Need help?
Click here Need Help?
Need help? Click here

How to Tell Meaningful Stories Through Games with Paula Angela Escuadra (Safe Space Podcast Season 2, Episode 1)

In the first episode of Season 2 of the Safe Space Podcast, Rosie talks to Paula Angela Escuadra about her vast experience within the game development space where she has broadened the conversation around inclusivity, representation, sustainability and climate consciousness.

We talk about the importance of using games to portray important messages, and how it differs from messages within more static media such as films and books, and what steps developers can take to implement these messages in ethical and proactive ways. We also discuss the effect that video games can have on player’s introspection and identity, and how it can act as a support mechanism to those who may often feel unsafe to be themselves in person.

Click here to listen!

There are two people in the foreground (Rosie and Paula), between them is a Audio waveform graphic in white and the text 'Safe Space', with a white siow logo at the bottom. There is a forest with light flickering through the trees in the background and a SIOW Pink wave shape at the top.

About Paula
Paula Angela Escuadra (She/Her) has spent +12 years elevating the power games have to redefine our relationship with failure and create meaning. She leads research for Xbox Game Studios Cloud Publishing, helping developers make great games that foster meaningful communities. She co-founded IGDA Climate Special Interest Group, co-authoring its newly released Environmental Game Design Playbook. She’s also on Cologne Game Lab’s advisory board with a focus on unlocking sustainability competencies.
(Lastly, she’s a very strong advocate for community care, psychological safety, and dog cuddling as a form of self-care.)

Links

Want to listen to more episodes of the Safe Space Podcast? Check out the full list of episodes at this link

Skills utilised:
News

Stardew Valley

The player inherits their grandfather’s old farm plot in the beautiful town of Stardew Valley, which is your chance to start a new life and create a thriving farm. Players throughout the game will get to know Stardew Valleys inhabitants, make friends, start relationships and celebrate being together.

Stardew Valley is a feel-good game that you can lose hours in just taking care of your farm or doing other activities such as mining, fishing, mini-quests, and so much more. When we ask our community their comfort game, Stardew Valley has been in the running every time!

Features:

  • The farm is in your control do what you want with it
  • Meet interesting people, form friendships and relationships
  • Customise the game to your liking
  • Take part in events each with mini-games and things to do

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

In Sound Mind

In Sound Mind is a psychological survival horror game developed by We Create Stuff and published by Modus Games.

In Sound Mind throws players into the shoes of Desmond Wales, a psychologist who has just awoken to find his town has flooded and a mysterious chemical looms around every corner. The narrative is an interesting one, a game that keeps you guessing throughout your playthrough. We believe that In Sound Mind belongs on the list due to the portrayal of each fear. While the game is a survival horror, it’s quite the experience getting to delve into each of these mysterious worlds to try to solve what is going on with Desmond, and what happened to his patients.

These worlds are so unique to each other, each with a very dark representation, from ghost-like entities to almost alien-like creatures, no world is the same, you must do what it takes to solve the mystery. Virginia the first patient struggles with social anxieties, Allen struggles with fear, Max has issues with his anger and Lucas’s PTSD was taking over his life. By solving the mysteries you can bring the patients and Desmond peace.

In Sound Mind boasts a mesmerising visual style with beautiful lighting effects. The game is dark, but it’s the chemical compound and the atmospheric lighting that is eye-catching. It also showcases a great soundtrack by Living Tombstone. With such a narrative-driven game, We Create Games have secured some brilliant voice acting talent that conveys the emotion in each of the patients and the fear in Desmond; the fear of not understanding how he got here and why.

Features

  • Interesting puzzles that blend in with patients fears & touch on mental health/illnesses
  • Creative boss fights
  • Beautiful graphics especially the lighting effects
  • A creative narrative that keeps you guessing

 

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Delving Into Our Own Minds in Psychonauts 2

Psychonauts 2 players are loving the bizarre but wonderful world that Double Fine has created. Specifically, players are appreciating connecting to their own mental health experiences, and the strong advocation of healing within the game. Psychonauts 2 puts players in the shoes of Razputin, an ex-circus performer turned psychic spy part of the Psychonauts organisation.

The organisation is tasked with keeping an eye on the world and rescuing people’s minds by going into their heads and trying to fix the issue at hand, so that the person in question feels better. You’ll explore many different characters’ minds whilst also trying to find a mole within the organisation who is trying to bring back Maligula, a cruel hydrokinetic who the organisation took down 20 years ago after destroying the fictional city that Raz comes from. Along the way, you’ll find more about the organisation and its characters that we’ve come to know and love.

Psychonauts 2 is a 3-D platformer that offers a myriad of fun tasks to take on. While the main story mentioned above is key, there are also a lot of side quests for players to take on, and exploring the world of Psychonauts is nothing short of wonderful. Double Fine has created a world full of character and lore which makes checking out every little nook and cranny of the game feel very rewarding. Not only do players broaden their understanding about mental health and empathy, but get to check out some fantastic art design and creative ideas on the journey.

Mental health themes are so key to this game. After all, you’re tasked with delving into different people’s minds! In one instance, Razputin must go into the mind of Compton to help him with his performance anxiety. To do this, you enter a gameshow with some pretty horrifying puppets which represent the staff around the psychonauts HQ. In the show, you must cook some very bizarre meals by using the audience (who are ingredients) to make these dishes. The more you make, the harder it gets; but the better Compton feels.

Double Fine covered mental health themes in a very unique way. You are notified at the start of the sequel about the subjects it delves into, already signalling what is going to be explored, from trauma victims with PTSD and others with psychosis. This offers insight to those who might not fully understand the illnesses and what a person may feel like. The way Double Fine has used these subject matters in such a respectful way but also provided a way for everyone to tackle is downright wonderful. While mental health is becoming more understood, we have a way to go, but developers using imaginative ways to tell stories of relatable events in the mental health world is providing more with an understanding. This is especially inviting for the gamers who perhaps aren’t as interested in delving into video games that are purely mental health orientated and perhaps just feel like playing a quirky platformer. By putting the subject matter into an engaging storyline, it allows more subtle explorations into topics that many games don’t explore.

From the initial reviews, you can already tell that people are loving the game, not only because of its quirky ever-changing gameplay and style, but because of its relatable way of exploring mental health in more joyful and positive ways.

Safe In Our World has always recognised the power of video games and telling stories, which is echoed by our affiliates and our community. Psychonauts 2 manages to cover so many tough subject matters in such a unique way, which makes us hopeful that more developers will engage and experiment with mental health representation within their games in the future. The video games of today are constantly changing and evolving, and provide a platform for gamers to explore and reflect on their own mental health in an engaging way.

Skills utilised:
News

Lake

Set in the 1980’s, players take on the role of Meredith Weiss, a woman brought back home to help her father by taking his role as a postal worker while her family enjoys a holiday away.

Along the way, players will deliver packages and letters whilst discovering more about the locals and choosing how they interact with them.

As time passes, you start to realise how alive Lake feels, whilst the gameplay focuses on choosing your path, listening and communicating.

As the game moves forward, you see the effects of what you do on the people you talk to, you’ll also make some new relationships and possibly even a love interest along the way. We chose Lake because while playing through, it stood out as a game that taught you to sometimes stop, and listen, one small act of kindness can change a life and who knows where these little acts could take you. Empathy and understanding are key throughout the game, though it is all down to player-choice which makes the learning process a lot more interesting. When not talking to the locals, you’ll be delivering packages, mail and sometimes even other little tasks depending on how you communicate with certain people.

Features:

  • Explore a beautiful lakeside town and make friends with its inhabitants
  • Choose the way you live the life of Meredith Weiss
  • A fun and relaxing postal working job

 

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Psychonauts 2

Psychonauts 2 throws us back in Double Fine’s wonderful and weird world of Psychonauts. We delve back into the life of Raz who is now an intern at Psychonauts HQ.

Players will take a deep dive into other characters’ minds and discover all sorts of situations that simulate things many of us experience regularly.

Not is all as it seems at the HQ, not since the second in command, Forsythe, had taken over in the absence of Zanotto after his kidnapping. Raz and the gang will also explore and fix people’s minds by going into them using psychic powers.

This introduces the players to incredible worlds that are handled delicately and sensitively with respect, even containing a heartfelt warning message before you jump in warning players of the triggers and content.

The quirky and cartoon style comes to life with its unique art style, wonderfully gripping storyline and gameplay that keeps changing to keep the experience fresh. Psychonauts 2 belongs on our list for exploring difficult subjects in a heartfelt and respectful way, as well as being a fun 3D platformer allowing players to explore this wonderfully created world from Double Fine.

Features:

  • A fantastic story that centers around mental health
  • Unique art style
  • Ever-changing gameplay
  • Brilliant accessibility and customization

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 allows players to fly some of the most notable aircraft from around the world in a complete photo-realistic representation of Earth. Whether you’re a casual flyer who is looking for some time in the clouds to find your own home, or a hardcore simulator player who wants that true to life pilot experience, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 has you covered.

This game might just be one of the most relaxing games up there (no pun intended). With the ability to fly to absolutely any location around the world, you can visit the Pyramids, explore some of the most tropical beaches in the world, or visit famous city landmarks. You can really turn this game into your experience and with live traffic and a live weather mode, you can experience what’s going on in the world right from your own home.

You can truly lose yourself in just flying from point A to B. We recommend sticking Spotify on in the background with our Safe In Our World playlists for an extra surreal experience.

Features:

  • Whether you want a casual fly or the true pilot experience, you choose your path
  • Fly to absolutely anywhere in the world, even your own home
  • Relax and watch the world go by, chase storms or just admire the forces of nature

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Forza Horizon 4

Forza Horizon 4 centres around the freedom to drive the open road and explore the beautiful environment of Great Britain.

It’s more than just a racing game – it’s an impressively authentic replica of the UK’s scenic gems, where you can be as competitive or as leisurely as you please.

Enjoy stunning lighting and weather effects and a detailed ambient soundscape, enabling an immersive experience as you drive off into the sunset, looking for your next challenge…or, just watching the world go by.

You can team up or drive solo while Forza allows you to escape to the beauty spots of the UK. Whether it’s racing a steam train along the Glenfinnan viaduct, exploring the streets of historic Edinburgh, roaming the wild Yorkshire Moors as you perfect your skills challenge, or just having a scenic drive through the Cotswolds – Forza Horizon 4 might just be the therapeutic drive you’ve been looking for.

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Sea of Solitude

Sea of Solitude takes players on a personal journey of a young woman’s loneliness in a beautiful and evolving world where nothing is what it seems. Players will explore a flooded city by boat, foot and swimming, and discover what lies beneath the surface in a world that is haunted by a struggle of darkness and light. 

Players will be faced with monsters from the darkness, puzzles that piece together tainted memories of the world, all in an effort for Kay to discover what it truly means to be human.

Features:

  • A beautiful world to explore
  • Puzzles to keep you engaged
  • An interesting mystery to solve
  • Meet monsters with their own struggles

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

5 Games to Cheer You Up by Richard Breslin

It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the world, sometimes a dose of happiness can be hard to come by, especially for those that suffer with depression.

However, as I discovered as a child and right on through to present day as a married man with a son, videogames play just as an important role in improving my mental health, possibly even more so as I’ve gotten older.  There are so many games that I love, whether it be an epic adventure, a superhero saving the day, a game of football or something creative, they all play a role in my happiness.

So with that said, as challenging as it has been to narrow down just five games, I’ve compiled a short list that I believe do a great job in cheering me up by putting a smile on my face, and I hope that they can do the same for you too.


Two Point Hospital

PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch

A spiritual successor to the beloved Theme Hospital, Two Point Hospital carries the torch into the modern day with giving you the responsibility of running your very own successful hospital.  However, this is no mere hospital, as its filled with unpredictable chaos and bags of humour.  You’ll be tasked with insuring that patients leave satisfied (preferably alive), making sure that staff are not skiving from their duties, oh and you’ll have to make sure that you don’t turn Two Point Hospital into a financial ruin and to show appreciation for your efforts, you’ll might  even be rewarded with end-of-year awards at a prestigious ceremony.  On the surface, Two Point Hospital may be judged as a business simulator and in some part that is true, but it’s also one of the most entertaining, funny and immersive games that I’ve played in recent times.


Concrete Genie

PlayStation 4/PSVR

Concrete Genie is a heart-warming story of a boy named Ash that lives in the small town of Denska.  A once thriving fishing community brimming with life, much of this town is now polluted, abandoned and decayed.  Ash is a lonely child that takes comfort in doodling creative art work in his notebook.  But when a group of bullies target Ash, they steal his note book, tear it to pieces which leaves the pages scattered throughout the derelict town.  So Ash embarks on a quest to recover his lost pages, but he soon discovers unexpected companions after finding a magical paint brush that brings his art work to life and brims the town with colour.  Concrete Genie has a unique gameplay feature that utilises the motion controls of the DualShock 4 that has you doodling your unique creations in-game before they spring to life with character, personality and vibrant colour.  Concrete Genie may have a campaign, but it’s a heart-warming story of a boy struggles, and an experience that will live with you for years to come.


Dreams

PlayStation 4

In Dreams from LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule, your “dreams” can quite literally come true.  The LittleBigPlanet series has always been about user created content with some impressive levels have been created by the community over the years since the first game released in 2008 for the PS3.  However, Dreams can take your creativity to the next level, whether it’s your own unique games, perhaps you wanted to finish a cancelled game or something based up your favourite movie?  You can even create something for visual purposes, for example, have you seen that life-like Full English breakfast?  The thought of it alone makes my mouth water!  But even if you don’t feel like creating, there are 1000’s of uploaded user created content which grows by the day, which you can check out for yourself.  Dreams also offers a perfect taste for anyone thinking of getting into videogame development.  Whether you want to be inspired or be the one inspiring, Dreams can give you a feeling of accomplishment and achievement like not many other games can.


Untitled Goose Game

PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch

Untitled Goose Game is one of the most ridiculous games that I’ve ever played and it just so happens to be one of the funniest too.  The premise is simple, you are a Goose in a village, you’re placed in an area and you must complete as many of the in-mission objectives as you can.  However, while you go about your duties as a Goose, it is also your duty to torment the villagers and cause as much chaos in the process as you can!  Pinch picnic supplies, set off sprinklers, steal a garden rake, trap people in a phone booth, torment locals in the pub or just creep up to your unsuspecting victim to make them jump in fright with a loud HONK!  Yet beneath all of this chaos, is a surprising depth of puzzle solving that will have you scratching your head.  You may not initially think it, but Untitled Goose Game is like something that you’ve never played before and I can’t recommend it enough.


DOOM Eternal

PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Google Stadia

Now this is of course a mature game, and its 18-rated for a reason, so please only play this game if you meet the age requirements.  Throughout the years, the premise of DOOM has always been a simple one, The Slayer aka Doom Guy visits Mars where all hell has been unleashed and it’s his job to eliminate the demons to save the day.  DOOM (2016) was a fantastic reboot for the series, with gorgeous (and gruesome) visuals, fast & frantic gameplay and an adrenaline pumping soundtrack.  The latest release DOOM Eternal brings all the elements that made the 2016 release so great, and then expands upon its success to make it one of the best sequels in recent times.  For me, one of the factors that makes DOOM Eternal so great, is that the high-octane gameplay can actually work as a great stress release with its surprising therapeutic nature.  DOOM Eternal is one of the best games of this generation and ultimately, one of the most satisfying.  Now if you excuse me, I have some demons to slay!

Well, that’s my short list, and I hope that there’s something here that you might not have played.  Have you got any recommendations for games that will put a smile on our faces?  We’d love to hear your suggestions across our social media pages below!

 

Skills utilised:
Covid 19, News

Tetris Effect: Connected

Tetris is back, in a new and mesmerising way.

Tetris Effect: Connected offers different gameplay modes in classic Tetris style, accompanied by uniquely relaxing, dulcet sounds.

While it seems like a simplistic title, the combination of a classic challenge and a calming soundtrack can easily whisk you away from reality.

Key Features:

  • Colourful and unique design
  • Music that changes as you play
  • A challenge that starts off easy and increases the better you get
  • Different modes to suit your play
  • Multiplayer

 

 

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Spotlight: Xbox Gaming for Everyone

Back in 2016, it was announced that Microsoft Xbox would give players the chance to choose who they play with. Whether it be through club systems or groups, players would be able to find other gamers with similar interests. Ultimately, the aim was to launch something that focused on every individual person enjoying the games they buy in a more meaningful way. 

The Gaming for Everyone programme was created to embrace everyone’s background, whether it be race, country of origin, religion, LGBTQ+ and physical and mental illnesses.

The aim is also to teach developers on how to integrate equality and inclusivity in their video games, ultimately giving the players a game they can truly have fun and connect with. Sea of Thieves, for example, is a game that allows players to style their character to exactly what they want it to be. This increased level of customisation allows them to potentially create a character that closely mirrors their own identity. And at the very least, it gives them a greater freedom of expression. 

At X019, Gaming For Everyone hosted an event where people from around the globe talked about the amazing things they were doing for gamers and the industry. We were there to talk about the topic of mental health and its power in games. Specifically, we talked about how some indie titles have managed to convey the feelings of the developers behind them, but more importantly – connecting with gamers through relatable content. Many games today, such as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, show a journey through mental illness, but also provide ways to seek and reach out for help. 

With the recent classification of Gaming Disorder by WHO, Xbox have continued to show a more considered approach to gaming. Vowing to take action to prevent toxic behaviours and ensure that Microsoft platforms are safe for everyone, Xbox have since released their Community Standards for Xbox. These guidelines encourage respectful conduct amongst players, to “be a force for good, even when others aren’t.” 

Xbox’s move to nurture a stronger sense of community in gaming – through both relatable content and respectful interaction between players – helps to put mental health at the forefront of player experience. It opens up the potential for gamers with mental health issues to not only identify with narratives and characters, but also with other gamers facing similar struggles. And for some, it could be the road to recovery they’ve been looking for. 

Skills utilised:
News

Watch the Xbox Gaming With Everyone Panel

Did you spot Safe In Our World Trustee Gina Jackson on the Mental Health Panel at last months Xbox’s X019?

Watch as the developers of Hellblade, Tell Me Why and Gina came together for an honest chat on telling mental health, transgender and diverse perspectives stories in gaming.

Skills utilised:
News

Safe In Our World Joining the Gaming for Everyone panel at X019

Safe In Our World is heading to this years X019, with Trustee Gina Jackson joining the ‘Gaming for Everyone’ panel, streamed to millions on Friday 12:30PM GMT!

The Gaming for Everyone: diverse perspectives panel, features special guests Dom Matthews, Florent Guillaume, Shannon Loftis and Ruby Longoria to discuss unique character storylines in video games. From mental health to the journey of a transgender protagonist, the panel is sure to be a fascinating conversation. Make sure you don’t miss it!

Watch live below on Friday 15 at 12.30 PM!

Skills utilised:
News

That time Halo saved my life – By Gareth Williams

I didn’t really leave my bedroom that often. I’d been living in a house share, and the people were wonderful, but working for a credit card company was hard. I didn’t agree with trying to sell products to people who couldn’t afford them. But I did, and it weighed heavily on me.

Instead of washing my clothes, I’d just go into town and buy new ones. You could see the floor in places, but those spaces were few and far between. I bought clothes I couldn’t afford, which caused money issues, and ultimately made things worse.

In hindsight, I can see that as a trait now; I buy things when I’m depressed, because I think it’ll make me feel better, even though I know it’ll only be for a short time. I buy things anyway.

One of the things I bought in early 2002 was an original Xbox. I hadn’t planned to buy one, as I’d stopped gaming in the mid-90s.  I’d just walked past the window of Game near the Broadmarsh centre in Nottingham. I saw the logo in the window, and I’d seen a huge silver ‘X’ in one of my Dad’s PC Magazines. I got invited to a lock-in to try a few games and playing Halo Lan multiplayer was an epiphany for me. This was awesome, and I needed it in my life. I couldn’t afford it, but I put down £600 on an Xbox, Halo and Dead or Alive and an extra controller.

Before this, I’d had no dreams of working in the games industry – I didn’t even know the Konami code. I was a noob in the truest sense of the word.

I dived into gaming for the second time in my life and I was hooked. So much so, that I started a website to tell people about what I did on Xbox Live Beta. I told them about being in the top 120 in the world on Moto GP (without glitching). I told them about the friends I’d made whose names weren’t Dave, Sian or Chris, but Crispy Noodles, Mr Herrer and Looney N Darwen.

These people and these experiences were my clubs and pubs. Why go to a pub and spend money I didn’t have on booze when I could take corners at lightning speed or plunge a sword through the heart of an enemy? figuratively, of course. These new worlds were vibrant and made so by the characters and friends that inhabited them. My life had gone from this mundane experience that massively contributed to suffering from depression, to this open doorway into worlds that delighted and astounded me.  And all because I walked past a window and bought something to make myself happy.

In the 17 years since, I’ve worked hard to build a life around games, and I’m very lucky to have done so. There have been hard times along the way, and I’ve bought things to make myself happy, even recently. But I have a wonderfully supportive family around me, I have the gaming community, the industry as a whole, and I count my blessings every day. There are others that haven’t had it as easy as I have or been as lucky as I have; but my belief is that games can be a force for good. I mean, Halo changed my life once, and across the world there’s someone ready to have their lives changed too.

I hope it happens more often than we think.

Skills utilised:
Stories

The Town of Light

Based on extensive research and inspired by real facts, The Town of Light is a first-person psychological story driven adventure game set in the Volterra Psychiatric Asylum.

 

12 March 1938. Renée, 16 years old, is ripped out of her world, locked up and deprived of everything. Her only fault was that she didn’t know what her place in the world was. “A danger to herself and others and a cause of public scandal” wrote the police headquarters. The only horror you will find in this game is the truth: a blow to the solar plexus, much more intense than any supernatural presence.

The story is set in Italy in the first half of the 20th Century in a place which really existed and has been meticulously reconstructed.

The Town of Light is a psychological adventure told in the first person and based in a place that really existed. The asylum was shut down in the late 1970’s by a law from the Italian government which instructed all asylums to close completely and give back patients their civil rights. Exploring and interacting with the environment you will relive the history of the main character through her confused viewpoint and on the basis of your choices, the story will develop in different ways.

Features:

  • Realistic 3D graphics
  • Based on real facts and events.
  • Strong narrative component
  • No zombies or supernatural presences.
  • Nonlinear gameplay experience will allow different evolution of the main story
  • Original sound track.

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

no layouts found