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Another Day, Another Interview

In this interview, Rosie catches up with Another Dollar Studios; a student game dev team from Falmouth University about their game ‘Another Day’.

The game was part of the Cornwall House exhibition during the G7 Summit in 2021, and portrays the daily struggle experienced by those living in isolation in a claustrophobic environment during lockdown while suffering from depression and anxiety.

 

What were the inspirations behind this storyline?

 

Another Day was a deeply personal project for much of the team. Being students ourselves, and some of us having our own complex histories with mental health, we put a lot of ourselves into the project. The result is an amalgamation of our collective experience as students during nationwide lockdown.

 

The game for me (Rosie) perfectly illustrated what it was like having depression during the lockdown – how do you want players to perceive this game who may be less familiar with this feeling?

 

Thank you, we took a lot of time and effort to try to ensure that the experience felt right.

One thing the team identified during the idea development stage of the project was how difficult it can be for people who have not experienced depression to relate or empathise with those who are struggling, which can lead to them becoming isolated from friends, family members and colleagues when they really need their support.

Games are a powerful medium for storytelling and sharing experiences, arguably more than films or books, as players do not passively watch events, but actively take part – when reading a book or watching a film, we refer to the main character and their actions in the third person, however when playing a game we refer to the player character’s actions as if it was ourselves performing them. We want players to use the game as an educational tool to gain a better understanding of mental illness and what it can look like when someone is struggling.

We hope that this will be able to allow those who have not gone through the experience to feel empathy for people in their lives who may be going through a similar situation to the player character in Another Day. Although the experience may not be fully familiar to every player, small elements will be, even if it’s something as simple as struggling to complete a simple daily task.

We also want to emphasize the importance of reaching out to those who may be struggling. Depression and anxiety can be incredibly isolating, and popping round for a cup of tea, a phone call or even a text can make all the difference to those who are feeling low.

If someone feels they are able to better understand a loved one who has depression after playing this, it would be truly amazing.

 

Another Day made it feel tiring to get up and do the basics – a lot of people who experience poor mental health will likely relate to this – why did you choose to tell this story in this way?

 

We knew from the outset that if we were going to make a game tackling mental health, we wanted to reflect reality, and not glamorise the experience for the sake of making the game more ‘fun’. We decided to lean into the inherent strength of games, using deliberately tedious mechanics with a heavy amount of repetition which become increasingly arduous to convey the difficulty that mundane tasks present to people with depression.

In addition, as the in game week progresses the player character’s self-talk becomes increasingly negative regardless of the player’s efforts to choose the more positive dialogue options. Dialogue branches depending on the selected options, but will always end up in the same place. This lack of agency was a deliberate choice to represent how oppressive mental illness (in particular intrusive thoughts) can be, and how difficult it can be to break free from the cycle of negative self-talk.

This focus on everyday tasks emulating a real world scenario helped to maintain the relatability of Another Day. We hope that those who have struggled with their mental health may find it validating to see a literal representation of their struggles, while those who have not experienced mental illness may understand how overwhelming and exhausting simple tasks such as brushing your teeth can become.

 

What were your biggest challenges and successes in creating a game that touches on mental health?

 

When engaging with any sensitive topic, it is incredibly important that delicacy and compassion are your primary tools in representation. Certainly, there were times we wanted to add in features or mechanics that, while sounding good on paper, would have likely detracted from the overall message we wanted to deliver.

Working closely as a team to ensure that all elements of the game reflected the experience that we wanted to create, as well as discussing our personal experiences and conducting extensive research and QA testing helped to ensure that Another Day represented depression and anxiety as accurately and respectfully as possible.

In addition, protecting the mental health of our players was important to us, and it was crucial that we made sure that the game’s trigger warnings were well written and clearly visible on our page, to ensure that players are able to make an informed decision before playing.

Protecting the mental health of the team was also highly important, especially as for many of us the game reflected personal experiences. The team made an effort to look out for and support each other, and in addition to holding daily team meetings to check in with each other, we held regular online game nights where we could chat, bond and let of some steam without the pressures of work.

Another challenge was maintaining a balance between it being a video game and a piece of educational media. Another Day was never intended to be a fun game, but a certain level of engagement needed to be attained so a player would not lose interest while playing. We tried to achieve this through an engaging narrative, and through the collectable books and games that the player can find around the apartment, which provide light relief from the rest of the game.

As a team we feel that we managed to create engaging player experience that tells an earnest and authentic story about someone struggling with their mental health. We were incredibly happy with the feedback we received when we released the game, as many players informed us that the game had left a lasting impact on them, and that they felt that the game dealt with mental illness in a sensitive and accurate manner.

 "Your team is relying on you to get that done; how could you be so selfish?" There are two responses: "There's just not enough time." and "I know."

 

What would you like to see from other developers when addressing real-world problems?

 

When representing serious topics by gamifying them the difference between doing more harm than good and doing good is a serious grey area. While the intent can be to spread awareness for a topic, harm can still be done.

Accuracy and sensitivity is key. Perpetuating harmful stereotypes, spreading misinformation, insensitive depictions of real world issues and glorifying or romanticising serious situations adds to stigma and can be incredibly triggering for players facing these issues. While it is hard to foresee the impact a piece of media can have on its audience the most important thing any developer can do is put in the effort: do research, talk to people who have struggled, listen to professionals and above all else, include representation of serious topics to represent them and not for their shock value.

We would love to see more developers using the unique medium of videogames to raise awareness and shine a spotlight on issues that are in dire need of discussion. While there have been some stand-out successes, our industry has barely scratched the surface of what can be achieved in this area. We can’t wait to see what more talented developers are able to make in the coming years!

a screenshot of an email in-game from the company director asking about the player how they're doing, as they haven't been completing tasks assigned in their usual time.

 

What is your biggest take-home for players of Another Day?

 

For those who have gone through or are going through struggles; you are not alone. Although it can be tough, there are people who are there to help.

For people who haven’t experienced mental illness, hopefully they have a better understanding of what mental health can do, possible ways to identify those who may be struggling and ways they can help. – Jacob (Programmer)

To those who have experienced or are experiencing mental illness: I want you to know that you are not alone, and that your experiences are real and valid. It can be such an incredibly difficult, horrible space to be in, and it can feel like you may never get out, but things can and will get better. Be kind to yourself. Don’t suffer in silence because you are concerned about judgement or you are worried about being a burden to others – there are people who can help and support you.

To those who struggle with their mental health: I hope that this experience can be a cathartic, validating experience for you. You are not alone, and you are not weak. You are loved; sometimes you’ve just got to pick up that phone. – Samson (Designer)

To those who know someone who is struggling: Reach out and tell the person how much they mean to you. Listen to what they have to say. Be patient and understanding.

To everyone: Mental illness can happen to anyone, sometimes with no obvious reason. It can be incredibly challenging and debilitating, and it is important that we work together to break the stigma surrounding it, and look out for each other. – Katie (Writer)

Your struggles are valid. No matter what anyone says, including your own brain. If you are struggling, you deserve help and support. If you are struggling it is important that you seek help, and for people who know someone who may be struggling, it is beyond essential that you reach out to them. We’re all in this together. – Kim (Writer)

We’ve added Another Day to our list of mental health related games and apps.
Play Another Day.

A dim studio apartment, everything has a dull tint to it. There is a notepad in the corner with the task "Brush Teeth" on it.

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News

‘Music On, World… On’ – The Beautiful Connections Between Game Soundtracks and Mental Health by Ruby Modica

“But that isn’t REAL music!” says the impertinent individual to the gamer. “REAL music has words and progression, but all game music is tuneless and repetitive!”

These derisive comments are an occasional occurrence for those who make game soundtracks a prominent part of their music playlists. A possible argument could be made if we were still in the era of burgeoning console development but this is just not true anymore. In a modern world where soundtracks can be composed by one person or a full orchestra, to disregard all video game music as irrelevant is to overlook the immense beauty, creativity and power that comes with it.

To further that notion, video game music is similar in its creation to film soundtracks in that they are focused on being more than just a background musical accompaniment. Ideas of tone, rhythm, emotion, pace and feeling are thrown about, then put to construction with a multitude of instruments and motifs. When done well, it can make a scene become famous through pop-cultural osmosis, like the shrill strings from Psycho or the oscillating double bass accompanying the shark in Jaws. Gaming experiences, however, have the added immersion level of playing through the story in an active role as opposed to passively watching it. One genre of game that blurs the line between the two is the environmental narrative game (also known as the “walking simulator”).

What Remains of Edith Finch and Journey are prime examples of this genre’s storytelling being enhanced by the soundtrack. The former tells the tale of a girl reliving the memories of her family, with an unusual demise at every turn. Themes of mental health, family, loss, innocence and random chance all come into play, and this is expertly reflected by the variation of soundtracks. Compare and contrast the frisson tone from Journey, where the environment plays a larger role in the audiophilic creation, ranging from glistening deserts to deep dank caverns and elevating mountain vistas.

These games would still be playable without a soundtrack, but a player wouldn’t enjoy them in the same way. Carefully calibrated music is integral to the adventures a player undergoes; when listened to in isolation the same emotions and mental pictures are conjured up instantly, establishing a connection in the mind that can boost a positive mood or soothe a negative one. The beauty of having your mental state improved and strengthened from hearing a few musical pieces is the hallmark of why game music no longer fits under the outdated bracket of ‘tuneless and repetitive’.

Another facet of certain musical genres is their ability to help the mind focus and/or relax, a benefit to the neurotypical and neurodivergent alike. The ever-growing interest in lo-fi musicians and playlists is testament to how much of an audience there is for soft, unobtrusive, ambient sounds to accompany both study sessions and chilled moments. But it’s not just indie musicians that excel at these compositions! Plenty of games, be they best sellers or niche, come equipped with beautifully subdued and ambient soundtracks that even non-gamers may find themselves listening to.

 

Perhaps the best known example would be Minecraft, whose Alpha soundtrack is made up of beautiful piano ballads, soft synth pad effects and echoing strings. Composed by C418, very few tracks have any percussion or ‘beat’, allowing for the moods and textures conveyed to take pride of place in the player’s mind. Its inception has inspired many other world-building/simulation games to take on a similar creative outlook, one such example being Spiritfarer. The beautifully idyllic and dream-like state of exploration and play is perfectly encapsulated just by listening to the title track alone, with many more gems gradually unearthed as you play.

wooden robot in the grass

Beautiful soundtracks are not just in these limited genres, however. Plenty of critically acclaimed award-winning soundtracks cover the breadth of gaming history. The ICO trilogy balances puzzles and platforming with action, and the use of a grand symphony ensemble to accompany gameplay. Using your character in Shadow of the Colossus battling atop a mighty beast with the swelling of horns, pounding drums and an entire string symphony behind it has led to many gamers and non-gamers alike being spellbound. Many action RPGs like Skyrim or the ‘SoulsBorne’ series tend to vary each time depending on individual playstyles, but one thing that unites all gamers is the structural variation in music, often utilising every section of orchestras that would typically be seen used for classical performances. Even Super Smash Bros Ultimate brings together so many historical and beloved musical selections for old and young players alike.

This may seem like pandering to the younger generation, who are most commonly associated with the world of gaming. However, tuneful beauty can still be found via reminiscing of retro worlds amongst all the chiptune and Tetris soundalikes. Undertale’s liberal use of faux 8-bit pieces with recurring leitmotifs surrounding famous characters like Sans and Toriel evokes a similar sensation to the arcade games a lot of us gamers grew up with. Someone who’s never played the game before would be forgiven for thinking a battle theme came directly from the 1980s, which can in turn elicit a comforting sense of nostalgia for many. As such, when Undertale celebrated its 5th anniversary in 2020, the occasion was marked by a three-hour-long concert! Clearly, many fans of the game had been won over by the composition’s power, so there was no better way to pay tribute to a beloved game.

Start scratching away at the surface of game soundtracks and you’ll find a treasure trove of sounds that befit every mood, setting, temperament and activity you could wish for. Hearing the love that is put into the musical accompaniment for game worlds is a surefire delight to many, and remains as valid and uplifting a music choice as ever. Perhaps next time you catch someone deriding the game soundtrack you’re listening to, politely introducing them to it could open up a new world for them, both literally and musically.


Ruby Modica is an independent content creator, editor and writer.

She loves sharing insight into video games and discovering new things, with a desire to work in the media/gaming industry full time. Most days she is busy at her computer working on her next big project.

LinkTree 

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News

The University of Hertfordshire Composed Music Pieces Inspired By Safe In Our World

The University of Hertfordshire Music Composition Showcase for Safe In Our World – Mental Health Month 2021
With support from Game Audio and Media Composition Senior Lecturer/ Composer Steven Coltart, music students from the University of Hertfordshire undertook an optional live speed composing escapism brief inspired by ‘Safe in Our World’ for mental health awareness week 2021. 

Listen to 5 unique perspectives from students from the University of Herfordshire on escapism through music, and its links to mental health.

Track insights from some the composers in the showcase video:

Vas Achilleas, Breathe 

Breathe paints a picture of a melancholic piano motif, accompanied by hand-crafted strings and sentimental vocals drenched in a huge reverb to personify the feeling of anguish. While taking on more of a sombre tone, this piece still has small flecks of hope interwoven in its song, allowing you to immerse yourself in the moment and picture the better days that are coming. You are not alone.

 

Bradley Miller, Crippled By Anxiety

Fundamentally, this song represents the frustration that is felt when you find yourself unable to complete a simple task, even one that you know that you would love, because anxiety has gotten in the way.

 

Josie Featonby-Roberts, The Same Storm

The music portrays a journey through the storm and on the way many of us cross paths, joining together and helping each other through the hard times. We can find comfort in just the thought of not being alone.

 

Stephen Pryke, Abiogenesis

The name “Abiogenesis” refers to the process through which living organisms are created from non-living matter; it seemed to fit the feeling of growing into something greater from essentially nothing, as well as metaphorically representing mental growth.

 

Tom Lunn, Journey to Reverie

I find escapism in going for walks. It grounds me, and makes me see from a different and more positive perspective.  The story of this piece is all about optimism and overcoming challenges.   


More about BSc (Hons) Music Composition and Technology for Film and Games

https://www.herts.ac.uk/study/schools-of-study/creative-arts

More about Steven Coltart

https://www.stevencoltart.com/

Skills utilised:
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).