It's time to talk about mental illness in the gaming industry.
There is no question there is still a stigma around mental health, especially in the gaming community. It is still a sensitive topic and largely untalked about.
In the fall of 2012, Matt Hughes, a freelance reporter covering the video game industry, took his life. This was a complete shock to everyone around him. They didn't see it coming. There were no red flags. He seemed fine. No one knew.
This was a wakeup call.
This call was the beginning of of Take This, a five-year old non-profit organization dedicated to helping people in the video game world talk about and manage mental illness. They have been an active voice in the community, championing that it is normal to struggle with your mental health. Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses are common and any people feeling this isn't alone.
"We talk about stigma, and yeah, there's a huge societal issue there, but I think just for developers, they need to understand this is normal," Kate Edward, the executive director of Take This told Engadget. "There's all kinds of other normal things we can talk about with indie development and having to market yourself, but this one aspect that's normal, and it's much more prevalent than people think."
Mike Wilson, the co-founder of Take This, continues: "It's like bugs in your game. They will exist, I don't care who you are. You will fuck something up, and you will need to fix it, and you are also going to have bugs."
Even though mental illness is not unique to the video game world, the industry attracts specific types of people and encourages an environment to make these problems more prevalent. There are unique factors that are built within the gaming world such as the high-pressure Crunch Time developers routinely go through when they are on a deadline to release a game, the stress of changing jobs frequently, the many high-level demands and commitments it takes to produce a game. All of this is ingrained in the industry. And hardly talked about.
Hotline Miami, a tale of gaming success
Profiled by Engadget is the story behind the production of the famous the indie game Hotline Miami. It was a massive success in 2012, the brainchild of a two-man team Jonatan Soderstrom and Dennis Wedin. Two weeks during development Wedin was hospitalized as he dealt with the end of a romantic relationship.
They didn't tell anyone, not even Devolver, their publisher. They didn't want anyone to worry.
After the game came out, their lives changed dramatically but it wasn't necessarily for the better.
"it's really hard to feel bad about it because you know you're privileged to be in this situation, but at the same time, I don't like my life more now than I did before the game," Soderstrom says in the Complex documentary. "I kind of like it less."
Please Knock On My Door
Indie developer Michael Levall knows how it feels to be pushed to the limit in the gaming industry. He's built a game, Please Knock On my Door, about his own experiences with depression.
"I have met many people in our industry who either have or have suffered from depression, and it shouldn't come as a surprise," he says to Engadget. "For many of us, work is our passion. The downside is that working overtime leads to burnout, which in itself is a gateway to depression. There is also the economical stress of working as an indie developer, or the stress of knowing how hard it is to find a new job should your studio go bankrupt or your project shelved."
Gaming is often a copy mechanism for players who suffer from depression and other issues. It may not be the root of their problems. "I didn't play games because I enjoyed it; I played because I needed to waste time until the clock hit 10 p.m. and I could go to sleep."
Suffering in Silence
"How many people have suffered in silence?" Wilson asks. "Or lost their girlfriend or boyfriend or husband or kids?"
Indie developers especially face internal pressures, as their workflow can push them deeper into their minds, driving negative introspection and forcing isolation as they finish their games at any cost. It's the same anxiety as an entrepreneur or small business owner has.
Anxiety for AAA developers, as Edwards explains, is significantly different, manifesting in more their deadlines, their relationship with their managers and their performance reviews.
Working from home also has its drawbacks as it prevents developers from engaging with nature, friends and the non-digital world. They can go months without human contact which may exasperate any anxiety or depression.
Take This have made it their mission to remind developers that they aren't alone facing this struggle. They offer resources for finding therapist, taking antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and even supporting friends who are dealing with a crisis. They're also building an army of indie developers and YouTube Streamers, who are inspired to promote their message, who are equipped to help people.
It's clearly a very complicated issues with many unseen factors playing. However, steps are slowly being taken to start talking about these factors. To know you aren't alone facing the mountain of struggles in front of you, can be a light at the end of a dark tunnel. Organizations like Take This are instrumental to saying "Hey, it's okay to feel depressed and have anxiety. We all have it. It's normal. It's okay. Let's talk."
After all, it all starts with conversation.
If you know someone you love could benefit from a supportive community of video game fans, check out Takethis.org for expert advice and blog posts. For those in crisis and in need of immediate help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255.
To follow our ongoing coverage of Mental Health in the Gaming Industry, you can read our review on the best apps to help manage your mental health.
About The Author: Caroline Corbett-Thompson
Caroline is the Marketing Director at Itavio. You'll find her listening to NPR and scowling 99% of the time.
More posts by Caroline Corbett-Thompson