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Life Is Strange True Colors

The award-winning Life is Strange is back with Life Is Strange: True Colors. Players take on the role of Alex Chen who has long suppressed her “Curse”: the ability to experience, absorb and manipulate the strong emotions of others, which she sees as blazing, colored auras.

After Alex’s brother dies in a mysterious accident, she must embrace her explosive power to find the truth and finally uncover the dark secrets buried by a small town. Players will also experience Alex descending into the orbit of violent Anger, world-altering Sadness, and irrepressible Fear. As she probes the mysteries of Haven Springs, revealing its secrets, Alex will discover moments of quiet transcendence – but also be drawn into moments of sudden, bloody violence – with lasting consequences.

The game also features strong language, drug references, some suggestive themes, and the use of alcohol.

The Life is Strange franchise has been a haven (no pun intended) for a number of gamers, especially those from the LGBTQIA+ community, and True Colors is no exception. Characters like Alex and Steph have inspired many to embrace their identity and who they are, and we’re consistently in awe of the impact this series has had on people’s mental health.

Features:

  • A heartfelt story about uncovering what happened to Alex’s brother.
  • Actions have consequences, the story will evolve with your choices.
  • Explore the town of Haven Springs and find out what deep dark secrets lie within.

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

‘The Beautiful Optimism of Horizon’ by Harry Stainer

Sometimes I think the future is a self-fulfilling prophecy, when the media you’re consuming is constantly full of negative news stories and relentless post-apocalyptic landscapes it’s very easy to see why we often feel like the world around us is overwhelming.

Not that the post-apocalypse can’t be fun; I spent numerous hours roaming the wasteland in Fallout 3 & The Last of Us is my favourite game ever. It’s just when you’re constantly told the world is going to end it sometimes feels like it actually is.

I often long for the optimism of the past where a man was going to walk on the moon and our future contained flying cars – a past in which we saw the best of humanity ahead of us. However, when a franchise like Horizon comes along it’s a reassuring breath of fresh air to know that optimism is alive and used to tell a beautiful, hopeful story.

The world of Horizon is a post-apocalypse but not one we’ve come to expect – instead of a desolate wasteland we are given a flourishing overgrown world full of greenery. The creatures of this world are hostile, yes, but there’s something majestic and stunning about them and how they are so at one with the environment. Furthermore, the various tribes in Horizon don’t wear rust army gear or have makeshift guns; they each have individual cultures and with them stunning, colourful traditional clothes that pop and make it easy to tell the separate tribes from one another. Horizon presents the end of the world as vibrant and full of beauty.

But the true beauty of Horizon comes from its protagonist, Aloy, who is a ball of optimism and a character with a level of agency which is rarely seen. Aloy’s confidence in what she is doing is refreshing, especially as the character driving the story, but she also instils confidence in the player. Her constant willingness and determination is a constant reminder that we are capable. This extends to the combat too as Aloy will mutter multiple words of self-encouragement, even against overwhelming odds.

Furthermore, Aloy has a general sense of what it is to do good and help others. In one mission of Forbidden West, you help people from a town that has been overrun by water, not because it furthers the plot but because it’s what is in line with what Aloy would do as a character. In another, you help your companion Alva find some historical tech and while doing so you help boost her confidence. Playing missions that don’t necessarily progress the story but instead see you have a positive influence on the environment and people around you presents a world that is kind despite its hardships and offers a unique moment of beauty among the ruins.


Highlighting Aloy’s impact further, we can look at one of Forbidden West’s key supporting characters, Beta. When we meet Beta she is experiencing crippling anxiety and fear because of her traumatic upbringing early in the narrative; we even see her experiencing panic attacks. Beta is an instantly empathetic person and it would be very easy to see that this character is past a point of return in other narratives. However, through the support of Aloy, who develops a strong relationship with Beta, she develops confidence over the course of the story and becomes a courageous character that believes in Aloy’s mission. By the end of the story Beta starts to have faith in Aloy’s optimism that the world can actually change for the better. Showcasing this kind of journey within a character is a great example of how Aloy’s outlook extends to those around her.

Horizon often feels like a love letter to humanity – it views humans as these wonderful beings that are capable of great things. The game often highlights the best of humanity within it’s beautifully diverse characters. For example, Varl exhibits emotional maturity and patience, Erend demonstrates loyalty and Alva showcases intelligence. All these people from vastly different backgrounds, come together for a cause so much larger than themselves. Yes, Horizon is about survival but this cast of characters represents the beauty of seeing the best in each other and accepting one another despite differences in outlook, culture or ideas.

Games like this make me feel hopeful for the future. When things get rough it’s okay to feel overwhelmed but Horizon is a testament to positivity and the power of being able to lift people up and make them feel optimistic about what is to come. It also makes me think of my own outlook of the world and how individuals can be a force for positive change in a world that can sometimes focus on the negative. We may be past the optimism of having a future with flying cars and the space race, but maybe going forward our ideas about post-apocalyptic fiction will change. Perhaps our stories will take cues from Aloy’s story highlighting that ‘the end’ doesn’t have to be a literal end and devoid of a future.


At one point in Zero Dawn, a character named Sylens describes his and Aloy’s very existence as a ‘monument to oblivion’ to which Aloy replies ‘Not oblivion, Sylens. Hope’.

In a world where a lot of what we consume contains the idea of oblivion, it’s nice to be able to see a world with a lot of hope.

Skills utilised:
News

Hub World: Stress

We asked our wonderful community the ways that they handle stress, and we had a lot of responses!

We split them up into three key areas; how to manage stress, which games we use to de-stress, and how we support each other. Everyone handles stress in their own way, so we wanted to explore the vast number of ways we can practice self-care when our stress levels soar. Perhaps you might find a new strategy to try!

 

How do you manage your stress levels?

 

“As a completionist, having goals to work towards with clear steps helps me sort through internalised stress, such as things in real life becoming hectic and unplanned. Despite the occasional steep challenge, games with fun trophies and objectives offer a satisfying conclusion like checking off a to-do list.” – Ruby Modica

“When I feel really stressed I head off into a room alone and listen to some music. I find that music can change your mood so if you want to destress then listen to some chill music and beats.” – Derek

“I tend to use mindfulness techniques to assess stressful situations and act accordingly. It could be simply by using immediate stress busting methods like deep breathing, visualisation and grounding or just removing myself from the situation altogether to diffuse my mind with a distraction like…cleaning the kitchen!” – Sally Morgan-Moore

“I’ve been walking along the seafront listening to the sounds of the waves, and taking in the sea air. Just doing any of these, helps me manage my stress levels, keeping me relaxed.” – SithGamiing

“I manage stress levels by engaging whole-heartedly in my life outside of work. Putting in effort to make room for life outside of your work, even when it’s busy and stressful (believe me) is incredibly important.” – Adam Clarke

“I like having a plan and taking action with it. Without those two things, its easy to become overwhelmed, especially on “off” days. Knowing what I have control over and also the things I don’t have control over is key.” – Andrew Pappas

“I really try to take even 10 minutes outside a day, walking round the garden or just grounding myself and being in that moment. Something new I’m trying is if I know the cause of the stress, especially in work, I will set that task aside and go back to it.” – Charlotte Callister

“Writing things down helps a lot. If it’s workload related, I tend to note a list of things I’ve achieved during the day and not just what I’ve got left to do. This has helped hugely over the years. In general though, I just tend to talk to anyone who is willing to listen. They say a problem shared is a problem halved and I’ve found this to be the case over the years. Particularly during COVID times.” – Antonela Pounder

“We all have our own hobbies to lift our spirits and each one can help us de-stress. However, the most important thing is communication. If we tell our loved ones, family members or friends that we’re not feeling ok, they just might give us the support we need or the space to breathe. Talking and being as open as possible can also lift a weight off our shoulders. Speaking about troubles can be challenging, but it can also be the best thing for our mental health.” – Richard Breslin

“I manage my stress by doing things such as gaming, watching movies and tv shows, and going to watch the football, I make time to do these things to help manage my stress levels. I also journal which helps to control the stress.” – AntarcticNinja

 

What games do you use to de-stress?

 

“I avoid the games that I know will get me annoyed and opt for something more relaxing. I go for games such as Stardew Valley, for me games like that where I can build, create a garden. But games like House Flipper also, I find if they’re relaxing and cheerful – they can help de-stress you.” – SithGamiing

“Different types of stress require different games. Being overworked with deadlines requires simple ‘checklist’ goals (examples include open world objective markers like inFamous, or challenge map settings such as Hitman), whereas anxiety and discomfort leads towards gaming nostalgia such as retro/artistic games (examples include ICO, Metal Gear Solid 1, Half Life 2, Portal).” – Ruby Modica
“Simulation games always help me escape from life stresses. Call me biased but there’s no greater “zone out” for me than escaping into the Galaxy of Elite Dangerous to revisit past discoveries or look to seek new ones. The stillness of space! Can’t beat it.” – Sally Morgan-Moore

“If I’m feeling agitated and worked up, some brutal button bashing with some classic God of War or Devil May Cry might do the trick. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I might immerse myself in an expansive open world with plenty of fun side activities such as Yakuza. If I need to focus and be totally distracted, I might play Gran Turismo7 which would require my 100% attention without a second thought of anything else. Perhaps I just need to kick back and relax, which is why Unpacking is my perfect yen game. At the end of the day, we all come from diverse backgrounds and have different tastes. So, finding the kind of game that will benefit us most in our time of need can go a long way in relieving some stress to help lift our spirits.” – Richard Breslin

“Puzzle games, I love to take my mind away from the stresses by having to think about next moves in a game, really helps to change my thought patterns” – Tracy Clark

“Open world games are my go to a lot of the time. They’re so powerful in that they allow us to explore a world so vastly different to our own, with so much freedom. They provide an amazing distraction. For me, games like DEATH STRANDING and Horizon: Forbidden West help a lot to de-stress.” – Antonela Pounder

“To destress, I LOVE playing nonograms and logic games. I have dozens of nonogram apps on my phone and games like PictoPix on my computer. I also have some Minecraft servers that are available for some mindless tree chopping.” – Grace O’Malice

 

How do you support others during stressful times?

“I like to share mindfulness techniques I’ve picked up along the way as methods of stress management. Things like the STOP method or mindful breathing exercises to help people “in the moment” with stressful situations, or it could be something as simple as having a cup of tea and a chat to break things down and be a listening ear for them.” – Sally Morgan-Moore
“When friends are stressed out, it’s important to make a point that you can make time for them. Not just listening to them vent, but also suggesting spending time with them. Even small gestures like visiting them for an hour, going somewhere relaxing like a local park or cafe, or (with gamers) doing some casual multiplayer to suit their needs and take their minds off of the stressful triggers.” – Ruby Modica

“I reach out and suggest a break from what they are doing and have a coffee or chat over something that they really like.  Just to help them focus on something positive.” – Tracy Clark

“Listen to how they’re feeling, what they’re saying and what it is that’s making them feel stressed. Showing someone you’re there for them, if they need to talk – is one of the ways we can help others. But it’s important to note, we can’t force people to talk if they don’t want to. This will only make them feel more stressed, which will impact their mental health further.” – SithGamiing

“I usually send my friends so many memes or Tik Tok videos! I’m also really careful to let them know that I’m there to talk to, and thinking of them, but with no pressure for them to open up if they don’t want to.” – Charlotte Callister

“Offering them a distraction in some way, shape or form helps a lot. Whether this is grabbing a coffee with a friend / colleague, jumping on an online game together or just chatting on a call together. Something that gives others a brain break. In a workplace setting, 1 on 1 meetings are essential for checking in on the wellbeing of your staff. These check-ins give teams the opportunity to talk about anything and everything with someone in a position to potentially help. Just having someone ask you if you’re OK, can really help.” – Antonela Pounder

“To support other people when they’re stressed, I just try to be available. I know how incredibly relaxing it can be when someone lets you just vent for a moment, or even to just know they have someone who will always answer a text message or a phone call when they’re having a bad day.” – Grace O’Malice

Skills utilised:
News

Pause: Daily Mindfulness

Pause: Daily Mindfulness is a free self-help app that provides many mindfulness techniques that are best suited to the user.

Pause teaches techniques such as:

  • Finger Tai Chi helps you rest and recharge with mindful finger movements.
  • Mindful Walking, use walking to help with your mental health.
  • Breath will teach the user some breathing techniques using “belly breathing”.
  • Flow Timer, a mindful timer for meditation and work
  • Sleep, drift off to sleep with a mindful tapping exercise.
  • Lets Go discover your inner freedom
  • Resonance lets you play with singing bowls and create sand mandalas.

We believe this app can be really helpful to aid those who may need to learn mindfulness or practice mindfulness to relax and destress, the app is easy to download, simple to use and provides a very unique design to help aid the relaxation with its excellent sound, music and look.

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

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

Eliana Zebro and #AudioIndustryGame (Safe Space Podcast Season 1 Episode 9)

On this episode of Safe Space, Rosie is joined by Eliana Zebro, creator of the recently released #AudioIndustryGame and audio professional in media projects.
We discuss the motivations behind releasing the game, which tells the stories of marginalised gender folks and their experiences within the audio industry; including stories referencing discrimination and harrassment. 
Eliana discusses their personal experiences in working as a marginalised gendered person within the audio industry and how issues are rife across creative fields. We highlight the importance of being able to tell these stories to promote positive change and transparency to those who can push for improvement from a more privileged position.
Links:

 

Skills utilised:
News

Hymble Ventures

Hymble Ventures is a 2.5D sci-fantasy platform game about an insect-like alien on the autism spectrum. Players join Hymble on their adventure through Hymborgia, Eukaterra, to find and discover a mysteriously wandering maegent. Hymble Ventures features many environmental puzzles, metalhead creatures and special abilities based on autism hypersensitivities, converted into superpowers.

The core mechanics of Hymble Ventures are based on controlling the five senses (touch, taste, sight, smell, hear). For neurodiverse people, they can be hypersensitive to sensory information and may overreact to increasing stimuli. This autism trait is an inspiration to aspects of Hymble’s world such as quirky, organ-shaped berries that grant enhanced sight, or smell etc.
To hone in on the subject of autism and hypersensitivities, Hymble’s cartoonish and exaggerated character design consists of oversized melon bread antennae (or ears), and a large nose.

Features:

  • An array of puzzles that uses different senses
  • An experience to help others see how neurodiverse people feel every day
  • A wonderful cartoon art style

Hymble Ventures is currently in a testing phase and you can download it HERE. The team appreciate any bug reporting on the Itch.io page ready for Steam once the game is fully ready.

 

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

In Sound Mind

In Sound Mind is a psychological survival horror game developed by We Create Stuff and published by Modus Games.

In Sound Mind throws players into the shoes of Desmond Wales, a psychologist who has just awoken to find his town has flooded and a mysterious chemical looms around every corner. The narrative is an interesting one, a game that keeps you guessing throughout your playthrough. We believe that In Sound Mind belongs on the list due to the portrayal of each fear. While the game is a survival horror, it’s quite the experience getting to delve into each of these mysterious worlds to try to solve what is going on with Desmond, and what happened to his patients.

These worlds are so unique to each other, each with a very dark representation, from ghost-like entities to almost alien-like creatures, no world is the same, you must do what it takes to solve the mystery. Virginia the first patient struggles with social anxieties, Allen struggles with fear, Max has issues with his anger and Lucas’s PTSD was taking over his life. By solving the mysteries you can bring the patients and Desmond peace.

In Sound Mind boasts a mesmerising visual style with beautiful lighting effects. The game is dark, but it’s the chemical compound and the atmospheric lighting that is eye-catching. It also showcases a great soundtrack by Living Tombstone. With such a narrative-driven game, We Create Games have secured some brilliant voice acting talent that conveys the emotion in each of the patients and the fear in Desmond; the fear of not understanding how he got here and why.

Features

  • Interesting puzzles that blend in with patients fears & touch on mental health/illnesses
  • Creative boss fights
  • Beautiful graphics especially the lighting effects
  • A creative narrative that keeps you guessing

 

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Rainbow Billy: The Curse Of The Leviathan

Rainbow Billy: The Curse Of The Leviathan puts players into the shoes of Billy.

The day was a day like no other – everyone was happy, celebrating and being kind to one another. Positivity was in the air and nothing could ruin it until the Leviathan arrived. The Leviathan unleashes their evil powers and zaps all the colour, positivity and kindness from the world, leaving the fate of the world with you and your friends.

To restore and help your friends recover, you must talk and listen in a unique twist in turn-based combat: by talking and listening. This will restore them to their usual selves and in turn, they will help you on your quest.

It’s an imaginative way to teach players of all ages about empathy and understanding feelings, instilling methods to notice when their friends aren’t quite seeming themselves, as well as self awareness and reflection on their own mood.

Features

  • A wonderful story about friendship, positivity, empathy and understanding
  • A unique art style that is a joy to look at
  • A fun game for all ages that puts a spin on turn-based combat

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Delving Into Our Own Minds in Psychonauts 2

Psychonauts 2 players are loving the bizarre but wonderful world that Double Fine has created. Specifically, players are appreciating connecting to their own mental health experiences, and the strong advocation of healing within the game. Psychonauts 2 puts players in the shoes of Razputin, an ex-circus performer turned psychic spy part of the Psychonauts organisation.

The organisation is tasked with keeping an eye on the world and rescuing people’s minds by going into their heads and trying to fix the issue at hand, so that the person in question feels better. You’ll explore many different characters’ minds whilst also trying to find a mole within the organisation who is trying to bring back Maligula, a cruel hydrokinetic who the organisation took down 20 years ago after destroying the fictional city that Raz comes from. Along the way, you’ll find more about the organisation and its characters that we’ve come to know and love.

Psychonauts 2 is a 3-D platformer that offers a myriad of fun tasks to take on. While the main story mentioned above is key, there are also a lot of side quests for players to take on, and exploring the world of Psychonauts is nothing short of wonderful. Double Fine has created a world full of character and lore which makes checking out every little nook and cranny of the game feel very rewarding. Not only do players broaden their understanding about mental health and empathy, but get to check out some fantastic art design and creative ideas on the journey.

Mental health themes are so key to this game. After all, you’re tasked with delving into different people’s minds! In one instance, Razputin must go into the mind of Compton to help him with his performance anxiety. To do this, you enter a gameshow with some pretty horrifying puppets which represent the staff around the psychonauts HQ. In the show, you must cook some very bizarre meals by using the audience (who are ingredients) to make these dishes. The more you make, the harder it gets; but the better Compton feels.

Double Fine covered mental health themes in a very unique way. You are notified at the start of the sequel about the subjects it delves into, already signalling what is going to be explored, from trauma victims with PTSD and others with psychosis. This offers insight to those who might not fully understand the illnesses and what a person may feel like. The way Double Fine has used these subject matters in such a respectful way but also provided a way for everyone to tackle is downright wonderful. While mental health is becoming more understood, we have a way to go, but developers using imaginative ways to tell stories of relatable events in the mental health world is providing more with an understanding. This is especially inviting for the gamers who perhaps aren’t as interested in delving into video games that are purely mental health orientated and perhaps just feel like playing a quirky platformer. By putting the subject matter into an engaging storyline, it allows more subtle explorations into topics that many games don’t explore.

From the initial reviews, you can already tell that people are loving the game, not only because of its quirky ever-changing gameplay and style, but because of its relatable way of exploring mental health in more joyful and positive ways.

Safe In Our World has always recognised the power of video games and telling stories, which is echoed by our affiliates and our community. Psychonauts 2 manages to cover so many tough subject matters in such a unique way, which makes us hopeful that more developers will engage and experiment with mental health representation within their games in the future. The video games of today are constantly changing and evolving, and provide a platform for gamers to explore and reflect on their own mental health in an engaging way.

Skills utilised:
News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow the podcast on Twitter!

Skills utilised:
News

Lake

Set in the 1980’s, players take on the role of Meredith Weiss, a woman brought back home to help her father by taking his role as a postal worker while her family enjoys a holiday away.

Along the way, players will deliver packages and letters whilst discovering more about the locals and choosing how they interact with them.

As time passes, you start to realise how alive Lake feels, whilst the gameplay focuses on choosing your path, listening and communicating.

As the game moves forward, you see the effects of what you do on the people you talk to, you’ll also make some new relationships and possibly even a love interest along the way. We chose Lake because while playing through, it stood out as a game that taught you to sometimes stop, and listen, one small act of kindness can change a life and who knows where these little acts could take you. Empathy and understanding are key throughout the game, though it is all down to player-choice which makes the learning process a lot more interesting. When not talking to the locals, you’ll be delivering packages, mail and sometimes even other little tasks depending on how you communicate with certain people.

Features:

  • Explore a beautiful lakeside town and make friends with its inhabitants
  • Choose the way you live the life of Meredith Weiss
  • A fun and relaxing postal working job

 

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

“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

Psychonauts 2

Psychonauts 2 throws us back in Double Fine’s wonderful and weird world of Psychonauts. We delve back into the life of Raz who is now an intern at Psychonauts HQ.

Players will take a deep dive into other characters’ minds and discover all sorts of situations that simulate things many of us experience regularly.

Not is all as it seems at the HQ, not since the second in command, Forsythe, had taken over in the absence of Zanotto after his kidnapping. Raz and the gang will also explore and fix people’s minds by going into them using psychic powers.

This introduces the players to incredible worlds that are handled delicately and sensitively with respect, even containing a heartfelt warning message before you jump in warning players of the triggers and content.

The quirky and cartoon style comes to life with its unique art style, wonderfully gripping storyline and gameplay that keeps changing to keep the experience fresh. Psychonauts 2 belongs on our list for exploring difficult subjects in a heartfelt and respectful way, as well as being a fun 3D platformer allowing players to explore this wonderfully created world from Double Fine.

Features:

  • A fantastic story that centers around mental health
  • Unique art style
  • Ever-changing gameplay
  • Brilliant accessibility and customization

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Sightseeing in Spider-Man: how ditching web-slinging for walking photography saved my mental health during lockdown by Joe Donnelly

I crane my neck and stare in awe at the art deco skyscraper before me, 102 stories of limestone and granite towering over the busy New York City streets below. I’ve passed this building countless times before, granted, but from this angle – at ground-level, rubbing shoulders with thousands of pre-occupied pedestrians – there’s something so humbling about basking in its shadow.

Two streets over, I sense an armed robbery in progress but I ignore it. It’s my day off, I think to myself, before leaving this one to the boys and girls in blue. What I do instead is pull out my camera, take a snapshot and the read the following message as it flashes across my screen:

LANDMARK DISCOVERED 100 XP
Empire State Building
Midtown

For me, the in-game photography suite in Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man is second to none, making full use of its gorgeous scaled-down slant on the Big Apple. Since its PlayStation 4 release on September 18, 2018, and its Remastered iteration on PlayStation 5 in November last year, players have wowed with amateur galleries of Marvel’s favourite web-slinger perched upon the lightning rod of the Chrysler Building, dangling from the apex of the Washington Square Arch, and zipping around the sun-kissed Manhattan skyline, to name but a few of the game’s most commonly snapped photo-ops.

Throw the superhero caper’s comic book combat and high-altitude traversal into the mix and you have something special – to the point where there are few things more satisfying than capturing one of the eye watering beauty spots outlined above. Or a perfect slow motion roundhouse kick just as your foot connects with the jaw a faceless Kingpin goon. Or ticking off another of the game’s extensive list of ‘Landmark’ locations – a mix of real-world and fantastical sights, alike such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Wakanda Embassy and the Avengers Tower – before slapping on a hashtag and sharing the scene on social media.

With so much to see and do the scope for replayability in Spider-Man is huge, which is why it quickly became one of my favourite go-to games during the last year and-a-half of quarantine amid the ongoing global pandemic. Like so many people during the longest stretches of lockdown, my mental health suffered. On my darkest days, while struggling with the isolation of the “new normal”, I became seriously excited at the mere thought of visiting this virtual version of Manhattan as a break from an increasingly uncertain reality.

And it was during these process that I fell in love with a whole new way of playing. Equipped with only a camera, I set about completing the game’s ‘Landmark’ challenges exclusively on foot, taking snaps of the city’s most popular sights while soaking in its atmosphere at ground level – something often missed while traversing above.

Before unlocking fast-travel, swinging from building to building is the fastest way to get around in Spider-Man’s urban sandbox, so much so that it’s easy to forget the sprawling world below. During lockdown, at a time when holidays and real world exploration became impossible overnight, I delighted in exploring Spider-Man’s game world at a thoughtful pace, in essence guiding Peter Parker through an unorthodox, non-combative walking simulator, paying no mind to thwarting Doc Octopus in Story Mode or the dynamic crime set-pieces unfolding all around in Free Roam.

I’ve always loved the therapeutic elements of walking simulators – games such as Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Firewatch – whose expertly-paced narratives promote mindfulness and calmness; and I’ve always enjoyed playing games in entirely different ways as primarily intended, such as the real-world-aping properties which underpin Grand Theft Auto 5’s role-play scene.

Playing Spider-Man as a walking photography simulator, then, is hardly how Insomniac intended its larger than life action adventure game to played, but I nevertheless found myself enjoying it most while wandering around the streets of a world so rich in atmosphere, character and life as I played tourist in a digital city that never sleeps.

On the evening of Sunday, March 22, 2020, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnston addressed the nation on the telly and told us the country would enter lockdown the following day. If you were able to work from home, you were advised to do so. We were told to limit contact with others, to avoid cuddling and to wash our hands thoroughly while singing Happy Birthday. We were told to steer clear of public transport, and we were told to limit outside exercise to just one hour per day.

It was rubbish. But I had New York. I had Peter Parker, a camera, the Chrysler, the Flat Iron, Central Park and St Patrick’s Cathedral. I had the Empire State Building and the huge shadow it cast deep into the hustle and bustle of this make believe Fifth Avenue. I had a world whose rules remained the same when the real world around us was thrown into chaos.

If your mental health has suffered in the last 18 months, I hope that you’ve found the strength to talk to someone – a friend, a relative, a mental health professional or maybe even all three. If you’re not quite there yet, or maybe just want to lose yourself in a video game for a little while, I can’t recommend grabbing a camera, stepping out in your favourite Spidey suit and hitting the road on foot enough. 


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

Skills utilised:
News

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

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 allows players to fly some of the most notable aircraft from around the world in a complete photo-realistic representation of Earth. Whether you’re a casual flyer who is looking for some time in the clouds to find your own home, or a hardcore simulator player who wants that true to life pilot experience, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 has you covered.

This game might just be one of the most relaxing games up there (no pun intended). With the ability to fly to absolutely any location around the world, you can visit the Pyramids, explore some of the most tropical beaches in the world, or visit famous city landmarks. You can really turn this game into your experience and with live traffic and a live weather mode, you can experience what’s going on in the world right from your own home.

You can truly lose yourself in just flying from point A to B. We recommend sticking Spotify on in the background with our Safe In Our World playlists for an extra surreal experience.

Features:

  • Whether you want a casual fly or the true pilot experience, you choose your path
  • Fly to absolutely anywhere in the world, even your own home
  • Relax and watch the world go by, chase storms or just admire the forces of nature

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Roguelike Setbacks by Ben Huxley

After hearing so many good things about Supergiant’s Hades, I decided to give it a go, and, in doing so, dip my toes into a roguelike for the first time.

For those out of the know, a roguelike is a dungeon-crawler with a similar model to 1980’s Rogue; procedurally generated dungeons, a fantasy setting, permadeath (there’s a big debate about the specifics of the subgenre, but I’m not getting into that).

Initially, the permanent death feature put me off. For someone who loves games, I’m terrible at them. So terrible you’d curl your toes with anguish if you watched me play anything tougher than Animal Crossing. Starting over whenever I lost didn’t sound appealing; in most hack’n’slashers I need about ten shots at the first boss. Booting up Hades for my first crawl, I didn’t get very far (unsurprisingly). When the inevitable happened and I went back to the start, however, I was pleasantly surprised.

Evidently there’s a lot to learn from roguelikes, especially when it comes to positivity, mindset, and coping with setbacks. I want to talk about a few of those lessons. Parallels between videogames and life are often lazy platitudes of which, I’m sure, we’d all rather hear less. But hear me out.

I should briefly explain the loop and concept of Hades. Set in the world of Greek mythology, players take control of Zagreus, son of Hades, as he attempts to escape the underworld to join the gods of Olympus. The first we see of him; he’s jumping from his balcony to begin the arduous journey out of Hell. The gods of Olympus send weapons and powers to aid him; they’re evidently anticipating his arrival with warmth. When Zagreus is defeated, however, we’re not faced with a typical “game over” situation. Instead, our protagonist materialises in the house of Hades – the only home he’s ever known – to the jeers, taunts, praises, and encouragements of his eclectic household. His father pities him, but something his mother Nyx says stands out. She tells Zagreus, and by extension us: “Do not despair, child. Such setbacks are inevitable and may be overcome with effort, and with time.”

Hades’ permadeath mechanic isn’t a punishing feature to weed out the weak and reward the strong; it’s a reminder that failure can be the best thing to occur. At the risk of sounding like Oprah or Tim Robbins, I’ll provide a cheesy metaphor: failures are the rungs on the ladder to success. Every time Zagreus fails at his escape attempt, more of the story reveals itself to us. The conversations in the house of Hades are different every time we return; the more we lose, the more we learn about the world and Zagreus’ place in it.

This is why roguelikes are so popular. They’re never repetitive either, because of the procedurally generated stages. We can get used to the rhythms of the game, but it’ll be different every time. The joy of playing comes from starting again with a different tactic, more experience, and knowing we have a different adventure ahead.

There are plenty of setbacks in our lives that feel like starting from the beginning; I’ll call them roguelike setbacks. One such roguelike setback is falling off the metaphorical wagon. Someone might quit smoking for two months before having a stressful day at work, or letting loose at a party. Before they know it they’re half-way through a pack, and feel they’re back to square one. They may think that those smoke-free two months were all for nothing. Actually, the opposite is true.

If we reframe our thought process, we can look at it a different way. They went for two months without smoking. That may have been the longest they ever went without a cigarette – which in turn makes it the most progress they’ve ever made in their dungeon-crawl out of a smoking habit.

Hades’ loop demonstrates that an epic defeat is to be expected. It encourages failure because that’s the only way to learn. If you keep losing to the Hydra in Asphodel, then keep that in mind and think of a new tactic for when you get there. It’s the same if you only smoke when you’re stressed – keep that in mind, and have a tactic ready when a stressful situation arises.

There are plenty of roguelike setbacks; failing a test, losing a job, forgetting a skill, or simply losing motivation. After a defeat, Zagreus takes stock and talks to his friends and family, before setting off once more – often with the stoic words: “here I go again.” We can learn from him and do the same in our own roguelike setbacks. Regular failures are inevitable in our escape from hell, but with a little mental reframing we can see them in a positive light. It might not feel it at the time, but the bigger the setback, the wiser we are for our next run.


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

An Interview with Sketchbook Games on Lost Words: Beyond The Page

We sat down with the wonderful people at Sketchbook Games, who are #LevelUpMentalHealth Partners with Safe In Our World, to talk about Lost Words: Beyond The Page. Let’s take a little dive into the inspirations behind the game, and the deeper meanings embedded within the development.

 

The Interview

What were your inspirations behind Lost Words: Beyond The Page?
We took inspiration from films like The Labyrinth, Never Ending Story, A Monster Calls, games like Ori, Child of Light, Night in the Woods and a range or still images, music, adverts, videos and more! We try to draw inspiration from as a wide a pool as possible.

We thought that the interactive platforming diary moments were very unique, what was the thought process when deciding to go this route?
It all started as a mistake during a game jam which led me to me seeing the character stood on the sentence in the middle of the screen and I thought, “Hey, that’s really cool! I’ve not seen that before”, which led me to pivot and try it out.

How did you feel when developing Lost Words: Beyond The Page?
Lots of different ways over the course of development! Getting the opportunity to make our own game was very exciting but there were also lots of challenging moments and everything in between.

A story of Love and Loss can be difficult to get right, I personally felt that this story felt close to home and nailed every part of the process, how did you manage to represent grief so well?
Rhianna Pratchett wrote the game and drew from her own personal experiences, having experienced a lot of loss in her life over the last decade. The also asked the rest of team about their own experiences and everyone drew from those for their respective areas of the game.

The art and design are lovely, from the diary pages to the water-coloured fantasy adventure, what made you choose this style?
Lots of research and seeing what we thought would fit the game, character and narrative. Watercolour is a really beautiful style so it was a hope it would help the game to stand out well too.

What piece of advice would you give to developers that want to go out and make a game?
Get started! Staring is often the hardest bit. Then when you’re going you can improve, learn, iterate, test it out on people and keep doing all those things as you go.

What do you want people to take away from the experience of playing Lost Words: Beyond The Page?
We really wanted it to be a beautiful and moving, but ultimately uplifting experience, so we hope that’s what people feel!


 

Skills utilised:
News

Lost Words: Beyond The Page

Lost Words: Beyond The Page takes players on an emotional journey of love and loss. You play as Izzy, who’s grandma is unwell. Throughout the story, you’ll learn more via beautifully designed interactive diary entries. Players will also take part in a fantasy adventure written by Izzy with lots of personal choices to make along the way.

It tells the story of this particularly difficult part of life which comes when losing a loved one, but also reflects moments of hope and reflection on the happier memories you have. Modus Games have developed a title that is so utterly relatable when it comes to the process of knowing a loved one is unwell and all the emotions that come with it.

Lost Words: Beyond The Page is a charming, emotional and can hit very close to home for those who have recently experienced loss, but illustrates the tough subject of grief in a very respectful and impactful way.

Features –

  • A wonderfully handcrafted interactive journey
  • A story about love and loss that is respectful and impactful
  • An adventure game that is easy to play and fun to be a part of

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

MY.GAMES announces partnership with video games mental health charity Safe In Our World

The partnership will support a series of initiatives to create awareness for the charity and help gamers and game developers around the world access important mental health resources.

Global gaming brand MY.GAMES is delighted to announce that it is extending its mental health awareness initiative through a new partnership beginning today with Safe In Our World, the video games mental health charity.

After the charity’s successful fundraising drive Safer Together, during May’s Mental Health Awareness month, MY.GAMES was keen to pitch in to help the charity with its long-term objective; eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health to make it a natural topic of discussion and to promote the dialogue surrounding mental health so people are not afraid to reach out for help if they need to. 

Starting today, MY.GAMES is running a global advertising campaign across its mobile titles to create awareness for the charity and help gamers and game developers around the world access important mental health resources.

Leo Zullo, Chair and Trustee of Safe In Our World commented:  “The video games industry creates worlds for huge numbers of vulnerable people, and it is our duty to help and support them. We can reach them and share this message if we work together; and together, we can actually make a difference. Safe In Our World is the first step in these efforts, and we’re delighted with the response within the industry and from our partners, such as MY.GAMES, and individuals who are joining this initiative.”

Elena Grigoryan, CMO at MY.GAMES added: “Mental Health awareness is an important part of the MY.GAMES strategy for creating a safe and comfortable environment for everyone who loves games within our communities. We are glad to be supporting Safe In Our World’s activities and the important work the charity is doing. We want to help in any way we can to contribute to strengthening the knowledge around the subject of mental health and work together to open a dialogue around these topics – creating a safe space for people to reach out.”

Working hand in hand with companies promoting the conversation around mental health has been part of MY.GAMES mission for several years, particularly amid the global pandemic. This has included a study with the IDGA and Fair Play Alliance conducted in 2020 assessing how aware gamers are about mental health, and how often they experience problems related to it.  After the success of this initiative, MY.GAMES will also be facilitating a new anonymous research survey beginning in July to help Safe In Our World gather important information and data to help with their mission. Other aspects of the partnership will be announced soon.

CEO of Safe in our World, Dr. Gina Jackson OBE concluded by saying: “The main goal of Safe In Our World is to create and foster worldwide mental health awareness within the video game industry and beyond; to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health, to make it a natural topic of discussion, and to promote the dialogue surrounding mental health so people are not afraid to reach out for help if they need it. We feel that partnerships like these will be a step towards achieving this goal for the people within our games communities.”

 

 

 

Skills utilised:
News

Bump Galaxy: The Minecraft Server For Self Healing

We spoke to Bianca Carague, Social Designer & Researcher and creator of Bump Galaxy, a Minecraft Server built to support your mental health through the power of virtual spaces. 

What was the inspiration behind Bump Galaxy, and why did you decide on Minecraft as the medium to deliver it in? 

When I first started playing Minecraft, I was struck by the exploitative mechanisms behind most video games. I feel differently about it now, but at the time, it wasn’t intuitive for me to chop trees and turn cows into beef. When I first spawned in a forest in Minecraft, all ll I wanted to do was pet the fox before me. I was shocked to find that all I could do was kill it. I think that the way we’re taught to play has a lot to do with how we interact with one another in the physical world. I wondered if I could create my own alternate reality within Minecraft’s neoliberal worldmaking system that actually aligned with my values.

Bump Galaxy really just started out as an experiment. I use to practice Reiki (energy healing, for those that aren’t familiar) and tried doing sessions in a smaller Minecraft server called Portal’s Temple. I didn’t have a physical space to do it and lots of healers do it via distance anyway so I thought doing Reiki in a floating temple in the sky overlooking a lake and forest might be a more intimate way to do virtual care.

At some point before the COVID-19 pandemic, I connected with several different care practitioners (counselors, drama therapists, haptotherapists, etc.) who expressed the need to migrate their practices online. They were actively seeking ways to virtualize their practice but didn’t know how. I invited a few of them to visit the server and we grew it into what’s now Bump Galaxy that could accommodate more people and other forms of care. It was really more a matter of small, incremental insights rather than one big burst of inspiration.

I built Bump Galaxy on Minecraft simply because it’s the game that sparked my interest in game mechanics. In hindsight though, I’m glad that I built it there because it was really the quickest, cheapest and most accessible way to prototype and validate different game world therapies.


Would you tell us a little about the different areas within Bump Galaxy and their purposes?

Bump Galaxy has several shared landscapes designed for different types of care, from a meditation forest to an underwater temple designed for hypnotic visualizations. I call them Care Commons. New ones are created all the time, as I meet new people online who would like to collaborate and share their unique experiences in personal development, but I’ll mention a few:

The Meditation Forest is for breathing exercises and meditations that help with relaxation. Here, players can plant a tree, meditate until it grows and leave a message next to it for someone else to read. As people do this, the forest grows into a living, growing monument of the community’s collective wellbeing.

The Sand Dune Dreamscape is, as the name suggests, sand dunes where players can access guided meditations that help them reflect on their dreams and how they can use these insights to grow in their waking lives. It’s about helping people make sense of their dreams for themselves and build their intuitive muscles.

The Snowfield of (Self) Love is a place where players can reflect on and discuss love and relationships.

The Underwater Temple is about diving deep into oneself in order to heal. It’s also about visualizing joyful moments in times of despair.

In these Care Commons, players can engage independently, with friends or with mental health professionals for more formal therapy sessions. They can build on the landscape using resources they get from engaging in the world so that as the community grows, so does the landscape.


You’ve mentioned the use of live events within the server – tell us a bit more about how they work and what they consist of! 

We’ve had events such as a live virtual sound bath and guided meditation in our Symbiotic Jungle called ‘Mycelium to Dry Your Tears’. In an event like this, we would have a DJ or sound artist on the decks, high above a river. Floating just on the water is a meditation floor where the participants gather for the guided meditation. The meditation is about reflecting on our relationships beyond ourselves — with our environment and each other — on ecological solidarity. The meditation is then followed by some journaling, building on the landscape and overall good times.


Do you think this sort of idea could be replicated across other games? 

Definitely. The way I see it, there are so many tools and platforms that already exist. It’s just a matter of exploring new ways of using them.


We’re passionate about games that can do good, especially within the realms of mental health. How have you used real-life applications from mental health support services to embed within the game, and how important do you think that the elements of the game are in portraying to people who may not have had this type of experience before? 

In Bump Galaxy, we have a floating island that we use specifically for Drama Therapy. There, we’ve had workshops wherein a drama therapist would guide participants through using roleplay and improv as a means for social support. It’s difficult to organize these kinds of activities when people can’t go out, but we can do it in a game, even with people from other parts of the world. This type of social support is not only fun and interactive but surprisingly enlightening. It’s especially great for participants that wouldn’t otherwise feel comfortable trying it in person.

As for other Care Commons, the inspiration for the mechanics come from activities that I or visitors of Bump Galaxy have found helpful in real life. We turn these physical experiences and techniques into rituals that can be done in the game. In a virtual world, players are cognitively predisposed to (make) believe, much like when watching a play. The beauty of game world therapy is that it’s more engaging than other forms of virtual care.


Bump Galaxy Instagram

Bump Galaxy Website

Bump Galaxy Twitch

Skills utilised:
News

How to Combat Loneliness in a Sea of Solitude by Georgie Peru

Loneliness is a personal feeling, so everyone’s experience of loneliness will differ. Being alone doesn’t by proxy make you lonely; loneliness breeds from an emotional state of loss, whether that be loss of social contact, loss of a person, or feeling lost within yourself. 

Ironically, knowing that others in the big wide world that surrounds us are too feeling lonely, brings a sense of connection and togetherness. Exploring themes relating to loneliness and indulging in such scenarios in the form of video games can bring an overwhelming sense of relief. Relief that all of our journeys somehow coincide and offer hope, through understanding mental health in a relatable way and finding the light, even in the darkest of moments.

Sea of Solitude is a very personal game, developed by Jo-Mei Games, which takes you on a journey of loneliness. You play as a young woman called Kay; covered in black tendrils with eyes burning red like the sun, you have a deep feeling of loss, and that’s the thing, you are lost. Kay hits the nail on the head early on by saying “I’m still trying to piece it together. What is wrong with me? Where am I?”. 

It’s a very poignant position to be in; controlling a character whose deep-set loneliness has affected her physical appearance. Unraveling the narrative, you and Kay learn how the gnarly monsters in Sea of Solitude connect to people in her life or as manifestations of her internal battle of emotions that can be interpreted by the player.

As Kay, herself, is a monster, she is in a unique position where she can talk to other monsters. It’s soon revealed that the monsters in Sea of Solitude are experiencing their own issues. Being able to relate to someone (or something) else who is also going through the same struggles presents a sense of understanding, sharing pain to bridge a connection.

Just like in “real-life”, the monsters in the game start to regain parts of their humanity by opening up and talking about their pain. This kind of narrative displays the daily struggles of mental health and the realisation of catharsis when a person is able to open up about their pain of loneliness by talking to others and understanding that other people are going through a similar experience.

Cornelia Geppert, Creative Director and Writer of Sea of Solitude sends a message that shared pain can reduce loneliness. Geppert herself was experiencing one of the “loneliest points” of her life when she had the idea of the game. Sea of Solitude constantly reminds us that sharing our internal struggles and pain with others, or finding something we can relate to, can bring a sense of peace and serenity – where it be loneliness, depression, anxiety, or something else.

Loneliness can make you feel like you’re drowning, especially when you’re hit with obstacle after obstacle, and this is something else Sea of Solitude touches upon. Playing as Kay, it’s very much drummed into the character and the player that “if you don’t succeed, try, try again”. If you’re unable to overcome an obstacle, Kay stands back up a few seconds before the point she failed, allowing you to easily try again without going through more pain and suffering.

There will always be bumps in the road, but the beauty of what Sea of Solitude teaches us is that everything can be overcome, as long as you keep trying at your own pace. All you can do is try, and eventually, you will succeed. Whilst Sea of Solitude is a game about loneliness, it shows us that loneliness and other mental health issues can be combatted by facing them head-on; by relating to other people, or scenarios that allow us to share a mutual pain. It shows us that we are even more connected than we ever thought we were.

Yes, there will be times where we feel like we’re drowning, and just as we start to paddle and keep our heads above water, our boat capsizes again and again. But above all, the darkness that loneliness brings will always shed light – there is always hope that we can uncover in metaphors, in games, and in life.


Georgie Peru’s Muckrack

Georgie is a bright, friendly and outgoing person. She is a highly analytical and technical individual who has a passion and the right mind-set for thought-provoking work, particularly focusing on content writing and web writing.

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Covid 19, News

Genetic Haemochromatosis & Music Escapism by Steven Coltart

Across 2016-2017, I worked as Audio Lead on ‘Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier’.  A massive personal undertaking, and a project I am still especially proud of for a number of reasons.

I was individually responsible for not only composing the soundtrack, but also the implementation of these assets within Unreal.  This allowed me to really shape the music across a large number of choice based pathways, using a bespoke UE4 system.  Additionally, for the majority of the project I was sound designer too (Calum Grant later joining me who played a huge part, an ex-student of mine – more to come on my role in education later).