with people just seeing my ‘happy mask’ – where behind it stands someone crippled with anxiety and doubt. If I did not have that other world of games to jump into, life would have been very lonely. 

Things have got better. With age, I have learned to be happier, force myself to do things and not listen to the wrong people. I have found an amazing wife and have a beautiful daughter who both love gaming. My ‘happy mask’ has actually become ‘happy me’ – well, most of the time. I still feel invisible in my career, resulting in more anxiety and depression. There are good days and bad days, but gaming has always been a constant help. So much so, that I’ve created a gaming community with monthly events. It’s helped me and many others to find that place they fit in, to push away that social anxiety and enjoy being themselves. And that makes me so proud.

I still pine for that games Industry job and maybe one day it will happen. I have trained and learned various ways to deal with anxiety and depression, and can spot a ‘mask’ a mile away. It’s important to spot those signs and offer help if you can. Often, an ear to listen is the best thing. Show that person that they are not invisible. 

Skills utilised:
Stories

My Isolation Story – By Jack Mullen

Things are tough for the world right now, that’s for sure. I’m no more knowledgeable about what is going to happen than anyone else. But I do have some experience of social isolation for reasons that were out of my control. I’d like to share this story, with the hope that some people may feel some resonance with it in this tricky time.

A number of years ago, I started to have health complications. Over a very short period of time, they resulted in some very nasty things happening to me physically. To make things worse, it was accompanied with an underlying crippling fear of the unknown. 

The time from initial symptoms to diagnosis was around a month, but it felt like years. Each day I would learn something new, like I had found the answer to what was going on – but it always felt just out of my grasp. I couldn’t feel safe until I really knew what was happening. Once I finally found out what my condition was, and that it was something I had a fighting chance of living with, I began to relax. 

This current situation we are all dealing with feels very similar to me. Like we are all at war with an invisible foe who keeps moving the finish line. There seems to be an overwhelming need for people to feel a sense of solidarity and shared determination. This can be a positive thing, but it can also be frustrating whilst we must all stay put in our different locations. 

After my health became something I could live with, it didn’t stop being hard. Due in part to the pain, and the physical and mental limitations my condition put me under, I ended up living a somewhat ‘socially isolated’ existence. This was a period of a few months where I rarely left the house, and I had a very limited routine.

While this way of living has its benefits in this current moment of crisis, it’s important to acknowledge that these isolating factors can have a very tough mental impact upon people in the long term. But there is hope.

During my times of isolation, I allowed myself to drift and become almost out of phase with a lot of other people around me. However, I eventually tapped into YouTube and played a lot of games to pass the time. I learnt just how powerful the medium could be. How it could bring a single, frightened and lonely soul like myself back from a bottomless pit of isolation. This wasn’t just some nostalgic thing from my childhood, it was a way of life.

During this time I played a diverse range of games. I remember playing a lot of Call of Duty: Survival in Modern Warfare 3. Many years on, I can still give you a tour of the ‘Resistance’ map, which I made my home for what felt like weeks at a time. I even managed to cheat and jump to get the red gem early in Crash Bandicoot 2, which takes hours to perfect. I also explored every single pixel of Dracula’s Castle in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Games that offer you a large place to explore, and an abundance of things to do, really helped me focus my mind. I can see this same level of excitement and exploration being felt by many people making Animal Crossing: New Horizons their world at the moment.

I firmly believe gaming can work for anyone. Whilst this pesky virus is threatening to do its worst to us, we can really take it down a peg if we use all of these fantastic tools to connect with each other. We can help prop up the vulnerable people in our community. 

While there are events being cancelled, games being delayed and a lot of immediate changes to the way the industry is running, there are human beings at both ends of these decisions. Many artists, writers, developers, event organisers, musicians, YouTubers and fellow gamers are feeling the financial and mental strain this situation has placed upon them. Although it’s not always possible to help someone financially, emotional support can go a long way. A written word of sympathy or telling someone how happy something they did made you feel can help us all feel a little less isolated from one another. 

We’re all human, and we’re all gamers. Whilst we’re all frightened, it’s how we face this fear with a smile that really stops us being isolated at all from each other. 

Skills utilised:
Stories

Gaming In Isolation: Community Top Picks

Is isolation boredom hitting you hard? Miss hanging out with friends, family and partners? We understand how challenging isolation can be for mental health. So we asked our community to share their top picks of games that you can get stuck into alone or with others online…

Animal Crossing: New Horizons 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons lets you pack up your troubles and relocate to the paradise island of your dreams.

What’s the appeal?

1Animal Crossing is the perfect getaway package for the mind, allowing you to create and explore in a low-stress environment. Animal Crossing features user-friendly systems that help you set small daily goals.

2 – You can abide by social distancing rules and still have that much-needed social interaction with online and local play. Recently, people have reportedly celebrated birthdays, weddings, and more in-game!

3 Animal Crossing: New Horizons is another title that features on our list of related games and apps and has provided solace for thousands of players during the outbreak.

The Last Guardian

The Last Guardian is an action-adventure game which follows the journey of an isolated young boy who befriends a winged mythical creature named Trico.

What’s the appeal?

1 – There’s no dialogue in The Last Guardian – you form a strong bond with Trico that is non-verbal and based on emotional exchanges.

2 – The pacing is perfectly suited to anyone who wants to invest time in one particular story experience.

3 – Stunning meditative soundtrack and soothing atmosphere.

Persona 5 Royal

Persona 5 Royal is an extended version of the popular social-simulation RPG, Persona 5, which follows the enigmatic Phantom Thieves on their quest to right society’s wrongs. 

What’s the appeal?

1- You play as the silent protagonist, whose choices and personality depend on you and how you choose to spend your time – providing over 70 hours of narrative content.

2 – Relatable characters, including a strong portrayal of severe depression and social anxiety.

3 – Persona 5 is already on our list of recommended apps and games, so an extended visit to the world of the Phantom Thieves is a must!

The Last Of Us

In The Last Of Us, players take on the role of a survivor named Joel as he makes his way across post-apocalyptic America following the Cordyceps outbreak.

What’s the appeal?

1 – The Last of Us is a thrilling adventure that keeps you on your toes and requires a level of focus that will draw you away from the real-world.

2 – Perfect for fans of a strong, cinematic narrative (think Uncharted, but with zombies!).

3 – The Last of Us has a stunning soundtrack that doesn’t miss a beat. 

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt 

Toss a coin to your Witcher! Become Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher who hunts monsters for money. Most of the time.

What’s the appeal?

1- The Witcher 3’s world is vast and beautiful. While living in a confined space, the world of the Witcher opens the doors wide to a land of plenty. 

2 – Incredible depth of narrative design that spans far beyond the main quest. From side-quests that can last anything from a few minutes to a few hours and discoveries that are steeped in lore, you have many fantastic hours ahead of you.

3 –  Fancy a casual ride on horseback? You can spend hours simply riding across the realm and soaking up some rays in stunning vistas.

No Man’s Sky 

No Man’s Sky gives you the freedom to explore 18 Quintillion procedurally generated planets! Discover vast ecosystems and learn how to adapt and survive as ‘the traveller’.

What’s the appeal?

1 – No Man’s Sky gives you the choice of playing on your own or with others, it also lets you freely take on the role you enjoy the most. Be it farming, space piracy, base building, exploration, and much more. 

2 – No Man’s Sky has so much to see and do and a great addition to the title was its VR feature. If you have a VR headset the game provides total absorption in stunning, alien worlds. 

3 – Transitioning from planet to planet enables the player to feel a sense of immediate escapism.

Stardew Valley 

Stardew Valley lets players run their own farm in the small town of ‘Stardew Valley’. You can attend events, make friends with townsfolk, maintain relationships, and take part in a whole bunch of time-consuming activities. 

What’s the appeal?

1 – Stardew Valley is a more structured version of the ideas presented in Animal Crossing. It features an ongoing narrative, neighbourly intrigue, and days are more like ‘turns’ rather than real-time days.

2 – As a simulation RPG with social elements, there are In-game seasonal events and activities to take part in that provide a feeling of community spirit.

3 –  Chucklefish recently released an online mode so you can do all of the above with your friends and watch minutes turn into hours together. 

Crash Team Racing

Beenox Productions made Crash Team Racing their own with this thrilling Kart Racer that’s fun for all the family. Players get to choose from over 50+ characters, 40 tracks, and 760 million different combinations!

What’s the appeal?

1 – With so much to unlock, Crash Team Racing is a highly rewarding experience and provides a challenge for those wanting to push themselves. 

2 – It’s hard not to smile as you’re engulfed by the colourful, fun, and peppy atmosphere!

3 – You can play in single-player, online multiplayer or local multiplayer, which provides a social link to people that you are isolated with or online.

Minecraft

Minecraft is a game in which people can express their true creativity with blocks. Whether you want a survival experience, a creative experience, or even an educational one – the possibilities are endless. 

What’s the appeal?

1 – Minecraft has worked its way into many people’s lives as an educational tool for those who may have kids off school and gives people a creative outlet. It also provides a social outlet to those who want an online experience with friends. 

2 – Minecraft is a time-consuming game if you want it to be, with so much to do you’ll soon wonder why it’s time for bed when you thought you’d only just popped on after lunch. 

3 – The community is huge and very engaging, there are also servers out there for people with mental health issues and other illnesses to express themselves and be safe while they play.

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 

The Division 2 takes place in Washington D.C. in a time where a terrorist threat has taken over most of the city and spread a virus that threatens the World. Team up with friends to take back the city or go it alone and be the character you want to be. 

What’s the appeal?

1 – The wide-open spaces in The Division 2 have helped members of the community with feelings of claustrophobia.

2 – Explore a diverse cityscape that feels lived-in and full of activities.

3 – The game encourages you to play with friends during some of the most intense missions or raids in the game. This is a great aid in helping to cover social needs.

You can also check out our list of Mental Health Related Games & Apps.

Skills utilised:
Covid 19

Spotlight: Nintendo and Mental Health

Nintendo has brought joy to many since the year 1889. They started off producing handmade playing cards and have now evolved into the video games behemoth they are today. And whilst increasingly more games companies aim to nurture mental health awareness, equality and accessibility through their content, it seems Nintendo has been helping the population with mental health for quite a number of years.

When it first launched on the Nintendo DS in 2006, Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training flew off the shelves. It’s essentially a workout for the mind – a game that aims to help improve your brain age, which in turn helps with daily activities and memory skills. With health experts often suggesting we engage with tasks that help take our focus away from anxious thoughts, brain training games potentially provide that much needed mental release. In fact, a recent study found evidence that regular engagement with challenging online memory games can improve mental wellbeing in teens. Attention and emotion are apparently closely linked in the brain, so by improving attentional control through these games they were able to positively influence emotional functioning. 

Wii Fit also proved massively popular when it first launched. Both avid gamers and families were flocking to the shops every time new stock became available. Wii Fit was designed to get people gaming and exercising at the same time, whether it was to lose weight or just have fun together. The potential benefit to mental health is obvious, when we know that exercise releases endorphins and therefore reduces the intensity of mental health issues for many. The games and activities on Wii Fit could also be a way to stimulate routine, particularly for those who are house-bound due to mental health reasons. 

Then there’s Tetris. In a study by Molecular Psychiatry, they conducted an experiment in the UK with 71 patients who had just, within hours, witnessed or been involved in an incident involving psychological trauma. The patients were told to do a task such as watching TV, texting, reading or playing Tetris. 37 of the patients played Tetris for 20 minutes and the study showed that in doing so, the game offered a low-intensity therapy that could substantially reduce “intrusive memories” after trauma. Like brain training games, the focused engagement with Tetris was able to relieve stress and reduce anxiety and panic attacks. The study also showed that video games use the part of the brain that focuses on the ‘now’, rather than the past or future, preventing the patients from dwelling on the negative memories. 

Today, as we face the social challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Nintendo Switch has proved to be an isolation antidote for many. Being able to connect with friends and family who are also playing the game from their living rooms eases the social distancing frustration. It’s also a haven of escapism, where you can share fruit with your neighbours or laze on a friend’s island. The possibilities are endless for creating, exploring and that all important relaxation. 

It’s clear that Nintendo has done a lot for mental health, perhaps without always realising the positive and scientific outcomes their games were going to produce. They have become known for creativity and imaginative adventures, providing true escapism from the harsh realities that many are challenged with. We can’t wait to see what Nintendo has in store for the future. 

Skills utilised:
News

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