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What If Horror Is Your Safe Place? by Alicia Brunskill

More often than not, stressful or potentially triggering content in videogames is signposted to players so that they can avoid it or prepare themselves.

However, can these kinds of titles bring comfort to some gamers? And if so, how?

It goes without saying that there will be a range of player reactions to any given videogame, although feeling comfort might not be one of the responses you’d expect to hear described by people playing titles which are more commonly perceived as stressful.

So, what could be behind this alternative perspective? In this piece we’ll discuss a few possible reasons such as, how tense events in these titles might provide an outlet for emotions in daily life, how videogames can be a safe place to explore emotions from themes that can cause stress in our lives, without the judgement from others, and how experiencing stress in an environment where you have a level of control may feel comforting in comparison to less predictable real-life pressures.

screenshot from the game: a girl lies in an open coffin surrounded by flowers

One videogame that falls squarely into the category of games that have the capacity to shock or induce feelings of tension in players (but would perhaps not be readily considered to provide comfort) is the recently released title from Wired Productions, Martha Is Dead. Although, on closer inspection of the themes presented in this videogame, perhaps we can see how some people might find this experience an opportunity to channel certain emotions from their own lives vicariously through the main character’s journey.

Giulia, the protagonist in Martha Is Dead, is struggling to come to terms with the death of her twin sister whilst also dealing with complex issues of childhood trauma and mental illness. The game is set in 1944, wartime Italy, which also brings into the story the increased stigma associated with mental illness from that era. As a consequence of this mix of circumstances, Giulia experiences a range of emotions while she navigates her way towards the truth about what happened to Martha.

screenshot from the game: a body lying on the bank of a water bank lays in the flowers just out of shot

Some players might be able to take comfort from being able to experience their own feelings alongside Giulia; perhaps empathising with the events in the game, or perhaps finding catharsis for similar emotions from unrelated events in their own life. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean not finding portions of the game unsettling or stressful as well. Yet even in these moments it might be possible to find comfort, perhaps in the liberty to explore your own feelings and responses to these themes in a private, non-judgemental, and safe setting.

Another point of view to consider is that for some people, childhood, adulthood, or both, can be a fearful experience, so fear and stress can feel familiar. The familiarity of these emotions might make it feel comforting to play a stressful game; at times, perhaps even more so than titles made with the goal of consolation in mind.

Equally, for some of us, in real life there may be pressure from others to feel a certain way about an event, or it may not be possible to examine our own response thoroughly due to a variety of reasons. Videogames like Martha Is Dead can offer a means to process these emotions where otherwise there might not be the opportunity. What they can also provide is a way to face potentially difficult feelings with a level of control that doesn’t always exist in real life.

For example, if the emotions brought about by playing the videogame feel overwhelming you can pause the experience. Similarly, you can stop to examine feelings as they arise before continuing with the story and revisit themes in subsequent playthroughs, moving at your own pace. When you lack control over a situation or how you are able to give an emotional response it can feel cathartic to take control over a situation that produces similar feelings. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine how this might be a comforting experience for some players.

two children walk arm in arm down a lane (black and white photo)

Whilst the ideas we’ve looked at in this piece are perhaps not the most common responses to the kind of content that appears in games traditionally considered stressful, they are all perfectly valid reactions. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to consuming this kind of media, so feeling comfort certainly has a seat at the table.


Alicia Brunskill

Alicia writes and edits videogame and tech reviews for Rapid Reviews UK and articles on various topics on Vocal. As a private tutor, she also teaches French and Spanish to secondary school students. When she’s not writing or teaching, she can be found playing videogames, running or walking her dog.

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Twitch and Wired Productions Partner to Support Safe In Our World!

Today our friends at Wired Productions announced a partnership with Twitch, to give two games away during May, in support of mental health awareness, with a % of proceeds being donated to Safe In Our World!

Both Fractured Minds and AVICII Invector, will be free for all Twitch Prime users to download during the month of May, in recognition of Mental Health Awareness month.

Twitch will be supporting Fractured Minds and AVICII Invector, each with a message about mental health, through exclusive promotions throughout the platform as well as key content creator programs. Wired Productions will donate over 50% proceeds from each game to Safe In Our World, as well as other organizations. The charitable partnership between Twitch and Wired Productions in supporting Safe In Our World contributes to a common goal to raising awareness of mental health issues among gamers and creators, and affecting positive change within the video games industry.

With over 50 percent of the world’s population playing video games, and one in four people globally affected by mental health issues, the task ahead is daunting, but Safe In Our World will drive forward initiatives to continue supporting and helping players around the world. This May, the Mental Health Awareness month theme of ‘Tools 2 Thrive’ covers practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health regardless of the situations they are dealing with. These tools – even though they may need to be adapted for the short term because of COVID-19 and social distancing – will be more useful than ever during these times.

Watch what Fractured Minds is about here from Emily Mitchell:

Watch the launch trailer for AVICII Invector here:

 

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Emily Mitchell wins ‘Games for a Better World’ for Fractured Minds!

Last night at the MCV / Develop Awards 2020, Solo developer Emily Mitchell picked up the ‘Games for a Better World’  Award for debut title, Fractured Minds!

The Games for a Better World is such an important award and recognition from the UK games industry. In an age where social media has an impact on real life, and peer pressure leads to serious consequences, the timing of this new award could not be more poignant.

A few years ago, the team at Wired Productions started working with Emily on Fractured Minds, a game that didn’t shy away from shining a light on mental health. Personal experiences had led the team to a place where they needed to do something about the lack of openness within our industry. They stumbled upon someone with a vision to share how it feels to suffer with mental health issues. And that person inspired the team then, and still inspires them today.

So much as happened since Fractured Minds launched, several members of Wired, and our friends around the industry went on to found Safe In Our World – the video games mental health charity, and thousands of gamers around the world have since gone on to play Fractured Minds, fulfilling Emily’s goal to help remove the stigma around mental health, and help more people understand the day to day reality of living with various conditions.

Available for just £1.79 / €1.99 / $1.99 on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One – 80% of Proceeds will be split equally Between Mitchell for her future career and the video games mental health charity, Safe In Our World.

Buy now on PlayStation 4 | Xbox One | Nintendo Switch | Steam

About Fractured Minds

Fractured Minds comes from the imagination of 2017 BAFTA Young Games Designers award winner, Emily Mitchell, who at 17-years-old found solace through game development. Inspired by Emily’s personal journey through severe anxiety Fractured Minds seeks to create greater understanding and stand in solidarity with mental health sufferers around the world. Players will embark on a deeply personal and emotional journey through the human psyche. Exploring atmospheric and thought-provoking chapters, each symbolizing a different aspect or challenge associated with mental health — from isolation to anxiety, with everyday situations becoming distorted beyond recognition.

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New Avicii game raises funds for future mental health initiatives 

Our friends at Wired Productions have announced they’ll be making a donation to Safe In Our World on every copy sold of new release AVICII Invector! The music rhythm game was developed with the late Tim Bergling and is raising funds for the Tim Bergling Foundation. The charity was set up by Tim’s father to advocate for the recognition of suicide as a global health emergency and promote removing the stigma attached to the discussion of mental health issues. It will support science-based organizations that engage in research into the causes and prevention of suicide, particularly for young people.

Additionally, the foundation will support non-profits that address issues for which Tim had a passion, such as climate change, preservation of endangered species, global hunger, and more.

A massive thank you to our friends over at Wired. Here’s the trailer for the game:

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