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Life Is Strange with Katy Bentz (Safe Space Podcast Season 2, Episode 3)

In this episode of Safe Space, Rosie and Mikayla chat with Katy Bentz, aka Steph Gingrich from the Life Is Strange series!

Rosie, Katy and Mikayla are in the foreground on a backdrop of Haven Springs; there are trees, mountains, and a record store

Katy talks about her experiences as a voice actor, touching on the distinction between the games industry and the film industry, and how to handle audition rejection.

We discuss the impact of characters like Steph for the LGBTQIA+ community, and Katy’s experiences playing a character that is so adored within the LIS fandom. Katy recalls some of her favourite moments from recording True Colors, as well as her favourite interactions with the LIS community.

Links

Katy’s Twitter / Katy’s Twitch

Life Is Strange True Colors

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News

Be in Safe In Our World’s Video Campaign

Safe In Our World is calling all gamers out there to help us champion everyone’s mental health throughout our industry.

Through games and play we share the stories that billions of people across the world engage with. We want to create a video to positively show the variety and diverse range of people that play games, and we need your help.

We need YOU to record a short clip of yourself, from your phone, saying “I am a Gamer”. 

If you would like to record as a group then please say all together “We are Gamers”.

How to Film

In order to get the best quality and consistency for all submissions, All participants are asked to try and follow these suggestions when shooting your short video.

Best possible filming device used if possible – Latest iPhone/Android, any access to a filming kit. 16:9 || 4K or 1080p HD

A 15 second portrait of each contributor would be helpful – Camera or phone mounted on a tripod a few feet away to capture a head and shoulders video portrait in 16:9 format. We would like to have two versions:

  1. Straight down the lens not smiling.
  2. Straight down the lens smiling with phone cameras in landscape mode.

Turn off all background noises, quiet room or area.

For those who want to go even further: some footage of you playing games – must be filmed either over the shoulder with them in context (no full screen play). A few various other shots (maybe webcam footage if you are a streamer), close up of hands playing controller/mouse, eyes, etc.

Please send your video to benn@safeinourworld.com by the end of July.

Help us tell the story of Safe In Our World where we are asking all video game companies to unite and commit to change, for the wellbeing of all of us together.

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News

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.

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News

The Beginner’s Guide – A Subtle yet Powerful Trans Allegory by Ruby Modica

The Beginner’s Guide (TBG) is an environmental narrative game written by Davey Wreden and tells of his experience with a friend who used to make games.

TBG is a tightly written venture that poses many questions but answers only a handful of them by the end, leaving much of the story open for interpretation. Despite the overarching themes of game design and creator burnout, there is also room for an allegory that focuses on one of the characters being transgender and their difficult journey of self-discovery. 

The term “transgender” refers to an individual who lives as a different gender to the one they were assigned at birth. This Pride Month, where many will be proudly celebrating their right to be themselves and love themselves despite oppression, it is important to remember that trans people have come under serious attack in recent years. Therefore, examining this trans interpretation of TBG is important for those who may be unaware of the difficulties a trans person typically goes through, or even for someone who is unsure of their gender identity. 

Davey tells the story of his friend who uses the nickname Coda. Since the entirety of TBG is narrated by Davey, we are only given access to Coda’s life through another person’s perspective, which is why the conflicting story details might not accurately portray Coda’s gender identity. Hints at Coda’s true identity are revealed in subtle ways all throughout TBG, something that can be easily overlooked on an initial playthrough. 

a screenshot of an empty room with cream coloured walls, one wall is open and there are bars across the length of it

Firstly, Davey uses he/him pronouns when talking about Coda, initially suggesting that they are a cisgender male (that is, assigned male from birth and living as a male). However, this simple detail becomes less credible as the game progresses, since most of the games Davey shows feature multiple sound clips of a woman’s voice guiding the player directly, such as The Whisper Machine’s announcer. Davey’s voice is recognisably male, but if Coda is assumed male then the voice’s origin becomes unclear. 

Other examples of female-gendered dialogue are found all throughout TBG. The second game Backwards reveals several pieces of short text, using the pronouns “she” and “her” throughout. The Island and Machine levels also portray the player as female, and other minor references appear in the Notes level that have all seemingly been written by Coda. 

4 images within corridors inside a building. There are words on the walls: "The past was behind her", "when she stops and looks it becomes clearer", "but if the future is always behind her" and "how will she find strength"

Based on other interpretations seen in TBG, each game created by Coda simulates something personal and experimental. Despite Davey’s attempts to connect them and add meaning, it is clear that Coda’s games are a safe creative space. In turn, it would make sense that these private thoughts would better depict Coda’s desired mental state, one where they use female pronouns and exist as a female. 

If Coda is indeed a trans woman, then the continued use of he/him pronouns by Davey could add another disheartening layer to the allegory. Refusing to acknowledge a trans person’s identity can cause trauma and dysphoria, both of which lead to psychological damage if unchecked. 

However, if Coda is a trans man (female-to-male) then this would be the inverse: Davey is respecting Coda’s new identity. The timescale for Coda’s games takes place over several years, so it is possible Coda begins transitioning during the course of their game development. That would also explain why Coda becomes more detached from their older games due to featuring an outdated version of themselves. Artefacts like their old username and voice clips can easily trigger dysphoria, which would parallel most trans people’s experiences. 

Additional signs of Coda’s female presence include the small number of NPCs appearing across TBG levels. One NPC model is seen in the Theatre level, where the disembodied narrator states that this person embodies everything the player wants to be. The deliberate gender choice is expanded upon when the game forces the player to recede back from the stage, followed by prison gates closing in. 

The only realistic female body seen in TBG comes at the end of Island, which depicts a crying woman behind a prison barricade. It is possible that all of these factors depict Coda’s thoughts of being trapped in the wrong body and unable to escape. 

An animated character with long brown hair is sat in the corner hugging their knees, with 3 dialogue options in the corner: 1. Hello?, 2. Where am I?, 3. What is this?

Coda’s happiness occurs in the House game where a male-bodied NPC is portrayed in a feminine manner. This could symbolise Coda’s desired gender identity, which contrasts heavily with the Theatre game where the player is told to hide themselves away instead. With this in mind, both of these levels could simply be a portrayal of Coda’s euphoria and dysphoria respectively.  

Of particular note is the final message to Davey, where there are certain lines that refer to distrust and insecurity brought about by Coda’s games being shared publicly. Coda states that this is “violating the one boundary that keeps [them] safe”, a potential allusion to having their gender identity publicly outed against their wishes. This has resulted in numerous upsetting instances in real life where kids are disowned by parents and/or suffer bullying, which would serve as a more impactful reason for Coda to cut contact with Davey. 

an animated tree on a series of grassy islands suspended in a white background/space

This trans allegory portrays the everyday difficulties that trans and non-binary people face on a daily basis, from finding their identity to a lack of help. Thankfully, despite all the attempted attacks, the world is gradually becoming more accepting of trans people. Deltarune and Tell Me Why are just a few gaming examples that feature trans/non-binary protagonists who are presented as independent and strong, a proud depiction that LGBTQ+ individuals and allies can empathise with.  

Additionally, there are many charities at hand such as Mermaids and GLAAD specifically designed for reaching out to trans individuals with support and guidance. There is hope for the future that the tragic trans allegory from The Beginner’s Guide will soon be a thing of the past, and this Pride Month is a good opportunity to show support where possible. Even small actions like respecting one another’s pronouns and helping those dealing with dysphoria can go a long way to making the world a better place. 

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

Play Your Way with Safe In Our World this Mental Health Month

For mental health month this year, we’re encouraging you to play your way.

Playing the games that mean the most to us is how we thrive on our personal connections with mental health and gaming. Whether you choose Animal Crossing or Dark Souls to relax, it’s the variety of games that players hold close to their hearts that highlights the individuality of these relationships.

What is Safe In Our World working on?

This year, we want to grow our #LevelUp Campaign to support more companies in more effective ways. That means more training, 1-1 guidance on implementing mental health strategies within the workplace, and content surrounding how to take the next steps! We’re working on resources for students and new-to-industry folk to know where support can be found, and what to look for when applying for jobs.

We’re committing to train more Community Managers and Content Creators in mental health training, free of charge. We’re growing our podcast, website and social platforms to be able to bring awareness to topics that are often under the radar and bring to light more resources and good practice within the games industry.

How can I help?

There are a number of ways you as an individual or a company could get involved! We’ve made a handy list below, to give you some ideas, but if you’d like to talk to any of our team about supporting us this Mental Health month, please do reach out!

  • Fundraise with us on Tiltify
  • Donate to our campaign
  • Donate directly
  • Host a raffle or auction
  • Invite us to come on your stream, podcast or panel to talk about our work
  • Provide fundraising incentives for creators
  • Organise work fundraisers & activities
  • Consider a royalty % of a game to support the charity
  • Signpost to our resources

Click here to download our assets pack for this initiative!

Fundraising Incentives

We’ve added some brand new exclusive merch for our wonderful fundraisers if they hit certain milestones! Check it out below.

We know that mental health month is every month, but May is our key fundraising period, and we’d love to have your support.

Skills utilised:
News

Safe in your Virtual World: Using videogames as a healthy mental break from the news

Booting up your favourite game can prove a welcome respite from stressful events and give your brain a chance to relax a little.

It should come as little surprise that Safe in our World would happily support the use of videogames as a means to address your ongoing mental health wellbeing, be it in a time of crisis or just for your day-to-day troubles. Of course, gaming isn’t going to be a solution to those problems, but it does offer a place where you can leave your stresses and strains behind you for those moments after you hit the Start button.

There are plenty of obvious contenders for the kind of games you could be playing, and a quick Google search using terms such as ‘relaxing’ or ‘stress-relieving’ will throw up far more suggestions than we could possibly list here. However, there’s no real one-fit solution, as it’s all about finding a restful place in whatever kind of videogame you like – whether that’s Minecraft, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Unpacking or Grand Theft Auto.

Of course, in times of conflict it might be wise to avoid the potential triggers of violent videogames, or those with a war theme. However, at the same time, if immersing yourself in the vast lands of Elden Ring provides a welcome refuge then by all means embrace it. Likewise, you can find games such as Valiant Hearts: The Great War, that provides a rather less-violent take on World War I, that can help you to appreciate the situation while playing more as a passive passer-by.

There can also be something satisfyingly cathartic in letting off some steam against 2D and 3D sprites in an FPS, so if the challenge of Call of Duty or the silliness of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands helps to calm your mind, then stick with it. Indeed, we’ve got a whole article explaining how stress-inducing games can also be relaxing.

Whatever your game of choice may be, perhaps gaming’s greatest ability is the power to remove you from the real world, and drop you in a virtual one where you can have full control over your actions. While situations such as Covid-19, Ukraine and so on might lead to an apprehension and anxiety that you may feel is beyond your capacity to have any kind of directly meaningful impact upon, in a videogame you have the ability to identify and address all problems head-on, and, for the most part, have the knowledge and tools to fix them.

Good examples of this would include open-world or creative-based games, such as the aforementioned Minecraft and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, or No Man’s Sky, Stardew Valley and Cities Skylines. These are games that use a fixed system of relatively simple rules (well, simple once you know how!), which means that you can unwind within a virtual world that you can expand and develop completely within your control and at your own pace. You don’t even need to play them through to completion, as creating new worlds, adventures or cities simply resets the rule book back to square one and you can play the game through to different results but with the same comforting degree of control that can make hours pass like minutes.

The point is that while you can still have a lot of fun playing these games, you don’t have to think too hard about what you’re doing or worry too much about the consequences, giving your mind a healthy time-out from reality. It’s not really a case of ‘switching off’; it’s more about shifting your attention into a scenario that you can have control over, and one that has far less serious implications if something does go awry – and if it does, you have the power to make things better or just hit the ‘restart’ button.

Another side-effect of this is that your gaming routine can also bleed into the real world. Although the media (and social media) can make it hard to fully escape newsworthy events, gaming has a habit of working its way into your day-to-day thoughts. The freedom that videogames can provide comes with that ‘what do I do next?’ or ‘how do I do this?’ factor that can have you mulling over potential ideas while at work or flicking through the internet, with almost no end of YouTube videos and feature articles that will be only too keen to offer up suggestions or ways to fine-tune your latest creation.

You may already have your favourite go-to game for when you just need a little ‘me’ time, but sometimes just the simple act of picking up a controller/mouse/phone and letting your mind drift into just about any kind of alternate reality can deliver a much-needed respite. Whether you like solving puzzles, matching shapes, crafting worlds, slaying dragons, racing cars, shooting aliens, managing a football team or just guessing a five-letter word once a day, a little gaming break can prove a very useful mental one as well.

And if you do need a few more ideas for games to try out, other titles nominated by our friends and contributors that we haven’t already mentioned include: Alba, Cosy Grove, Lego Star Wars, It Takes Two, Snowrunner, Untitled Goose Game, Valheim and more. That should be enough to keep your mind busy for a little while!

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Crisis Hub

Content, Community and Inclusivity with GeekyCassie (Safe Space Podcast Season 1 Episode 16)

In this episode, Rosie chats to the lovely GeekyCassie; who is one of the most wonderful creators on Twitch, Director of Nox Lumina, Co Founder of Black Twitch UK and the Community Manager for the Noir Network!

We discuss mental health through content creation and the pandemic, as well as the return to events through Cassie’s recently announced Nox Lumina (an events company dedicated to catering to everyone’s needs). We talk about the importance of groups such as Black Twitch UK, and the Noir Network, and how Cassie is uplifting other creators through these fantastic initiatives.

Links

@GeekyCassie Twitter

The Noir Network

Black Twitch UK

Nox Lumina

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News

We Can’t Stress This Enough – How Intense Games Can Be Relaxing by Ruby Modica

At its heart, gaming is rooted in experiencing escapism.

A fantastical experience that requires active user input means that a lot of brainpower and focus is required to properly immerse a player into their adventure. Similar to music, there are gaming genres that appear specifically targeted to help relax players by presenting a zen-like atmosphere where the very act of playing a certain game can help someone feel calm. However, it is not just ambient games with soft visuals and slow gameplay that can achieve this seemingly elusive goal of relaxation.

For some, sitting down at their preferred gaming machine after a busy day means they will likely want to play something that suits their tastes, but also not stressful. In this modern era where gaming has blossomed into a commonplace international business, it can feel like playing everything pushed towards players can become like a second job, especially if it boasts tough difficulty levels and a long runtime.

People are built differently, with preferences and hobbies varying widely between individuals. As such, it can come across as insulting when a non-gamer points out the apparent stress that affects gamers when talking about their own hobbies. Plenty of leisure activities can lead to heightened stress levels be it physically, mentally or even emotionally. Abseiling and paintballing are just two examples of outdoor activities that are marketed as fun but can still be stressful to many, particularly novices. It is worth keeping in mind that stress can indeed be fun in certain environments but still is not a viable choice for everyone.


Diving into the concepts of stress and catharsis that arise from gamers who deliberately undertake challenging video games. This can be reflected with subsets of gamers such as completionists, speedrunners and so forth, who find their own ways to have fun with games from an external perspective despite the frequent associations with stress.

A lot of games that are developed to be difficult were given a lot of exposure when popular YouTubers streamed/uploaded their attempts, birthing the “Rage Game” genre as countless failed attempts left players visibly raging in a humorous way for the enjoyment of others. This niche genre is still being given lots of notoriety today, but it should be noted that the gaming medium is becoming more diverse across the board. The sensations that come from gaming can no longer be divided into base emotions like “happy” and “sad” now that they have become more complex.

Some games are marketed specifically for their difficulty, turning the stress into a rewarding factor while playing. A strong example of this is I Wanna Be the Guy, an infamously difficult indie game with additional mods and limitations that induce stress for gamers as they tackle self-imposed challenges. Beating the game requires a lot of trial and error, repetition and occasionally luck. However, the thrill of playing such an intense game results in a strangely cathartic experience for determined players. This extends to other games with “permadeath” difficulty where one loss means players have to start at the beginning again. Outlast and Resident Evil 7 are champions of this, but even these near-impossible runs have been by determined gamers. The joy of beating a tough challenge also comes with bragging rights and an unrivalled satisfaction that some players just seem to prefer.

In turn, completionists undertake a lot of stress compared to more casual gamers who traditionally play a game to their own levels of satisfaction without needing to get every achievement or trophy accolade. However, this category of gamers find the journey just as fulfilling as the destination, continuing with a determination to seek out all secrets hidden within a game until they receive that illustrious 100%. Given that this is a concept that predates the achievement hunting setup seen at the start of the sixth console generation, completionists do not owe anyone an explanation for playing a game “correctly” so long as they are having fun.

However, it should be noted that stress-related fun comes with a proviso. Just like with any other hobby, if the stress begins manifesting more negative responses such as addiction or an imbalance in temperament, then action should be taken to reduce time spent gaming or otherwise thinking about it. Self-care is important, and can be neglected if a gaming journey is becoming more frustrating than fun.

Games Done Quick (GDQ) is another example of people putting their skill and stress into a positive force, namely the effort of speedrunning games for charity. Since 2010 the GDQ community have dedicated several events per year to livestreaming speedrunners of specific games for the attention and support of charity events. This helps to encourage a strong sense of community for gamers and their willing efforts to donate out of the kindness of their hearts. The next Summer Games Done Quick event is set to take place during the week of June 26th – July 3rd.

Speedrunning can be a casual thrill or a competitive streak, but stress naturally develops from repeated runs through a game as quickly as possible to improve previous attempts. Many new exploits and gaming tricks are still being discovered across games of all ages, often through gaming communities using their leisure time to work together.

All in all, stress has a lot more power when it is used as a strong positive force for things like community and self improvement. While it does need to be kept in place and checked frequently by gamers and non-gamers alike, we can make sure not to be critical of people for enjoying games in a way that does not match our own. Being able to feel such a powerful emotion while attempting to indulge our escapism just shows how powerful the medium of video games can be, and that is a fact that we can celebrate every time we pick up a controller or keyboard. We really can’t stress this enough.


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 

Skills utilised:
News

Keep On Keeping On: Death Stranding Proves That Positivity Promotes Successful Change by Kieran Harris

Change. It’s a scary word and one that can unleash a wave of anxiety and crippling doubt when we know that it’s coming.

Change can come in many forms, be it our appearance, location, workplace or even what we have for breakfast. The mere thought of our routines being slightly altered can swallow us up and force us to stop in our tracks and have second thoughts. Yet, what we don’t always seem to consider is that change can be and almost always is a good thing. If something is changing it’s because it either needs to or because we want it to, so sometimes we need to concentrate on the positive aspects of change instead of allowing ourselves to freeze in what can be important moments in our lives.

Nothing encapsulates this sentiment of positivity bringing about successful change quite like Death Stranding’s online features. Hideo Kojima is perhaps a little smarter than we imagined as he created a world where working together is not just ideal, it’s absolutely necessary. This wonderful game pre-dated the real-world pandemic yet it trained us for it better than we even realised. In a world where people required others to fetch necessities and keeping your distance was a way to keep everyone safe, Death Stranding saw us playing a delivery man taking long journeys to people isolated from the dangers outside.

What’s more important though is how players could work together to make a positive change. The actions in your game impacted the world of others – provided you’re playing online of course – but only ever in positive ways. There’s a real sense of community in Death Stranding in a world where it’s pretty much empty, which really resonates with us all as people living during a pandemic. For example, you could leave signs lying around so that when another player gets to that location they have warnings about potential hazards, or even just a positive message to encourage them on their endeavours.

Perhaps the most interesting and poignant addition to the gameplay of Death Stranding is how people work together on structures. A fresh world on Death Stranding is desolate, barren and dangerous. However, as you progress you can find materials to construct helpful buildings and highways, allowing for places to stop and safe roads to travel. These roads are shared across players and each person can donate materials to improve the constructions making it safer for everyone to play. One day you can load the game and have open landscape with nothing around, then suddenly through the efforts of others you can return to the area and a highway the length of the world could be there providing a direct path to your next destination. Or even better, a zipline system that lets you speed through the world through the air. It’s intuitive game design for sure but it’s also a great indicator of how people can work towards one goal and accept that change is not always a bad thing. Realistically, the game wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for Guerilla Games allowing Kojima Productions to use their engine!

Moreover, you can leave a ‘like’ on the helpful guidance that you receive but you can’t leave a ‘dislike’. Likes are given automatically when you use something that’s left by other players and you can give more likes as a sort of “tip” as Kojima puts it. When making the game, Kojima said: “I didn’t want to give “thumbs down”. I didn’t want to give any negative in this game; it was a positive intent when I started this game.” A statement as wholesome as this shows that the game is achieving what he envisioned; everyone working together in a fundamentally human way, with no egos and only an appetite for healthy change towards a common goal.

This creates a real sense of camaraderie amongst players and a feeling that you’re making a positive change. Sometimes, just focusing on the good that a change can have, even if not necessarily to yourself, can make you feel much better about it. Sometimes change is inevitable and unavoidable but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be okay because it will be. There are always people who can support you through your change even if you may have not met them yet, they’re waiting to do their part just like in Death Stranding.

Working hard together does breed successful and positive change and as difficult as it may sometimes seem to be, trying to focus on the positives can help train ourselves to accept change as good. We can all learn something from Death Stranding about encouraging each other and remaining upbeat even in our toughest moments to get us through to the other side and it’s perfectly doable if we all work towards our goals.

 


Kieran Harris

Kieran Harris is a writer from the West Midlands, UK. He spends most of his time going to gigs and playing video games. He studied Creative Writing and English at university and loves nerding out to amazing stories and learning how to craft them for his own endeavours.

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News

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.

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What Remains After ‘Edith Finch’ – by Harry Stainer

After my Grandad’s funeral I went into his old bedroom and as I looked around the room, I spotted many of his belongings – his fake Rolex watches, his books and old fishing gear, a hat he always used to wear on holiday.

For a brief moment I am brought out of this sobering day and into fond memories of him, and the stories his friends told me of him as a younger man – only to be snapped out of it a second later. Looking at these objects it reminded me of playing ‘What Remains of Edith Finch’ a few months earlier. It dawned on me how much the game illustrated a profound understanding of the grieving process and helped articulate all of the thoughts and feelings that come along with such a traumatic life event.

Death is something that those who play video games are incredibly used to; if you’re Nathan Drake and you miss a jump ahead of you, the punishment is the loss of a character’s life, only for you to succeed the same jump a few moments later after your checkpoint has reloaded. It’s a constant threat in most of the games that we play, but it rarely holds any true consequences. However, in ‘Edith Finch’ that is not the case; you can’t die in Edith Finch but its story asks player to think about the messy nature of death and how grief has a habit of staying with us long after someone has passed.

One of the central plot points of the game is how the Finch family believed that their family were cursed – that all the losses in their family were caused by something that was out of their control and this was the reason they all met their demise. As the plot unfolds and you go through each room in this house, discovering how each Finch came to pass, it dawned on me that this ‘curse’ wasn’t just literal. For me, I always interpreted this curse as the collective grief that hung over the Finch family    – these losses are not something that they can just be free of and they have stayed with long after the have tried to move on and, in Ediths case – leave the house. This curse illustrates that there are no beginnings and no endpoints to loss and more importantly, shows how a loss can completely consume you and feel like a curse when you can’t find a way to move forward or come to peace with it.

As you go around the house Edith will comment on objects and parts of the house that bring up memories for her. Anyone who has been in the home of someone they have lost will understand the melancholy mood swings when seeing their handwriting on a note or an item that they used to wear everyday – it showcases how objects can tie us to moments and the people associated with them and although this can sometimes be hard – it also keeps a part of them with us.

However, despite its melancholic nature there is a lot of salvation in Edith Finch and the way it confronts the messy nature of our relationships. Loss isn’t ever neat; the whole reason we are returning to the house in this game is because of how unresolved our protagonist’s feelings are with all the ones that she has lost. Trying to understand how you feel about loss can take time and Edith Finch often feels like a story about that very theme. In the game’s final moments Edith states the line:

 ‘If we lived forever, maybe we’d have time to understand things. But as it is, I think the best we can do is try to open our eyes, and appreciate how strange and brief all of this is’.

This line offers us some kind of acceptance from Edith, an acknowledgment that the grief doesn’t go away – it’ll always be a part of her, and she won’t always be able to understand the messiness that comes with it. As we grieve, we grow around loss and finally begin to appreciate other things in life again. It’s a bittersweet way to end a game, but it rings true to all those who have been through this experience.

I found Edith Finch a hard game to find conclusions from in my initial playthrough – it leaves you to pick up the pieces and form some sort of opinion of the events that have happened. In the time after my second playthrough of ‘What Remains of Edith Finch’ the conclusions I have taken from it is that the stories, objects and memories we have about our loved ones tie us to them. We can find comfort and understanding from them, knowing that these things can make us cherish the ones we had, and within the messiness find peace.

There is no timeline to stop grieving and if you are struggling, there are bereavement counselling options available. Reaching out for support is a very positive step to help overcome the distress you might be feeling. At a Loss is a useful resource for helping people who have had a bereavement find the support they need.


Harry Stainer

Marketing and Operations for Grads In Games, freelance writer, book person on Instagram & occasional scriptwriter

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Autistica, Mass Effect & EDI with Dom Shaw (Safe Space Podcast Season 1 Episode 8)

On this episode of Safe Space we welcome Dominic Shaw from UKIE’s #RaiseTheGame pledge as our latest guest.

In this episode we talk about Dom’s life; from games he enjoyed growing up through to the games industry introduction and eventually him settling into UKIE. We also go into depth about LGBTQ+, autism, dyslexia and support within the industry, as well as the journey he took to get where he is today. Dom also talks about his work with Autistica Play.

As always, we grill our lovely guest on his all-time favourite games, and talk about Dom’s love for the Mass Effect series and how he used to skip school just to experience BioWare’s ever-growing Universe. We also go into depth about the impact that video games had in Dom’s life.

You can find Dom here on Twitter.

Follow the Safe In Our World Podcast here on Twitter for clips, updates and guest interactions!

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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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Wii Fit, Irish Accents and Caring for a Loved One with Adam Clarke (Safe Space Podcast Season 1 Episode 7)

In this episode of Safe Space, Rosie is joined by Adam Clarke from Game If You Are!

We talk about Adam’s personal reasons for getting into the games industry, which include talking about his experience as a carer for his sister and her passion for games. We cover Hot Fuzz and the accuracy of the levels of Irish accents within Adam’s world, which is surprisingly similar.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Safe Space podcast without discussing games themselves, would it? Adam takes us through his most impactful games over the years, and the implementation of creating real choices for players to pave their own paths in games such as The Walking Dead and Disco Elysium.

 

You can find Adam here on Twitter.

Follow the Safe In Our World Podcast here on Twitter for clips, updates and guest interactions!

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Safe In Our World Is Hiring New Trustees

A fantastic opportunity has come up at Safe in Our World for new Trustees to join our Board.

See our Job Role Description here.

To complement our current board members, we are particularly interested in hearing from people with skills and experience in the following areas: 

  • Fundraising
  • Content Creation
  • Charity Finance
  • Charity Legal/Constitution   

However, these skills/experience are not essential in order to apply as we are keen to hear from a wide range of candidates and find out what each individual can offer. Previous Trustee experience is welcome but not necessary. 

The closing date is Friday 21st January 2022.

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Code is Just with Shahid Ahmad (Safe Space Podcast Season 1 Episode 6)

In this episode of Safe Space, Rosie is joined by Shahid Kamal Ahmad for a fantastic discussion covering Code Is Just, imposter syndrome, game development and personal growth. We go from games industry history to jeopardising relationships in Monopoly, and it’s worth the ride. Shahid is in his 40th year of working in the games industry, and discusses how he first entered the world of game development and the struggles that he has faced on the journey; such as bullying, racism, illness and poverty.


Links Mentioned in the Episode: 
Episode 6 of the Safe Space Podcast with Shahid Ahmad

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Exploring DEI, inclusivity and diversity with Raccine Malcolm (Safe Space Podcast Season 1 Episode 5)

This week we were delighted to have Raccine Malcolm on the Safe Space podcast!

Raccine is a communications professional that specializes in empathy-driven, engagement-based community development and management. Multicultural awareness, belonging, DEI, mental health, along with the interconnectedness of communities are some of her deepest interests and driving forces behind her work. We are delighted to have Raccine as a Safe In Our World Ambassador, championing mental health within the games industry alongside us. 

On this episode, we discuss the importance of incorporating DEI into companies and communities, promoting inclusivity and diversity within the games industry and how mental health fits into these topics. We also chat about our favourite mental health related titles, including Raccine’s all time favourites such as When the Darkness Comes and Sunshine Days.

You can check out the episode over at Anchor.FM where we have all of the Safe Space Podcast Episodes ready for you to listen to.

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Unpacking Is An Unexpected Delight That Makes Me Feel At Home by Richard Breslin

Shortly before its release on Xbox Game Pass, I had seen the thumbnail for a game called “Unpacking.” The name of the game didn’t draw me much too it, but I remember having a feeling of warmth appreciating the artwork. Then I thought to myself, can a game called “Unpacking” really have much to it? Surely there must be more than just unpacking, right? 

Well, I was wrong. Kind of. Sure, the main emphasis in Unpacking is to unpack. Yet in this simple concept, I discovered there’s far more to this game, at least on a personal level. Unpacking, as you can guess, is about unpacking (shocking, I know). Upon reaching the main menu, I already had a sense of calmness. The ease of the 16-bit era soundtrack and the equally nostalgic pixel art. Instantly I felt a level of comfort before the game had really begun. 

 

The game has a subtle story, which progresses moving from house to house in various stages of life. It also has a visual form of storytelling instigated by your yearbook which is essentially chapters split into generations. You’ll also notice little pop culture references that might spark a personal heart-warming memory of yesteryear. 

Once you begin the story of Unpacking, you start in a small bedroom. Unpacking a few simple boxes and placing them in the relevant places of your room. There is also no time limit to Unpacking, so you play the game at your own pace in what is one of the most pressure-free games I’ve ever played. You’ll casually unpack box after box and before you know it, you’ll be laying out the bedroom just how you want it. A teddy on the bed, a picture frame on the wall and a handheld gaming device on your bedside desk. 

I didn’t realise it initially, but I had unknowingly become immersed in this simple, yet wonderful and charming puzzle game. I felt intrigued to progress to the next page in the yearbook, wondering what delights I would have to unpack and furnish my digital home. I had a constant feeling of warmness, ease, and satisfaction that I’ve never really felt in any other video game before. 

But what was it about Unpacking that made me feel so at home? Was it the charming, pixelated visuals and soundtrack? Was it the calming approach to puzzle-solving? Perhaps it was that inner satisfaction of placing items in my digital home exactly where I wanted them to be? In truth, it was all the above and then some. There’s something special about Unpacking that I can’t quite pinpoint, but I can’t stop thinking about it. 

As well as being on Xbox, Unpacking is also available on PC and Nintendo Switch. Living with autism, there are so many things that can make me feel instantly overwhelmed and sometimes things can get unexpectedly too much. I often take my Nintendo Switch on my travels, just in case I feel overly anxious. When feeling overwhelmed, the Switch is a device that can help calm me down. 

Should you ever choose to play this delightful indie game, you’ll find your own reasoning as to why you’ve fallen for this wonderful experience. And in an odd kind of what, Unpacking is just that, it’s a wonderful experience. Whatever it may be, if you want a game to chill out to and just relax doing the simple things, Unpacking might just be the game for you. So, if you subscribe to Xbox Game Pass, please check out this simple, yet unique indie darling. Because Unpacking just might be the perfect game to make me feel at home. 

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The Good Old Days: How gaming nostalgia can provide a virtual comfort blanket by Ian Collen

There’s an old joke about nostalgia not being as good as it used to be, but the truth is that, certainly within gaming circles, there’s never been a better time to revel in days gone by.

Whether its going full retro and digging out those old 8-bit classics, reliving a rather more recent favourite getting remastered or perhaps picking up a long-awaited sequel such as with this summer’s fabulous Psychonauts 2, a blast from the past can serve up a lot more than reliving a few good memories.

On one hand, there’s an air of familiarity with playing a game that you already have some experience of. Even though the original Psychonauts was launched way back in 2005, those who played it will remember the core gameplay and feel an affinity with the characters and the world they inhabit. This means that jumping into Psychonauts 2 – a brilliant game that addresses mental health issues in an overt manner but with a beautifully light touch – needn’t feel complicated or intimidating. Instead, you can carry a degree of confidence or control into those early hours, rather than any uncertainty that might come from starting something completely new.

Another benefit of the nostalgia effect, is that it can transport you back to the time of the original. Much like a song or a film can instantly trigger memories of your school days, a holiday or some other distant era, certain games will tie themselves to aspects of your past. It’s not always a specific pin you can stick into a calendar, but just thinking back to where you were when the original Psychonauts came out some 16 years ago is bound to throw up a few memories from that era in general, whether that’s standout events or just questionable haircuts and fashion choices!

This can extend even further, with the likes of Stubbs the Zombie and Destroy All Humans – both launched in the same year as Psychonauts – getting re-released in the past year or so. Not only is there the trip back to 2005 at play with these games, but each of them is also set against a 1950s American B-movie backdrop which can take you back even further – albeit into a largely imagined or fictional interpretation of years gone by for all but the most seasoned gamer. However, this does echo the way in which games can lift your mind out of the real world and into another place entirely, and having a sense that you’ve been there before can make it feel all the more welcoming.

Playing those older games, even dating back to those 8-bit classics, can also seem that much simpler. Not because they’re any easier, as many of those now-retro games were notoriously difficult, but for the most part you only have to worry about a few buttons and maybe a couple of special moves. Compared to more recent games that demand multiple inputs in varying combinations, with skill trees, loadouts and many more gameplay layers to contend with, simply running and jumping sideways on a 2D platform can seem like much less of a hassle.

The combined familiarity with both a game and the time it harks back to can offer up a warmth and reassurance, like a virtual comfort blanket that we can feel that little bit safer in. It’s a reason why people love a sequel – even if takes a decade and a half to roll around – because you’ve already invested energy and emotion into that world, and so going back for more can feel like a return on that investment and a reward in itself. It’s interesting to note that with the recent launch of Far Cry 6, while some gamers were complaining that not much has changed since the previous titles, others were revelling in how much it reminded them of their glory days in Far Cry 3 back in 2012.

This same sentiment can be applied to any long-running franchise, from FIFA to Call of Duty to the latest Legend of Zelda. Obviously, being a fan of the core gaming experience each series delivers is the major motivation for picking up the newest release, but there’s also a comfort in almost knowing what to expect and, in turn, what will be expected of you when you pick up the controller. Looking back on those vast back catalogues, certain titles will stick in your mind for various reasons, whether that’s just because the game itself was great, or perhaps it reminds you of where you were, or even who you were, when you played it. Of course, it is worth noting that not all trips down memory lane will lead us back to a happy place, and so it could be that some games are best left in the past.

Nostalgia needn’t be the only reason to pick up an old favourite or pre-order that long-awaited reboot or sequel. We’d happily recommend you check out Psychonauts 2 simply because it’s a brilliant game. The fact that it openly embraces mental health concepts and, if you played the original, can act as a teleportation device back to 2005 are just further reasons to enjoy it. And there are plenty of other upcoming opportunities to enjoy new games laced with old memories, from the imminent Halo Infinite to the Saints Row reboot early next year and beyond. Right now, nostalgia isn’t just as good as it used to be; it’s much, much better.


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.

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Safe In Our World Celebrates 2nd Anniversary As New Initiatives Drive Progress Towards Helping Millions Worldwide

On World Mental Health Day 2021, Safe In Our World officially celebrates it’s 2nd anniversary!

From expanding the initial target of training 50 community managers to delivering mental health first aid training to nearly 200 community managers globally by the end of 2021, funded by Jingle Jam 2020, every initiative undertaken by the charity now has room to expand and reach more people than ever before. And with 80+ studios, publishers and developers signed up as Level Up Partners, committed to positive change within the industry and within their own businesses, a bespoke partner hub was delivered in the second half of 2021; delivering more information, training, and resources to more employees than ever. In addition, in May 2021 at the height of the last Covid-19 lockdown, the charity launched the Safer Together Discord channel, including a forum for community managers, aimed at bringing the video games community closer together.

We’re celebrating through an epic giveaway, courtesy of our wonderful Level Up Partners! Click here to enter.

“We are enormously proud of the work our fantastic team and a long list of supporters, from Ambassadors to Trustees, have achieved in the last year.” Said Leo Zullo, Co-founder and Chair of Safe In Our World. “We’ve gone from a Trustee-led organisation to a charity with multiple employees and initiatives that make a huge difference in the lives of so many. This was always the plan, and we would like to thank the community, industry, and all those involved directly for their hard work, commitment and drive to deliver exceptional programs and real-world impact on behalf of Safe In Our World.”

See the full statement from the Chair here.

Safe In Our World is pleased to invite the videogames community to celebrate these milestones together, both on the official website, as well as via social channels and the Safer Together Discord.

In the two years since Safe In Our World formed, the charity has united the industry with its campaign for the removal of stigma around mental health and ensure gamers and teams can find the right support. Over 80 of the biggest gaming companies having joined to forward the charities mission ongoing activities.

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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!

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“The Benefits of Finding Mindfulness in Virtual Reality” by Jack Ramage

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.

Time and time again, mindfulness has been shown to be a helpful mechanism to benefit our mental wellbeing.

Although the pandemic is showing signs of subsiding, it’s left a toll on the mental health of countless individuals in society. Now, more than ever, it’s important to use new technologies to make mindfulness more accessible. Although the app market has become saturated with mindfulness and meditation apps, few have made the leap into the rapidly growing virtual reality market.

Ben*, a 22-year-old student from Edinburgh has dealt with anxiety since he was a teen. When it’s bad,

“it’s like a blanket, covering all aspects of my life” he notes, “in some occasions, I’d have to cancel plans and miss lectures just to cope.”

That was until one evening when Ben stumbled upon a VR game that would alter his life substantially.

That VR game, or experience, was DeepStatesVR: a virtual reality software with an abundance of virtual environments which are, according to developer Marc Zimmermann, “designed to calm your mind and drift away.” There is no set win or lose mechanic in DeepStatesVR – it’s a portal into another environment, an experience that can be a valuable retreat from the, often overwhelming, outside world.

Although still in the early stages of development, one environment stood out to Ben above the rest: a level fittingly named ‘A Bliss of Solitude’. Once inside the environment, you’re met with a soothing voice which leads you on a guided meditation session. “It really clicked with me. It is also a kind of musical experience, once you spawn into the world it will ask you to start humming, and your hum will be enhanced by the experience back into your ears in a really beautiful way.” Ben says.

Although it hasn’t completely cured his anxiety, it has helped Ben develop powerful breathing techniques at times when it’s most needed. He explains how he’s been able to apply the lessons taught by DeepStates VR in the real world, in particular the mindfulness breathing techniques ‘The Bliss of Solitude’ offers. “It’s greatly benefited my daily life” he notes, “sometimes when I’m in crowded spaces and feel myself becoming anxious I try to envision myself in the virtual environment [and the] calming feelings it brings.”

Marc highlights how one of the most frequent compliments he receives is that DeepStatesVR allows them “to practice going into a meditative state on a regular basis”. It’s a powerful, behavioural tool in which people can establish habits to benefit their mental health. He adds, that unlike a “structured guided meditation by a practitioner – the game allows you to escape into a VR world whenever an individual feels like it, meaning you don’t rely on a strict schedule”. It adds a level of flexibility and autonomy, “it’s something people enjoy because it’s optional – not forced on an individual at a certain point in time.”

He notes one of the most touching responses he’s had from a fan of his game came in the early stages of development. On discord, he was approached by an anonymous individual who mentioned how his mental health condition made it difficult to hear the sound of his own voice. “The element of audio feedback, hearing yourself humming in the guided meditation stage, allowed this person to get used to the sound of his own voice.” He was able to hear his voice without feeling negative emotions. “That was really touching,” Marc adds.

Of course, there are downsides to placing therapeutic value on virtual reality. The largest obstacle to VR is the price: not only are the virtual reality devices themselves costly but often expensive computers are needed to run the software. However, for those fortunate enough to be able to possess the hardware, stepping into a virtual dimension to focus on the present can be incredibly valuable.

* Individual has been given a pseudonym to protect their identity.


Jack Ramage is a freelance features journalist based in Manchester, UK.

With an MA in Journalism and a BSc in Psychology, he covers social issues, culture and mental health. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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My.Games Launch Mental Health Survey with Safe In Our World

Following our recent partnership announcement with My.Games, we’re delighted to have launched a mental health survey to gather more information on gamers across the world.

Through both My.Games in-game mobile opportunities, and through this link you can access and take part in the survey to support mental health awareness and understand more about how those within games feel about games and mental health connections.

We hope that that we reach players across the world to grow our understanding of mental health in the industry and within players to be able to tailor support accordingly, and support everyone in the best way we can.

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“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.

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