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Is BioShock a Christmas game? How Rapture helps me through the festive period following the death of my uncle by Joe Donnelly

The festive season is a time for giving. A time for family and for friends, for pulling crackers, wearing silly paper crowns and reading aloud even sillier jokes. It’s a time for watching too many novelty television specials that haven’t aged well, and for debating whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie. It’s a time for asking the same questions of BioShock as a Christmas video game, and… hang on, what? That’s a new one. Let me explain. 

No matter which side of the annual ‘is Die Hard a Christmas movie?’ fence you find yourself on, the fact that cinemas up and down the country now allocate screens to the 1989 Bruce Willis-starring action film at this time of year some 30-odd years on would suggest that, actually, many people believe it is. Listen, I don’t make the rules, I simply follow them. Because despite all the violence, the explosions, the hostage situations, and the yippee-ki-yay-ing, the simple fact that John McLane’s debut gun-toting adventure unfolds on Christmas Eve, for many people, makes it a Christmas movie. The fact that the events of the original BioShock take place in the wake of a New Year’s Eve party places it in the same festive period, which, coupled with the fact that I used Irrational Games’ 2007 first-person shooter to get through a particularly difficult holiday season following my uncle’s suicide the following year, means I now view BioShock through the same tinsel-wrapped lens as many Christmas movie-lovers do Die Hard.

Tying BioShock to Christmas in overarching narrative terms may be a wee bit of a stretch, but in practice, revisiting Rapture now plays a huge part in my build up to the big day itself. My uncle sadly took his own life on May 12, 2008, whereafter I used video games as a means of escapism, to gain perspective and to press pause on what was an increasingly horrible reality for me at the time. I’m sure many of you have used video games in similar ways in the aftermath of loss, and BioShock was my own game of choice, as I found solace in smacking splicers upside the head with Jack’s red-painted drop-forged wrench, nullifying Big Daddies with the deadliest ADAM-infused superpowers, and taking down every last one of Rapture’s autocratic dictators with unwavering precision.

Admittedly, it takes a special game to entice me back after the credits roll, but I found myself in the familiar throes of the shooter once again in late December that same year, experimenting with new Gene Tonic and Plasmid combinations; again revelling in the path of destruction I could blaze through the now iconic setting and the sense of achievement, and subsequent endorphin-rush, toppling the likes of Peach Wilkins, Sander Cohen and, of course, Andrew Ryan could afford.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but BioShock was inadvertently marking the first step on my own mental health journey, which has since led to me being diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder – afflictions levied by the brutal nature of my uncle’s passing, so say the doctors and mental health professionals I’ve since sought the services of in the intervening years. While storming the dimly-lit corridors of Point Prometheus and the sprawling thoroughfares of Apollo Square, I wasn’t fully-aware that I was distancing myself from the grief and looming shadows I’ve learned to live with since, but I’m forever grateful for the respite they were able to provide at a time when I wasn’t ready to face the darkness head-on.

These are strange memories for me, because while I associate playing BioShock at Christmas time in 2008 with my uncle’s death, something I’d naturally prefer not to think about at any given time, they also remind me of my uncle himself. It’s now been well over a decade since my uncle passed away, and yet returning to the watery depths of Rapture ignites a sense of connection in me that perusing old photographs and recalling old family stories that involve my uncle does not. Playing single-player video games can be a very solitary, pensive and personal experience, which is why BioShock has since played an integral role in my build-up-to-Christmas ritual, with me nipping back into random old save files for short bursts at a time – in the same way many of us watch Elf, Love Actually or, if you’re so inclined, Die Hard at various points in December.

For me, it’s a comfort thing, and I encourage you to do the same: to ignore your pile of shame and to play something that makes you happy, brings you joy, or makes you feel safe over this Christmas period. Is BioShock a Christmas video game? Probably not, but it’ll always have a special place in my own preparations. Now, before you go, I’d like you all to do something for me – a Christmas wish, if you will. Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Re-read this article and jot down all the letters that are in bold throughout the copy below the opening paragraph. Read what you’ve written down, and would you kindly have a nice, safe and self-caring festive season.


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.

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Shining A Light On Talk Club

It’s International Men’s Day and we wanted to shine a light on the wonderful work that Talk Club is doing for men around the UK and internationally.  

What is Talk Club?

Talk Club is a men’s charity and was born from Ben Akers, Blue O’Connor, Claire Wilkinson, Gavin Thorpe, Neil Harrison and Tom Watson.

One day in a pub in Farringdon London in 2018 Ben Akers decided to get his friends together and start talking about men’s mental health. Ben Akers sadly lost his childhood friend Steve to suicide in 2014.

Suicide is the biggest killer to men under the age of 49. We live in a world that has cultured a stigma that men shouldn’t talk about their feelings, that it’s weak to do so, but that just isn’t the case.

Men should always feel as though they are able to share their feelings in a safe and non-judgemental space, which is where Talk Club comes in. Talk Club gathers together locally and online in many different locations internationally. Talk Club offers a confidential group chat for men of all backgrounds to be themselves and be able to talk, whether it’s mental health or just life in general that they need to talk to someone about without being judged, these can be done online or in local centres.

A question as simple as “How are you? Out of 10?” can be a way to engage with each other and talk about how you’re really doing, and why.  

For International Men’s Day (and every day) we need to continue to advocate for how important it is to talk and reach out if you need it. Talk Club has helped so many men embrace themselves and open up about their mental health. Below is a video explaining a little bit more about the organisation. 

This International Men’s Day, we encourage you to reach out if you need to, help normalise the conversation of mental health and destigmatise the conversation. There are lots of helplines from around the globe on our website and if you know someone who isn’t doing so well, ask how they’re really doing.


Learn more about Talk Club here.

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My Bipolar story – by Mark Chandler

Here is my story and why I’m doing this for our industry.

I spend a lot of time talking to people about mental health illness and awareness in the gaming industry nowadays. When I meet someone new, almost every day now, I have to retell my story each and every time. I’ve written this to save those initial 15 minutes of telling my story with each new introduction. The below isn’t complete at all, but it’s pretty good. 

Because of my own mental health illness, I have good days and I have bad days. That’s the best it’s ever going to get for me. So, it’s on a day-to-day basis for meetings, challenges, life.

Mental health issues affect everyone in my family. My sister is Schizophrenic. My little brother has Bipolar type 1 and is Paranoid Schizophrenic. My twin brother has Borderline Personality Disorder and addiction, and I have Bipolar type 2. We have Bipolar from my dad’s side and Schizophrenia and suicide from my mom’s side. I am the lucky one in my family you could say, with just BP2.

After getting extremely sick 5-6 years ago, I started to fall down a hole that I never saw coming until I was on the cusp of taking my own life. What saved me was seeing and talking to my mom one last time. I broke down and told her everything. With suicide running on her side, she was able to tell me that she had been in that position many times when I was young.

That was only 3 years ago and I have been fighting this battle every day since.

I lost my closest cousin in Vancouver to suicide 5 years ago. His father was the first to have Schizophrenia diagnosed that we are aware of. His note simply said he couldn’t take the voices anymore, which was even more devastating as he must have developed it after I left Vancouver. 

My family was shattered when my little brother came back into our lives after disappearing for 10 years. He had refused all medical help, assuming everyone else was sick. This caused me to stop all communication with my parents, effectively living in absolute isolation for 5 years with my own illness, even though I live in downtown Toronto. 

My brother gets committed every 4-5 months and spends 40 days in the hospital while they force meds into him. He gets out and is fine for 2-3 months, then starts to hear voices and conspiracies against him that are not there.

But out of all these struggles, I decided to start talking openly about this journey of healing on Facebook about 4 years ago. I wanted others to know that they are not alone. I felt that I had nothing to lose and that hopefully, I would be able to inspire others to get the help they need.

Due to these posts about my own mental health journey, I had people suddenly reaching out to me and saying that they really appreciate my posts. That they also have a struggle but can’t talk about it for fear of losing their job or missing out on a new one, or health insurance issues. So I saw how much this affects our industry and decided to do something about it.

I’d also had my own experience of illness in the workplace, having to quit because working there had exacerbated it. Combining this with my experience in creating events, it made sense to play to my strengths and create something. When I asked my FB friends whether this was needed, it was a resounding “YES! WE NEED THIS!” So I started working on TIGS almost 3 years ago.

Mental health issues affect everyone in the world. But they significantly affect our industry, due to its demand on people’s time and the intensity of creating something from nothing. No games company is immune from this. 

I currently live on disability and turned 55 this past year. I don’t expect to ever work again – for another company, that is – but I can use this time for the benefit of others like me, and for the industry as a whole.

I have this exact conversation now once every week or so, as more and more people hear about my efforts to help make a positive difference for our industry with mental health.I recently started doing a podcast with prominent members from the gaming community to share their own stories of their struggles with me. My first one was with Mike Wilson of Devolver Digital fame – you can listen to it here.

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