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Video Games And SAD: What To Play In Winter by Callum Self

When it comes to Winter, many rejoice as the cold weather makes for a warm home, hot beverages and fluffy socks. But for many, it’s a time where anxiety and depression is at its worst. SAD, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a depression linked to seasonal changes. While it can occur in the summer, it’s far more prevalent in the winter, giving it the nickname of “winter depression.”

I’ve found that something that helps myself during the winter months, or even when depression itself is heightened, that being social helps me. Whether it’s going out to see friends and family, or playing games which not only enable, but encourage social play. These can also be played solo, and they’re still helpful to myself when playing alone, as a few games offer endless creativity, allowing you to sink as little or as many hours as you’d want. 

 

Satisfactory

satisfac

Satisfactory was one of the first games that I sunk many hours into on my first PC, and there’s many reasons for that. It’s an open-ended factory simulation game which allows players to automate resources, explore a massive world and discover new materials and new products to craft which only extends your playtime.

I played this game with a friend of mine, and planning out how our factory would be laid out, how many different product lines we would have and where to get our energy to power our stations took up just as much time as actually playing the game. But that’s not a bad thing, it just makes you more proud of what you achieve. And trust me, you’ll be feeling a lot of pride. 

 

Minecraft (& Minecraft Dungeons)

I’m pretty certain you’ve heard of Minecraft. The sandbox of blocks and diamonds has been a household name for around a decade and has no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Similar to Satisfactory, there’s endless opportunities for creativity, and whether you want to build a mansion on top of a mountain, live self-sufficient from crops or explore a wide range of biomes, it’s hard to argue against Minecraft. 

However, many people pass over the spin-off, Minecraft Dungeons. This family-friendly Action-RPG allows players to team up with their friends to take on numerous levels. The constantly dropping loot, as well as the rise in challenge as you gain more gear, gives a fun time which you’re bound to sink hours into. Better yet, it’s free with Game Pass! 

 

Death Stranding

Whilst it’s a tangent from the rest of the list, Death Stranding really helped me personally. If you look close enough, the story and gameplay can be an interpretation of mental health, as you slowly creep across post-apocalyptic America.

Death Stranding’s main appeal isn’t the walking, but rather the connections that players form between other players, despite being a single player experience. Helping others with resources to build a bridge, which will speed up delivery times in future and make the journey safer is just one example of connecting with others.

Death Stranding is a great option for those who want to feel connected to others without actually socialising. It’s my Game of the Year for 2019, with good reason, and it’s fanbase is only growing.

 

Among Us

Among Us is a massive internet craze, and rightfully so. It’s the social deduction genre boiled down into colourful graphics, customisable player avatars and can run on pretty much any device. On top of that, it’s ridiculously cheap.

Among Us offers the ability to play with friends, family or join a server with other players, making it the perfect social / party game for anyone looking to figure out who the Imposter is. Or, save the spaceship. Either way, it’s a great game to hop into and there’s no better time! 

 

Bonus Single-Player: Marvel’s Spider-Man PS4/PS5

I like to talk about this game whenever I can, because it has impacted me on a very personal level, and they’ve helped me through some really tough times. Peter Parker is a candidate for most unfortunate character, but he perseveres, as he knows the city of New York relies on him. 

Nothing captures that essence like the Insomniac Games’ versions of this character. Marvel’s Spider-Man is one of the most emotionally involved games I’ve played. Seeing what Peter Parker goes through during the plot of the game is everything a human goes through on a super-powered level. Grief, heartache, fear, are all emotions he knows too well. But seeing him suit up and engage with the city proves that if he can persevere, well, so can you. 

For February, Safe In Our World have partnered up with Fanatical for the Winter Blues bundle, as a fundraiser! For those of you looking to show your support, find out more here and help raise awareness for mental health by supporting Safe In Our World. 

The winter can be a tough time for many, so we wanted everyone to see that there’s plenty of options out there for anyone. There’s plenty of different genres, worlds and stories to play! So grab a hot chocolate, boot up one of these (or some other) games, and experience a virtual world for a little while. Whatever that world you enter is, it’s lucky to have you. 

 


Callum Self
Callum is a passionate gamer and advocate for mental health awareness, using writing as a tool for both themself and the reader to understand mental health in video games.

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

An Interview with Bradley Smith, Co-Creator of Ruya

We talked to Bradley Smith, of Miracle Tea Studios, about the inspiration behind Ruya, and the importance of the themes embedded within it.


The Interview

 

So, what was it that set you on the path towards game development?

“I had a kind of unconventional bohemian hippie upbringing where creativity and a DIY punk mentality was encouraged. There was a lot of freedom. Some might argue too much. Both of my parents are self-employed and run businesses which I think is a reason why I’ve ended up doing that too. A family friend from Ipswich who carved his way into the games industry from the working class world was definitely an influence, he ended up with the first indie game on Steam.

The combination of seeing that growing up, while being immersed in skateboard and alternative subcultures, naturally gave a pull towards the independent game scene. There’s a lot of commonalities in the indie scene that resonated with the type of person I am and the way I was raised. I love the DIY attitude and the genuine need to express something poignant that some developers omit. Making games quickly became an outlet in my adolescence, especially at university. It’s always been very personal for me. It’s typically how I’ve worked through certain neurosis or insecurities. I guess it’s a form of self-therapy at this point as I’m often trying to understand or turn negative thoughts in my psyche into something positive – a philosophy I learnt from straight edge music. Tom and I formed Miracle Tea shortly after graduating in 2016, we’ve been making small intimate games ever since.”

Tell us about the main objectives of Ruya and how the game is structured. 

“Ruya is a meditative puzzle game with emphasis on simple pattern recognition, it leads players down a somewhat solipsistic path. In Ruya, you’re solving puzzles in her own personal dreamscapes where your goal is to eventually wake up. It’s presented in such a way where Ruya is giving little pieces of herself away in order for her children to flourish by spawning flowers. Those flowers temporarily mask her antlers, which are figuratively and literally the depressive weight upon her shoulders. At the end of each level, these get washed away to reflect a temporary fix.

Ruya is ultimately about mothers that put everything into their children to deal with their own depressions, while being a game that mothers are likely to play. By gradually solving the solutions to puzzles in Ruya’s psyche you come to access her lost memories. Those memories are based on real observations from my own mother during times of grief. A lot of the nuances and meaning in the game most people wouldn’t ever fully register, but it’s the kind of thing we designed to be felt in a subtle way.”

What is the theme of the game, and the inspiration behind it?

I grew up very close to my two sisters and mother. When we were setting out to make Ruya, we had the intention to make a game for all the important women that have been in our life. The inspiration for Ruya will vary depending on who you ask in the team as each team member embedded different parts of themselves. Aside from this, one of our intentions was to design a game that aids sleep. In turn this was a theme that carried through into Ruya’s design. I’ve had an ongoing battle with insomnia that was particularly difficult throughout my early 20s and it was something I was keen to explore and understand more. There’s a handful of spiritual themes in the game too which is perhaps reflective of an existential time in our teams lives. We were consuming a lot of Alan Watts and Ram Dass during development and that naturally bled into the design.

What are the inspirations behind the visuals of the game?

I really like the artist Philippa Rice – she’s a big inspiration for sure. Just before Ruya was created, I lost my Nan, who was an influential and strong figure in our family dynamic growing up. She was also a very spiritual woman, which perhaps lends to some of the ambiguous themes in the game. I think the impact of her life was what led to a lot of the visuals and tone of the game. It was only until my partner at the time pointed out to me during development “do you think the visuals are about your Nan?” where it really registered that maybe something deeper was going on in my subconscious. It wasn’t something I was aware of, but the big wave of creative output at the time probably should’ve been a sign.

Alula is currently in the works, will these games link in terms of mental health?

Yes, for sure! In all of Miracle Tea’s games we try to embed a deeper societal issue to comment on. Alula explores the idea of loneliness and how an individual might learn to overcome that. Alula attempts to evoke feelings of what it means to be alone and how small or big that can make you feel depending on your point of view. One issue we’re exploring is the idea of people being more connected now than anytime in history, yet loneliness seems to be a rising epidemic. We are trying to make a game that illustrates to players the concept that people can do great things as individuals, but when moments are shared with others it can make for a more authentic human experience. In Alula you find yourself alone on an island receiving notes in bottles asking you to fulfil certain obligations. Slowly overtime you will come to know who’s sending the bottles and why. All of Miracle Tea’s games are set in the same universe meaning Alula comes from a similar place to Ruya.

As a game developer, what would be your main take home for players of your games?

If our games offer you some time to reflect, lower blood pressure, chill you out or make you think inwardly, then I’m happy. Beyond that, it sounds idealistic and pretentious, but if a game we made changed how someone viewed or interpreted the world for the better I’d be deeply content with what that means. That’s something that Miracle Tea is trying to carve out in video game history that I feel we’re yet to achieve. If that never happens, I’m okay with that, it’s fun trying!

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

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

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

How gaming helped me heal from an online trauma – by Oliver Whittaker

Back in 2012, I was in final preparations in starting my new life in the USA with my wife-to-be. We met online a few years ago prior, via a gaming lobby in World of Warcraft. From there, we fell in love.

We had so many things in common. Every time I saw her in real life or online, my face lit up with joy. We also suffered several trials & tribulations together, from her cancer to miscarrying a child. I was there for her in whatever way I could, from financial stability to emotional support. I knew I had to be there for her, so I was making my document preparations for my US entry. In the process, I encountered something that would haunt me for the rest of my life…

The woman I fell in love with for all these years was not who she claimed to be.

Her name, her age, her family background – it was all a lie. She was a known criminal in her state and had been arrested for financial fraud. What else was a lie? The cancer, the miscarriage…our love?

I was in complete disarray and fell into a complete shut-down. I had no one to support me. My friends and family had isolated themselves away from me as they thought our relationship wasn’t real. I thought, ‘how can it not be real if my feelings are?’

I was afraid to go online for quite some time as I thought she might be lurking on the internet, waiting to deceive me with more lies. Where could I go? What could I do? I told myself there were two options. One path being an easy but vengeful one, where it would lead to nothing but suffering and pain. The other, to be reborn, learn from my mistakes and not let the last few years get to me. It wouldn’t be an easy path to take, but I acknowledged and accepted it.

I started getting my old life back together. I moved to a completely new area, got a new job and started looking after myself. I looked after my mind and soul, ensuring that my mental health was always in check – having an appointment with a counsellor helped a lot. But I missed my old passion, the one thing that helped me escape from my reality. Gaming.

It was gaming that became my therapy whilst on this path of recovery. I could be whoever I wanted, temporarily releasing me from the burdens in my past. I started on single-player games, from recovering a rare artefact in Tomb Raider to saving Gotham in Batman. I felt like I was doing some good somewhere. Gradually, I tip-toed back into multiplayer games, where I fell in love with my flag-ship game, Overwatch. From there, I decided to get into streaming. I had my old bubbly personality back from before the trauma, so mixing the two would be fun!

Fast forward to today, and I’m still streaming and staying true to myself. I wanted to help Safe In Our World to spread the word of mental health awareness, online safety and empathy to those who have suffered and feel that there’s no one to turn to. It’s only recently after all these years of holding it in, I decided to share my mental health story. For those who have suffered from similar experiences, you are not alone.

You can follow Oliver’s gaming tweets and streams here:

Twitter

DLive (streaming)

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

Live streaming a mental health talk show gave me a purpose – by Mxiety/Marie Shanley

In the fall of 2017, my depression and anxiety symptoms were at their worst. I had a very public panic attack at work and it had become clear that I could no longer continue with my career until I got my mental health in order. My mental illnesses, it seemed, had won and taken everything away from me. I left work defeated. I felt no control over my life anymore and saw no reason to keep going at all. 

 

The funny thing about having hit rock bottom emotionally is that it also comes with a freeing sense of having nothing to lose. Especially if you have a silly amount of optimism that tells you things can only become better when compared to how low you feel about your existence. 

In previous months, I had sought to learn more about my condition. Was I alone? Did it feel like this for other people? Were there solutions that could serve as intermediaries as I scrambled to get an appointment with my therapist again? What about my medication, was needing it, normal? 

What I found online was mostly people sharing their stories and personal experience, sometimes as facts. And then I found stories from professionals, some of which were blind to what it was actually like to live with these conditions.

With no job and a feeling that this was my hope, I decided I would try to bridge that gap. I had a background in project management, research, and science editing that was not being utilized for anything else at the moment. Along with those, I had ten years of experience having been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I decided I would share my experience, but also try to answer the “why” of it all in a researched manner, giving researched explanations to the facts and ideas I was putting out into the world.

After years and years of telling myself I wasn’t good enough to make anything, I had found a friend who was willing to help me edit and did so kindly. So, I started a blog, which would house good sources in addition to my personal story. But that didn’t seem like enough. I wanted to communicate with people and have open discussions around these difficult topics as I was tired of pretending I was ok, when I knew others were not either. Tired of keeping to myself so as not to scare anyone and make it seem like I am just seeking attention.

YouTube didn’t seem to be the best place to be able to do so. But a live stream? A live stream would be exactly the space to offer information and immediately receive feedback. Offering an open forum to those like me who were often silent.

It started with a few of my “in real life” friends offering to come on and share their stories of living with certain conditions until eventually, I was able to interview professionals in the field as well. When I wasn’t doing that, I was doing research and presenting what I found for live discussions. 

And people came to watch. Not right away (which is great because I had no idea what I was doing), but they did come and they were just as excited as I was to have a space to be themselves. Furthermore, they were more than willing to be there for others who had experienced things similar to them.

I frequently say that Mxiety is an idea of hope, which is bigger than the person who started it or any one person who supports it. It’s a space built on education and respectful discourse no matter the disagreement. 

Never in my wildest dreams, when I sat sobbing three years ago on the floor of my bathroom, wishing I could die, did I ever realize that I could incubate a whole community. When I was driving and talking myself into not ending my life, I could not fathom the number of people who had done exactly the same and were looking for someone to tell them they are not alone.

I have now returned to a full-time job, as I continue to write, host a show, and nurture a community. I take medication and am not ashamed because it saved my life. I gather information as I learn more about myself and share that with others as well. I have found my purpose–to make the world a safer place for those with mental illnesses. It’s ambitious, but it’s a purpose that is worthy of the cause.

Learn more about Marie, her blog, live streams and more via mxiety.com.

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

Living with OCD – By Jake Smith

My name is Jake Smith. I’m 28 years old and I suffer from OCD Intrusive Thoughts and Compulsions.

I don’t quite remember a time when I could think my thoughts, to think without OCD rearing its ugly head. After 17 years, it becomes the norm of your daily routine. Sometimes these intrusive thoughts will be the voice in my head; other times, it will play out as pictures, or like videos. Sleeping at night is difficult with these thoughts running wild, and the compulsions side is a prominent feature – though it’s a lot easier to manage now. 

10 years ago the compulsions made life very difficult. It had caused me to lose jobs. My college had threatened to kick me out too, as I’d always miss the first period due to doing rituals lasting around 3 to 4 hours every morning (I cover this in more detail in my Minecraft story). I was often told to get up earlier but it didn’t make a difference. I was having to fight the people who had little understanding of mental health issues, whilst also fighting my brain. Despite not being religious, I’d pray for it to stop. I just wanted a break, to be free. 

I had tried CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) a number of times, but sadly it didn’t work for me. Over around 12 years, I had combined it with medication but with no success – in fact, it often made it worse. That said, I know it helps some people and I would still encourage OCD sufferers to try it.

My story seems dark – it is dark, and there have been times where I just want to be put into a coma and sleep it all off. There have been times where I’ve had to fight for the most basic of things; to keep jobs, to keep my education. It’s hard to understand why 10 years ago, mental health support was in a much worse place than it is now. There are still times when I get very low and can’t see the point in fighting it. But the love and support of my family helps me to rise up and continue on, despite how tiring it can get. 

Whilst my experiences with OCD have been hard and upsetting, I do have my good days. I’ve had some incredible opportunities; flying birds of prey for a living, working with rescue animals, received many qualifications and attended EGX as a representative of a games publisher. Being able to see the inside of games developers has been a dream come true for me and I want to continue working alongside publishers, developers and the gaming media. I’m also an avid gamer. When you combine all this with my mental health experiences, working with Safe In Our World made perfect sense. 

I want to help kickstart a world where we have an understanding of every mental illness and remove the stigmas attached to them. I don’t believe anyone should have to go through what I went through, fighting the fight alone. There is hope and there is help. You just have to reach out to whoever you can; your GP, mental health services, friends or family. OCD is not a death sentence, it is a nasty bump in the road. I will never let it stop me from my goals, I will never let it win. I will conquer it one day and hopefully, this will inspire others in a similar position to get the help they need and deserve. 

Skills utilised:
Stories

This Christmas… Talk.

Our message this Christmas, is to talk.

Christmas is a time to enjoy with friends and family. It is a time to eat, be merry and joyful, and more importantly… it is a time to catch up on all those games that we haven’t had a chance to play! But Christmas is also a time that affects a lot of people mentally. The lack of friends and family. The low feelings. The negative self-esteem. The depression. No one should feel alone this holiday season. PLEASE help us spread this message, or indeed talk to someone if you are feeling low, and do keep an eye open for others, offer a word of comfort, talk, and share your experiences.

Merry Christmas from the Safe In Our World family.

Skills utilised:
News

Nathan Drake didn’t only save Elena Fisher’s life, but mine too – By Simon Hill

Growing up was a constant daily challenge for me – I was bullied from the age of nine, right through to the age of 16, I witnessed my parents split, I moved houses multiple times and the friends I did have were all taken from me when I moved school. Gaming became a safe haven for me, an escape – my N64 was one of the most wonderful experiences of my gaming life, still to this day I hold this as my favourite console I have ever owned. I do put this down to multiple reasons, the most important one being the ability it gave me to detach myself from reality; from exploring the magical and enchanting worlds created in such games as Banjo-Kazooie, to the excitement I
felt whilst playing some of my favourite wrestling games to-date.

Fast-forward to 2009 and I suffered a violent attack whilst walking home after work that left me on crutches. By this time I had been working as a radio presenter for three years, I had also recently been made redundant from Kerrang Radio and moved over to BRMB (You may know this as Free Radio). During the transition I had a lot of time with my thoughts, realising how much the industry I was in love with, had a deep effect on my mental health. At first I wasn’t sure if this was just my mind overthinking, or being bitter about the fact I had been let go from my dream job. Then I sat with a friend who taught psychology at a local university and without me knowing at the time, he was testing me with various methods and questions – he then asked me for my mobile phone, where he typed out what he believed I valued in life, none of which were my own personal wellbeing.
At that point I burst into tears, realising that I was suffering from more than just frustration of moving radio stations, it was much deeper than that.

This is where my whole life changed. I suffered with depression and horrific bursts of anxiety, which for someone who’s job it was to speak to thousands of people every day live on national radio – wasn’t ideal. I remember at the time going into my local GAME store and whilst checking the charts, I saw that ‘Uncharted 2: Among Thieves’ had released on PS3, I remember having a fantastic experience with the first game so I took my chances on the sequel.

And oh boy, what an enthralling, wondrous adventure I was taking. During my spare-time I would sit and play this game over and over, once again detaching myself from the struggles of reality. I felt a real connection with the lead character Nathan Drake, as someone who was always chasing his dreams, battling his way through unexpected scenarios just to be considered as somewhat successful in the field he had chosen to pursue a life in. During my experience with Uncharted 2, I was taught a valuable lesson from Drake; despite all the obstacles that you have to overcome in life and despite watching your dreams crumbling to dust around you, all that matters are the people that help, support and guide you through those struggles to become a stronger person for surviving those moments in life, where it all seems like there is nothing left to give.

I’m not sitting here typing this and saying everything I was suffering just magically went away – I still suffer with my mental health now. I have good days and I have days where all I want to do is wrap myself up in a blanket and be invisible to the world. However, with that said, I have very strong people around me and I am lucky enough to be given incredible opportunities as a TV/ stage presenter within the gaming industry, that allows me to express myself and showcase my passion for this beautiful medium.

I may have only scratched the surface here, but I want everyone who reads this to know that you aren’t alone and there is help available. If my story helps one person – then sitting on the edge of my sofa telling my story to you has been worth it. Mental health is a very difficult subject to speak about and whilst typing this I have had to wipe a few tears from my keyboard. The first step is acknowledging that what you are going through isn’t “okay” and this action in itself shows strength and courage. For me, I have found a way to turn my ‘lost cause’ in to ‘treasure trophies’ and you can too… Find your Nathan Drake, find your one small thing a day that will put a little smile on your face, because YOU are important and so is your well-being.

Skills utilised:
Stories

Games that tackle mental health awareness head-on!

Anyone who’s played video games for any significant length of time knows mental health and its many related struggles are not a topic the medium has broached very often.

Even as storytelling and character development rose to prominence as important factors in a video game’s presentation during the 16- and 32-bit generations, mental health awareness was not something game developers were particularly and specifically concerned with promoting, and who can blame them? Even today in the year 2019, mental health issues are still stigmatized in many societies as personal flaws one should hide and be ashamed of, to say nothing of the ’80s and ’90s and their even more regressive views of the topic. Final Fantasy VI‘s Terra Branford outwardly and realistically struggled with depression, sure, but it wasn’t examined very deeply as a topic beyond that depiction and the game certainly wasn’t concerned with whether its players could relate to it.

Fortunately, with the slow but sure rise of indie games and the past couple console generations affording them vastly increased visibility — most recently and especially on the Nintendo Switch — we have also begun to see a rise in the number of gaming experiences anchored around the topic of mental health, some of them inspired by the developers’ own struggles.

On that note, I have chosen one of the very best mental health-focused games to spotlight for you here in the hopes that confronting mental illness in the context of a familiar, comfortable medium might assist you in grappling with your own struggles. Mental health is one of the ultimate “silent killers” of our generation, and experiencing firsthand the fact that there are others who can not only relate to these struggles but express them in video game form can be incredibly comforting. So without further ado…

Celeste
Developed and published by Matt Makes Games
Available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC/Mac/Linux via Steam for $19.99

A treasure of a game you may have heard of by now, Celeste follows the journey of a young woman named Madeline as she attempts to climb the intimidatingly towering and treacherous Celeste Mountain. This particular mountain is known for the strange phenomena that would-be climbers experience during their ascent, but those mysteries are ultimately not what Celeste is really about. We soon learn that the mountain is mostly a metaphor for Madeline’s internal struggles with depression and especially anxiety.

From the beginning, there is no doubt that Madeline is a troubled individual. Lost and adrift in life and without hope for the future, Madeline challenges the mountain because she must. Something in her life needs to change, but she doesn’t know what. She has hit a dead end, a slump from which she has not been able to recover. We can see that life has taken its toll on Madeline, and she just needs to prove to herself that she can achieve something of personal significance.

And so we, the players, step into her shoes as we attempt to guide her up the mountain. But as those of us who struggle with depression and anxiety — I’m raising my hand here — all know, it’s never that simple. Madeline will struggle, and she will fail, and she will lose all hope more than once along the way — and, likely, so will you. Celeste is a pixel-precise 2D platformer that starts off fairly challenging and only increases in difficulty from there, becoming more and more oppressively difficult the closer Madeline gets to the summit.

That’s on purpose. The player, through their gameplay struggles, is meant to relate to Madeline’s internal turmoil as she fights both the external (the mountain) and the internal (her own vicious demons) on her metaphorical journey to Celeste’s peak. The result is an emotional rollercoaster of a game that isn’t afraid to confront mental health issues directly and loudly, a game that bravely acknowledges that mental illness is not a one-and-done, now-I’m-cured affliction, a game that dwells not on defeating your personal demons in some metaphysical final boss battle, but learning to reckon with and accept them.

We never quite learn the full story behind Madeline’s life to date and what experiences have left her so broken, but the story offers just enough insight that these details can at least be somewhat inferred. But really, Madeline’s past experiences aren’t the point anyway. Whatever has happened to her has led her here, to this mountain, grappling with severe depression and anxiety without a clear purpose in life, and Celeste is far more interested in Madeline’s journey to understanding and healing than the trauma that drove her to embark on her desperate ascent.

As I mentioned earlier, Celeste is a difficult game; make no mistake about that. It’s meant to be challenging, often imposingly so. But it’s also meant to be accessible, and the game excels at both. While you’ll likely die hundreds (and hundreds) of times, respawns are instant and on the spot, with no progress lost and no time wasted. Celeste also includes an “Assist Mode” for less skilled players, or for those only interested in experiencing Madeline’s journey without the stress of conquering a difficult platformer, and that is an objectively good thing. Games should be accessible to as wide an audience as possible, especially games exploring a subject as important, difficult, and complex as mental illness!

But I would implore those of you who do have the skills, but perhaps not the patience, to stick with Celeste on its default difficulty level to hang in there, not to earn some badge of gaming honor but because one of Celeste‘s most significant triumphs is how seamlessly and meaningfully the game manages to blend the player’s struggles with Madeline’s. The two always exist in parallel, and that direct relation is one of the characteristics that makes Celeste so special and triumphant.

Without spoiling too much, at one point we learn that Madeline is prone to panic attacks, and the way Celeste perfectly and terrifyingly recreates in a gaming context what it’s like to experience a real-life panic attack is one of the game’s most eye-opening and genuinely effective moments. In fact, I even had to take a pause and gather myself following that sequence because it’s just so raw for those of us who have had to reckon with panic attacks (again, raising my hand here).

Madeline might be one of the most relatable video game protagonists of all time, especially for those who struggle with mental illness.

Celeste is a narrative and thematic masterpiece that really should be played by everyone, but is absolutely essential for those who struggle with mental illness. Instead of telling a relatable story and shining a spotlight on an incredibly important issue despite being a video game, Celeste uses gaming’s unique advantages as a medium to inform and enhance these aspects, cementing this title’s legacy as a modern classic. It also just happens to be a really great video game, and if you end up crushing hard enough on Celeste‘s satisfyingly precise platforming gameplay to keep going beyond the story’s conclusion, there are plenty of optional, ultra-hard objectives to take on like collecting every last strawberry in each level and conquering the brutally difficult “B-Side” and “C-Side” stages.

Even among other games that focus on mental illness, Celeste stands apart as a true achievement in video game storytelling and irrefutably proves that, as a medium, video games are more than capable of tackling difficult real-life problems in meaningful, thoughtful ways.

***

Now, if you’ve already played Celeste or have tried it and decided it’s not your cup of tea, fear not! Especially these days, you’d be surprised how many other games there are that bravely and successfully tackle different aspects of mental illness. While I don’t have the time or space here to cover them in-depth like I did Celeste, I can certainly point you in the direction of several strong choices, including Night in the WoodsGrisHellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (trigger warning for those who experience psychosis, also lots of violent graphical content), Child of Light, and Zarvot (though this one is more open to interpretation).

In closing, I hope any and/or all of the above-mentioned games shine some light on your own silent mental health struggles and help empower you, even in some small way, to understand and reckon with them!

 

Read more by checking out our Games and Apps page!

Skills utilised:
News

The Pep Talk: How to Beat Depression – A vlog series by Julia Hardy

Julia Hardy is a broadcaster, presenter, journalist vlogger and all-round legend within the technology and videogames industry – she’s even done a TED talk on using humour to combat sexism after the blog she created, ‘Misogyny Monday’ shone a light into online behaviour.

In this series titled: How to beat depression, Julia talks about openly about depression, how she’s learned to cope with it over time, and advice that may help others from what she’s learned on that journey.

The series is signposted here with Julia’s kind permission. You can follow Julia on TwitterInstagram and YouTube. To watch the remainder of the series, click through the links below:

Episode One :: The simplest things for maximum results.
Episode Two :: How to beat your depression.
Episode Three :: How to best handle social media.
Episode Four :: Beware of stress.
Episode Five :: It’s all about personal best.
Epilogue :: My depression history.
Epilogue :: How to be the best you

Skills utilised:
News

My journey – By Ash Paulsen

As a gaming enthusiast and professional who has openly struggled with chronic depression throughout his life, the crossroads between the gaming community and mental health awareness that Safe in Our World represents is a deeply important and personal issue for me. As such, when my fellow Patron and dear friend Aaron told me about the then-in-the-making charity and offered me the opportunity to get involved with Safe on the ground level as one of its key team members, I was naturally ecstatic. Here was a chance to do some real good, to personally reach out to people just like me with the kind of mental health support and awareness I wish had been available to me when I was younger and more vulnerable.

And boy, do I wish it had been. Like many of us who grew up playing video games, bullying was a part of my daily life at school. I can’t think of a grade during which I wasn’t ostracized by the vast majority of my peers, and the few friends I did have were usually other victims of bullying who weren’t blessed with the size and stature I had to protect me from physical – if not emotional – abuse. Layer those wholly negative social experiences on top of the latent depression I didn’t even know I had or how to identify at the time and, well, most of my childhood and adolescence was pretty bad news – at least socially. I did, fortunately benefit from two very supportive, involved parents and a privileged home life in general, so things could certainly have been worse. But still, the emotional and mental damage persisted. I began engaging in a lot of self-hate. I would viciously berate myself for the slightest of mistakes or imperfections, which then graduated into physical self-harm and, eventually, flirtation with suicidal thoughts. And, look – I’m not here to tell you that I then found some mental health magic bullet that fixed everything and permanently ushered my depression into the rear-view mirror.

In fact, I’ll be honest: things would get worse before they got better, and I still grapple viciously with my mental health – specifically my chronic depression – today as an adult. I still experience my peaks and valleys. I still have days where I don’t feel like it’s worth getting up in the morning because what’s the point and would rather stay under the covers and disappear. The therapy and medication continue. It’s an ongoing battle – for me and for so, so many others who suffer, often silently and unknowingly to others, inside the hellscape of their own minds.

 

But I wouldn’t change a thing. Because eventually, I learned there was help and support available that could help me reframe my perspective and turn my suffering into an opportunity to understand and help others who are struggling like I have; understanding and empathy I never could have had if I’d not experienced that kind of struggling for myself. To be clear, I’m not saying victims of mental health issues are ever at fault – we and you never, ever are – but finding ways to focus on others’ struggles rather than remain fixated on your own can, weirdly and surprisingly enough, help you heal your own wounds.

 

Throughout all my grappling with chronic feelings of depression, hopelessness, and futility in life, I have fortunately managed to remain acutely aware and thankful of the fact that I am privileged. Not just by virtue of my comfortable home life growing up and the opportunities granted me by parents who could afford to send me to college, but because unlike many who struggle with their mental health, I have a platform.

Because I’m fortunate enough to been involved with the YouTube channel GameXplain since its early days, I’ve seen it grow from the meager channel it started out as into the million-plus-subscriber juggernaut it is today – and just as the channel’s audience has grown, so too has my own. Especially in the digital age and amid all the white noise of the internet, it is a true privilege, and never a right, to have lots of people stop and listen when you speak. I’m not bragging! My point in providing this context is to drive home the point that I am in a unique position, with the audience I’ve graciously been able to build, to help others whose struggles are similar to and often worse than my own. But if I had never grappled with those issues myself, I would never have developed the empathy that comes with understanding and I might not have been wise to how vitally, deeply important mental health outreach efforts like Safe are – and they are.

So while I maintain that struggling with one’s mental health is always a work-in-progress and something that isn’t necessarily ever “cured” like the common cold – at least for me – it doesn’t have to cast a shadow over your whole life and it should never be a death sentence. The reason Safe even exists is because a bunch of people who have suffered just like you and I have learned that it is possible to turn your mental health lemons into lemonade and, hopefully, help others along the way. If my story (which I’m still writing!) can help improve the situation of even a single person in need who reaches out to Safe for help, then, well, it’s all been worth it because nothing – nothing – heals the soul quite like improving the lives and experiences who need a helping hand.

Skills utilised:
Stories

Change anything – by Charlotte Kenny

I’ve always found it excruciatingly difficult to talk openly about mental health and depression. Even typing those words made me tense. It’s not that I’m ashamed, but I was terrified of being judged – or worse – someone thought I was making it up for attention.

My university experience was not fun. Admittedly, you need to be somewhat academic, sociable and self-motivated to get through the whole 3-5 years. I barely have any of these skills, but university meant moving out of my parent’s house, and a chance to ‘find myself’. Well, I found myself hitting rock bottom in my second year.

I lived in a house with five other girls. Five other girls who were all slimmer, prettier and smarter than me. I was the fat, stupid friend. I have never been particularly confident, particularly with body image. Throw hormones and the impending doom of a degree into the equation, and you have a hot mess. Or rather, a fat, stupid mess. I wasn’t failing my course per say, but I was nowhere near doing as well as I should have been. I was just about scraping a pass for each assignment. I’d beat myself up each time I got my grade back, despite putting very little effort in, because my mind was preoccupied with nasty, negative thoughts, about anything and everything.

Not only did I appear to be stupid one in the house, but on my course too. In my eyes, I was never good enough. I was so inadequate at everything. My head got the best of me and I became my own worst enemy, to the point where I would rarely get out of bed. I skipped lectures, avoided socialising as much as humanly possible and only ate rubbish food. I put on more and more weight, making me hate myself even more. Every day I woke up, wishing I hadn’t, and would contemplate the ways I could end it all.

I still don’t know to this day how I got through that second year of university, and it’s something I still think about regularly. I think it must’ve been a mixture of things. Getting out of a mouldy (literally) student house. Getting closure from a previous on and off relationship and getting out of the academic institution for a year. Between my second and final year of university, I did a placement year of working in London for a PR company with a team that worked in the videogames industry, and I think that might have been what turned me around. I had to get myself into London every day. I had to socialise with people. I had a job I enjoyed. I had found a purpose.

If there is anything anyone takes away from this, all I want to encourage is change something. Anything. Anything you think could help you in any way, everything else will slowly have a domino effect on your life. I changed my environment and automatically felt different. Admittedly, out of my comfort zone, but a much needed shove out of it. The change of environment kicked me into changing my diet, my relationships, my own thoughts. Even if it’s something as minute as drinking more water, that is a change. Getting of the tube a stop early to get an extra 10 minutes of walking. That is a change. A change that will slowly, and gradually make life start to feel a little less crappy.

Skills utilised:
Stories

That time Halo saved my life – By Gareth Williams

I didn’t really leave my bedroom that often. I’d been living in a house share, and the people were wonderful, but working for a credit card company was hard. I didn’t agree with trying to sell products to people who couldn’t afford them. But I did, and it weighed heavily on me.

Instead of washing my clothes, I’d just go into town and buy new ones. You could see the floor in places, but those spaces were few and far between. I bought clothes I couldn’t afford, which caused money issues, and ultimately made things worse.

In hindsight, I can see that as a trait now; I buy things when I’m depressed, because I think it’ll make me feel better, even though I know it’ll only be for a short time. I buy things anyway.

One of the things I bought in early 2002 was an original Xbox. I hadn’t planned to buy one, as I’d stopped gaming in the mid-90s.  I’d just walked past the window of Game near the Broadmarsh centre in Nottingham. I saw the logo in the window, and I’d seen a huge silver ‘X’ in one of my Dad’s PC Magazines. I got invited to a lock-in to try a few games and playing Halo Lan multiplayer was an epiphany for me. This was awesome, and I needed it in my life. I couldn’t afford it, but I put down £600 on an Xbox, Halo and Dead or Alive and an extra controller.

Before this, I’d had no dreams of working in the games industry – I didn’t even know the Konami code. I was a noob in the truest sense of the word.

I dived into gaming for the second time in my life and I was hooked. So much so, that I started a website to tell people about what I did on Xbox Live Beta. I told them about being in the top 120 in the world on Moto GP (without glitching). I told them about the friends I’d made whose names weren’t Dave, Sian or Chris, but Crispy Noodles, Mr Herrer and Looney N Darwen.

These people and these experiences were my clubs and pubs. Why go to a pub and spend money I didn’t have on booze when I could take corners at lightning speed or plunge a sword through the heart of an enemy? figuratively, of course. These new worlds were vibrant and made so by the characters and friends that inhabited them. My life had gone from this mundane experience that massively contributed to suffering from depression, to this open doorway into worlds that delighted and astounded me.  And all because I walked past a window and bought something to make myself happy.

In the 17 years since, I’ve worked hard to build a life around games, and I’m very lucky to have done so. There have been hard times along the way, and I’ve bought things to make myself happy, even recently. But I have a wonderfully supportive family around me, I have the gaming community, the industry as a whole, and I count my blessings every day. There are others that haven’t had it as easy as I have or been as lucky as I have; but my belief is that games can be a force for good. I mean, Halo changed my life once, and across the world there’s someone ready to have their lives changed too.

I hope it happens more often than we think.

Skills utilised:
Stories

Depression Quest

Depression Quest is an interactive fiction game where you play as someone living with depression. You are given a series of everyday life events and have to attempt to manage your illness, relationships, job, and possible treatment.

This game aims to show other sufferers of depression that they are not alone in their feelings, and to illustrate to people who may not understand the illness the depths of what it can do to people.

Over 40k words of interactive fiction.
Playthroughs are short enough to be done in one day, but long enough for the game to have gotten it’s point across.

About 150 unique encounters.
Based on your depression levels, different choices open and close off to you.

Content generated based on your decisions.
The choices you make have a real effect on how your playthrough turns out.

Multiple endings.
See how your choices affected the game’s world, and how well you’ve managed your depression.

Audio and visuals react to your depression.
Listen as the music gets glitchier and see how much stronger the static gets. Watch the color get sucked out of how you see the world.

 

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

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