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LGBTQIA+ Characters In Video Games: A Spotlight

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

Life Is Strange – Alex & Steph

screenshots of steph gingrich from True Colours

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

 

The Last Of Us – Ellie, Riley, Lev

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

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

 

The Outer Worlds

Photo from The Verge

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

 

Tell Me Why

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

 

Technobabylon

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

 

Mass Effect

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

 

Dragon Age

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

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

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

Skills utilised:
News

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

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.

Skills utilised:
Covid 19, News

An Interview With Joe Donnelly, Author of Checkpoint

We were delighted to interview Joe Donnelly, who is the author of Checkpoint, which explores how video games can contribute positively to our mental health through personal journeys, discussions and interviews. Safe In Our World was able to be a part of Checkpoint, through an interview between Joe and Leo Zullo, our Co-Founder and Chairperson.

The Interview

 

The book begins by telling the story about your uncle, Jim. Do you have any words on how to cope with loss, for readers who might be suffering the same thing?

This is sort of stating the obvious, but loss is such a personal and idiosyncratic experience, so I think the first piece of advice I could ever offer anyone is: do not compare yourself with anyone else. Your feelings are your feelings, which is something worth remembering and reminding yourself of in the wake of a loved one’s passing. I’ve lost a few loved ones in my life, but the nature of my uncle Jim’s is the hardest I’ve faced. With the virtue of hindsight, I’d say: know that it’s okay for things not to make sense, especially in the early stages of the grieving process. Suicide is so confusing and in its aftermath it’s natural to consider the ‘what if’ elements – what if they’d spoken out, what if I could have done more, what if X, Y and Z had or hadn’t happened etc. Let yourself have these thoughts, process them, don’t feel guilty about having them, but try not to obsess over them as doing so can be unhealthy long term. Talking to those around you is key in coping with loss, letting people know where your head is at, and what you might do to overcome your lows whenever you’re ready to do so. Disregard any notions of British stiff upper-lip-ness and get talking – speaking from experience, keeping regular dialogues with family and friends helped me so, so much.


Within the book, you explore the mechanics of permadeaths in games, and whether these can broaden our perception of loss within real life. Do you feel as though games have broadened your perception of permanence? How else do you think game mechanics can teach us about real-life scenarios and obstacles?

Games have absolutely broadened my perception of permanence, and not just from games which explicitly tackle themes of mental health and mental illness – such as Actual Sunlight (Will O’Neill) which deals with permanence as it relates to suicidal thoughts; Neverending Nightmares which explores permanence through the lens of the developer’s (Matt Gilgenbach) OCD; and Papo & Yo which tackles alcoholism and the enduring nature of addiction, to name but a few. Genre games which include permadeath – Darkest Dungeon, The Long Dark, Spelunky, XCOM 2 – force you to consider every move, every decision and every action, in the same way we do in real life. When writing Checkpoint I heard an analogy tied to both this and player agency that said: when we play games, we put ourselves into the player’s shoes. We don’t say Mario died, for example, we say I or we died. I think that can speak directly to our understanding of permanence and player agency both in-game and in the real world.


Your book, and a lot of other people have stressed the call for more research within the sphere of gaming and mental health. What questions would you be interested in exploring through research of this nature?

As outlined in Checkpoint, I’m by no means a mental health professional, but I’d like to see more studies on what we can learn about mental health through the lens of gaming. Be that from indie games which explore suicide, depression and anxiety on a more explicit level, to the potential benefits of socialising in games like Minecraft, GTA 5, Fortnite, Sea of Thieves and The Sims. I’d like to see more studies on how overcoming challenges and obstacles in games like Dark Souls can improve our sense of worth, and, looking back to question two, how permadeath games can help us appreciate permanence in reality more than we already do. There are a number of studies out there already which are scratching the surface on all of the above, but I’d love to see some real deep dives into the process, with more empirical data (as much as this is possible) and case studies relevant to games from different genres, with different mechanics and with varying budgets.


For the benefit of those who have not read Checkpoint, what made you decide to write a book on mental health and video games?

I decided to write Checkpoint as a means of telling my own mental health journey following my uncle’s suicide in 2008. At the time, I was working as a plumber and gasfitter, and, as a lifelong gamer, I threw myself into my hobby as a means of escaping the harshness of the reality around me at the time. As a result of my uncle’s death, my own mental health spiralled and, after travelling to Australia for a couple of years, I returned to find my mental health at its worst. Between times, I pursued a degree in journalism, and specialised in writing about video games for a number of mainstream and specialist publications, and ultimately wrote a monthly column on games and mental health for VICE. During this time, I discovered a number of games which tackled themes of mental health head-on (including the ones noted above), and, through playing them, sought professional help for my own state of mind. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and have been on a course of daily medication for the last several years. After my VICE work was discontinued, I felt I had more to say about games, mental health, my own journey and the integral role video games played throughout. I pitched my idea for a narrative nonfiction memoir to Edinburgh-based publisher 404 Ink, and I was delighted when they agreed to take me on.


There are multiple testaments from different people, each with their own compelling stories behind how video games have helped their mental health. Do you feel there is a sense of community around this shared experience?

Definitely, and I think that’s the essence of Checkpoint: gaming is so often a shared experience, and the same should apply to mental health discourse. Before writing the book, I was very clear that I wanted to include stories from other players and gaming enthusiasts, and had envisioned a single chapter dedicated to their tales. It was, however, my publisher 404 Ink who suggested we intersperse the stories throughout, and I’m so glad they did – I think it works really well in not only breaking up my narrative but also highlighting how common and relatable mental health issues are, both big and small. I’ve had some lovely and encouraging feedback since publication, including shared stories, which again, I believe, underscores the importance of the book’s message.


What is the main take-home that you’d want your readers to come away with after reading Checkpoint?

Further to question four, I wanted to tell a story which was relatable. Again, everyone’s mental health journey is unique to them, but there was always going to be similarities or parts which overlap. I wanted to illustrate the power of video games as a storytelling tool and how the interactive and persuasive nature of the medium leaves it uniquely placed to inform and educate. The take home message, then, isn’t necessarily about mental health per se, it’s about broadening our understanding of video games and their place in important discussions.

 

You can find Joe Donnelly on Twitter 

You can purchase Checkpoint at 404Ink

Press Kit for Checkpoint

Skills utilised:
News

Hub World – Change

Hub World – Change (March)

Welcome back to Hub World!

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

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

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

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

Sarah Sorrell

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

Sarah Sorrell

Rosie Taylor

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

Jake Smith 

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

Amber Elphick

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

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

DJPaultjeD

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

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

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

Twitter.

Skills utilised:
News

Hub World – Motivation

Hub World – Motivation (February)

Welcome back to Hub World!

This month, we turned the Safe In Our World spotlight on to the topic of motivation. What strikes me most about the word ‘motivation’ is that it can carry so many different meanings, depending on the individual and what it means to them to be motivated. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of motivation? Is it tied to your career, the day-to-day, or maybe your social life? Ultimately, motivation is a constant – it’s what drives us to do pretty much anything. But, because everyone views motivation differently, it can be difficult to gauge or feel a sense of motivation if your view is based on another persons perceived success (as a result of seemingly limitless motivation juice).

Motivation is not directly tied to material success – we should congratulate ourselves more for the little things. You got out of bed today? Great! You spent some time with friends or loved ones? Amazing! If you can keep going through the day-to-day, no matter how mundane the task, you are motivated by something.

To get myself motivated, I try and immerse myself as much as possible in something – anything that drives my interest and will feed into other areas of my life, because it makes me happy to do so. Be that playing through Persona 5 Strikers, which is taking me on a wonderfully vibrant tour of Japan, or immersing myself in Final Fantasy XIV Online in order to fuel my passion at work.

Let’s take a look at all of the different ways other members of the Safe In Our World community keep themselves, and each other, motivated!

Antonela Pounder

Over the past year, keeping the mind active and staying motivated has been more important than ever. I’ve spent my spare time looking for ways to improve in my career, engaged in arts and crafts, had regular online gaming sessions with friends, set DIY projects (even if it’s only a small project to rearrange the stuff in our house) and began planning future trips for when we can travel the world safely again. These might be small things, but they have really helped to keep me motivated over the past 11 months.

Richard Lee Breslin

It can be difficult to keep yourself motivated at times and I can forget how those around me offer inspiration on a daily basis.

Whether it’s family or friends, sometimes it can be forgotten that you have people who would love the world for you if they could. Sometimes it can be easy to take that love for granted and I’ve been guilty of that myself.

Whether it’s loved ones, a friend that you game with, or a social media buddy. Inspiration and motivation can often be right under our noses, even if we don’t know it. Sometimes I have to take a step back to realise how amazing family and friends can be.

Sarah Sorrell

So staying motivated whilst working from home all day everyday is a challenge. I find little rewards really help me, for example after a certain amount of work that I need to get done I treat myself to 10-15 minutes of selfcare and do something I enjoy. This could be painting my nails, reading a few pages of my book, or phoning a friend just to escape for few minutes and re-charge my batteries. Especially in the winter, the days are long so it’s important to break them down into manageable sections and celebrate what you have achieved each day – that may be something big or small, or just even getting though the day.

Sarah Sorrell

Rosie Taylor

I’ve found that my motivation has been a rollercoaster throughout the pandemic, so I try to work with what I’ve got. Surrounding myself with positive and encouraging people has helped me find my own ways to bring myself out of a motivation-less hole. The main thing I do is try to set lots of small easy goals, rather than big ones; breaking down big tasks makes me feel more accomplished and means I can celebrate little victories, which spur me on to keep going.

 

Matt Murphy

I was a child of the ZX Spectrum era, and so Way of the Exploding Fist and Saboteur were my Persona 5 Strikers and Dying Light 2, as I saved my pocket money to buy the latest cassette games.  But my love for games never waned over the years even if my access did, as work and now kids became my primary focus.  I have a son who is 5 and a daughter aged 3, and so they aren’t quite ready to outwit mummy and daddy at Among Us just yet.  But I’ve started to use video games as another way to have fun with my children during lockdown at the weekend when we have a spare hour – especially given the creative challenges facing the social secretary for two small children on a Saturday!  Yeah it’s not the latest AAA, but my son loves it when we both play the Lego Movie game together.  It focuses him on teamwork, fine motor skills, problem solving and the fact that you can’t always win – a pretty cool life lesson if you ask me.  It’s great for our souls in these stressful times and as long as he can be Emmet then everything is awesome.


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

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

Twitter.

Skills utilised:
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Hub World – Loneliness

Hub World – Loneliness (January)

Welcome to Hub World! Each month I will be discussing a topic we have been reflecting on throughout the month and how we, as a community, tackle it in our daily lives.

Loneliness and isolation is a complex feeling that comes in many forms, rather than it’s strongest association of being physically alone. You can feel lonely surrounded by hundreds of people, or even within a group of close friends and loved ones. This might be because you feel like you are unable to connect with those around you on an emotional level, which in turn leads to putting on a social mask in order to interact with others in the day to day – so as not to feel like a burden to those around you.

Last month at Safe In Our World, we thought about loneliness, the impact it has had on us and those around us and how we have tackled this feeling – particularly during the pandemic.

During this time, one of the most important things for me was to find a way to reconnect with my mum, who lives alone and has had a tough few months. When I was young, we used to play video games together – or she would watch and experience a game’s narrative with me. That’s something that we have been missing since we began living apart, so I hatched a plan to bring her back into that world via the Nintendo Switch and online play in Animal Crossing.

I spent several hours over Christmas setting up an ‘event space’ on my Animal Crossing Island, filled with presents and decorations. Once my mum had received the Switch, we spent time talking over the phone as she learned the basics of the game and after a couple of days I brought her to my island, where she was surprised with a variety of goodies! It’s one of the best decisions I have made during lockdown and it has been a joy to see her re-engage with games again and for us to be able to play together like we used to.

Antonela Pounder

Our ability to go wherever whenever has been taken away from all of us, which I’ve found brings about a feeling of loneliness, even if you don’t live alone. Forming new friendships with others through current friendships has been incredible. We basically now have our own online support bubble where we talk about anything and everything (but try to avoid COVID chat!) Calls almost every evening has helped hugely, whether this be on Discord or using PlayStation parties, as well as engaging in online multiplayer gaming sessions together. Regular communication has been key, whether it be with friends, family and/or colleagues.

Marie Shanley

As the world deals with loneliness caused by the isolation of the pandemic, the advice that I have given out over and over on the channel is to check out streaming platforms and try to connect with others who share your interests: whether that’s gaming, knitting, painting miniatures, or anything else really.

The best thing is seeing people find lasting friendships, as they are connecting with others through various platforms. My stream is centred around mental health discussions, so friendships are forged through helping to support others with similar mental health concerns.

Richard Lee Breslin

It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do and how many people you have around you. We can (and have) all experience loneliness in our lives.

Despite being a happily married man with a wonderful son, I can still feel lonely. I have a tendency to lock my troubles away in the back of my mind and my reluctance to talk can isolate me despite being surrounded by loving people. During times of the global pandemic we can be cut-off from seeing loved ones and friends. Thankfully we have modern day technology and social media at our call.

Social media has played a huge role in our lives pre-pandemic but now it’s more important than ever. If there are some positives taken from this pandemic, it’s made me cherish those smaller moments and I’ve even gained some great friends.

I know it may feel difficult at times not being with friends and loved ones, but if you can, don’t cut yourself off from your world. Let your loved ones and friends know that you’re thinking of them, because they’ll be feeling the same about you too.

Harry Burton

Loneliness can easily creep up on you, I have personally found that it can be the first step leading to a downward spiral – usually leading to less focus on caring for your own mental health and wellbeing needs.

Something which has helped me considerably is Digital Fitness through social media and applications such as Peloton and Nike. No matter your equipment or goals there are communities to help you stay focused, spread positivity and offer advice. Particularly on Facebook and Strava I have connected with new people through the shared vision of reaching our goals.

You’ll find people are eager to listen and support you through the pursuit of staying active!

The Demented Raven

Whenever some of my friends have had a rough day or feel alone, we decide to play video games to brighten up our day. One of these games is Overwatch and it always ends up with wholesome laughs, silliness, banter and pure joys of friendship. Video games have the power to really help people reach out and are a reminder that you’re never alone. 

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

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

Twitter.

Skills utilised:
Covid 19, News

Finding Your Own (Virtual) Happy Place by Ian Collen

It’s no big secret that video games can be great for offering a virtual retreat within which to interact and connect with others, and you’ll often find some familiar titles listed. However, there are also plenty of hugely rewarding experiences to be found outside the mainstream.

When it comes to those more popular examples, Animal Crossing: New Horizons may be 2020’s prime candidate, combining online friendship and cooperation in both single- and multiplayer modes. We could also point to the ever-popular open world creativity in Minecraft, setting up online fireteams in Call of Duty or to tackle Destiny 2’s latest raid, finding a like-minded community in the likes of FIFA or just having fun in cult hits such as Fall Guys or Among Us (and their respective Twitch feeds!).

However, in a year that has seen a lot more people finding themselves socially distanced from the outside world, many have sought solace with a few rather more unusual pet gaming projects – not only for simple entertainment or to answer that ‘what do I do now?’ question that often rears its head when you’re on your own and with lots of spare time, but also for an almost motivational sense of structure and purpose; albeit a largely flexible and personal one.

For example, while there are plenty of iOS and Android titles for your phone and tablet of choice there’s a lot to be said for those in the mould of The Simpsons: Tapped Out or SimCity BuildIt – games that involve setting objectives into motion that can take hours to complete, with other variants including the likes Township and Last Shelter: Survival. Once you’ve cleared the basics in these games you can find a nice routine in dipping in first thing in the morning and then later in the evening to gather up the rewards and set the next sequence of missions into motion – where both personal and community-driven goals help to combine for a series of ongoing small successes from one day to the next.

When it comes to finding a happy place for slightly longer experiences, that obviously falls down to personal preference and how much time you have on your hands. For example, sports fans could look to the likes of F1 2020, which can not only fill the hours if you commit to a full racing weekend set-up or shaving tenths off your lap times, but can also provide a great multiplayer community if you find a lobby of fierce-but-fair rivals to test yourself against.

Following the references to SimCity and finding comfort in those small victories from self-governed gaming, another such title that springs to mind is Cities Skylines. For those unfamiliar with the game, it’s a city-building title in a similar vein to SimCity and its ilk, which may be a few years old now but can still be an absorbing way to while away more an afternoon or ten.

Perhaps the main difference is that once you’ve got to grips with the basics (not putting water pumps downstream from sewage works etc) it essentially boils down to a traffic management game as you try to find the most efficient way to combine your residential, industrial and commercial demands. It’s not too complicated once you’ve clocked the fundamentals, nor is it overly punishing if you make any mistakes (there are few pitfalls that can’t be fixed!), and so you’re mostly free to play around with building some fun and potentially creative cityscape solutions.

It is a single-player game but, as is so often the case, the internet can be an invaluable community-driven resource to find working answers to your ongoing problems (be warned: you might find yourself watching way too many YouTube videos on road interchanges!) – but finding your own solutions, sometimes more through luck than judgement, can be a hugely rewarding way to keep your mind active and your brain in gear.

It might be a hard sell to an unknowing audience, but there’s a heart-warming joy to be found in hooking up both a passenger train and cargo transport network through a series of raised roundabouts that somehow flow seamlessly around the city (your own ‘Isolation Station’ as Bob Mortimer’s Train Guy might call it). Or maybe you just throw down a crazy one-way street that runs over two bridges and underneath a highway as a last-gasp ‘why not?’ solution to a gridlock that’s stagnating your city’s development – and it changes everything. Who knew traffic management could feel so good?!!

In the absence of a more conventional sense of structure or routine which may otherwise come from a direct connection to the outside world, finding one or two games that scratch your own individual itches in these difficult times can add a small sense of purpose or control over your day-to-day life – even if trying to justify to someone else that you’ve had a busy and productive day might be a stretch! Regardless, simply finding that happy gaming place and letting it play out on your own terms can be as satisfying as it can be rewarding for your self-esteem.

Who knows? Maybe each morning you’ll crack your head off the pillow to dig out your phone and harvest a few crops, kill some zombies and then set a few things in motion to catch-up on later in the day (adding a few ‘to do’ items to your diary based on when their respective timers end). And then the answer to that ‘what do I do now?’ question could well be: ‘oh yeah, I was going to build a bridge across to that island, which I can then turn it into a tourist resort and hook up a passenger station to the train line like this and then run a connecting road to the distant highway like that…’.

Of course, the seemingly mundane world of traffic management in Cities Skylines isn’t going to float everyone’s boat. Perhaps you’re more of a survival fan looking to face off against dinosaurs in Ark: Survival Evolved, or happier simply playing Scrabble with a few strangers on your laptop, or maybe shooting them in Fortnite… The point is that there’s a place in the gaming world for everyone to find a second home (and a third, fourth…) to escape into and unwind in on their own terms.

It needn’t be in the same ‘cool’ or popular titles that you’ll see splashed all over your social media feed (Cyberpunk 2077 anyone?), or even in a dedicated online or multiplayer game that provides an obvious connection to others. Sometimes it can be found in a very personal and often unique world, but one that can be grown and expressed through shared ideas and experiences – and one you’ll be rewarded by with every small victory that you’ll encounter along the way.


 

Ian Collen is a writer and editor with more than 20 years experience – with well over half of that spent working in videogames. He’s worked on the likes of XBM, 360 Gamer (later known as One Gamer), and the innovative digital publication, Gamer Interactive. He also learned more about drones than he thought possible as editor of the self-explanatory Drone Magazine and is currently working as a freelancer.

 


 

Skills utilised:
Covid 19, 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

Turn Work Into Play: Safe in Our World Collaborates with Family Video Game Database

Safe in Our World have collaborated with Family Video Game Database to curate a list of games focused on the stresses of working within the gaming industry and how you can wind down.

Family Video Game Database is created by a small enthusiastic team of parents and carers. The database allows the user to filter by PEGI or ESRB rating, duration, genre, theme, platforms, number of players or even those that don’t have in-app purchases.

It also promotes inclusive games, by having built-in accessibility filters to allow for gamers who may have difficulties in using controls, reading or hearing.

The games in this list offer space to reflect and escape work for a while. But not only to get some distance, but to play something that shines a light on why we do what we do. Some address the world of work directly, while others enable us to consider our choices about how we spend our working hours.

Whether it’s escaping for a lunchtime walk with A Short Hike. Trying to manage crunch time with Going Under, or not succumbing to Tom Nook’s invitation for ever bigger mortgages in Animal Crossing, there are lots of games that can help us find some balance.

Other games, like Coffee Talk and Neo Cab help us consider the people we serve at work. This might be conversations with customers, but also the other people we work with in the office or workplace we find ourselves in. Like the game Good Job encourages us to do.

Then there are games that make us aware of our co-workers. Whether it’s collaborating to identify and store stock in Wilmot’s Warehouse or getting the furniture into the van neatly in Moving Out, how we work together and treat the people around us is important. 

The Games:

 

A Short Hike | Going Under | Animal Crossing | Neo Cab | Coffee Talk | Mini Motorways | Mini Metro

Wilmots Warehouse | Good Job  | Moving Out | Kind WordsPatterned 

View the list on the Family Video Game Database and explore more games.

View a full list of the related games and apps that Safe in Our World suggest here.

Skills utilised:
News

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