Trending in Video Games Industry #MentalHealth
26 Feb, 2020
Trending in Video Games Industry #MentalHealth can be a very controversial topic depending on whom you talk to – some consider it is an excuse for others to not work as hard as they could. Others demand 100’s of policies already be in place for it to cater to THEIR OWN needs regardless anyone else they work with needs.
While everyone else between these extremes are mostly unsure how to progress on the matter. Yet there is no doubt mental health is a new frontier for the video games industry, and one of the top subjects in 2019.
Trending in Video Games Industry #MentalHealth
Though I may not have known it when I was younger, mental health and the complications that surround it have always been apart of my life. Being diagnosed at an early age with Asperger’s syndrome my family have always been mindful about what that might entail for them and me. As alongside being a neurological condition those with a form of autism often develop further co-occurring mental health conditions like anxiety and depression; many of which were very present in me as a child, while I was growing up and still are with me today.
Such mindfulness led my family especially my mum to seek out and ensure I got the support as an individual I needed to develop and not lose out on as many opportunities as possible. Although what might have helped my mum to have such drive, is at the time of my diagnosis doctors expressed clearly to her that it would be a miracle if I could lift a pen without help by the time I reached high school. Something I don’t think many parents would sit back and submit to hearing as fact.
Looking back now my childhood between the mid-90s and 2009 is either a sign of how far autism research has come and how important it still is, or the support I received was pioneering! Nevertheless my childhood wasn’t always intense and isolating. Yet I feel my upbringing could be seen as unorthodox which might be why my approach towards mental health might be very different compared to others. Because while other kids played outside I got the support I needed to understand myself mentally and behaviourally. Thus allowing me to better function independently as best as a kid could before their teenage years that correspondingly afforded me a maturity and sense of reflection beyond my years.
In relation to my overall point, such time and effort into care towards mental health and conditions in general I’ve described are not always available within the work environment. But also shouldn’t be expected to in one set fashion since my small summary of my background isn’t the same case for everyone on the autism spectrum. Because my triggers and traits won’t be the exact same as to another autistic person’s, and is even more likely to be different to anyone who is neurotypical.
Mental health matters
Mental health matters are quite often individualised. How we deal with things and find comfort isn’t always going to be the same to those we work with, and we shouldn’t let it hold up the monument of work. But that doesn’t mean we throw consideration to the curve, but instead re-scale, realign pace and ensure everyone has somewhat a sense of relief most of the time. We are not a public service industry or one that is technically needed, however we are an industry that can bring a smile to someone’s day, translate pixels on a screen into immersive entertainment and allow tech, creativity and business to collide into a virtual fireworks show; so why shouldn’t we be able to feel good while doing all that?
Through my personal experience from what I hear around the industry it is often the loudest of extreme opinions that are heard and holt progression of mental health matters being discussed openly – so let me try to address these as best I can.
Personally I don’t see why there has to be such a struggle from corporate viewpoints to implement campaigns that encourage positive mental health which are supported practically through initiatives and schemes, since a happier workforce is a better workforce no?
Positive mental health
Positive mental health does not always mean guaranteed happiness, more often than not it is more about you or a colleague’s acknowledgement of their mental state and tolerance to their current situation; environment and people included. Which isn’t a bad thing, as sometimes said colleague might get sensory overloaded by their workspace and need flexible working to allow them to bring their best work to the job. Not just to the table that day, or a traumatic event the night before work might have overwhelmed you, resulting in needing to use one of your half-days to realign your work/life balance.
The truth of the matter is we all have bad days and that is ok to not always be 100% focused on work, to not always be happy and to instead have mixed feelings and go at a different pace than the expected standard. Even how we handle it doesn’t have to be one set way, but this is where I feel many companies fear supporting mental health schemes like flexible working, ‘under the cover’ mornings, paying overtime and similar arrangements because there is a lack of trust, deficiency of adaptability and expectations of losing money.
The rise of social enterprises
Though the rise of social enterprises and start-ups are shifting opinions not just in the video games industry but across all sectors, there is still a strong fundamental, conservative approach to trust in the workplace where if someone is not being as productive as they are expected to be, that means a loss of profits to the dismay of those on top of the hierarchy. Unfortunately within this industry there is an addition factor that reduce leniency and can often be seen very hypocritical where many senior and high management professionals add unneeded pressure onto those who work for and/or with them by claiming “it is an honour to work within this industry, you should give out more, do crunch and such or we just find someone else who will be less confident and doesn’t prioritise their mental health” – having been on the end of such conservations in my career so far I can tell you it is not nice and still affects my mental health to this day.
I have been fortunate enough though to have a small yet supportive network that has allowed me to essentially quit and leave such environments without the risk of going broke or worse. However for some it is not that easy and those that can’t just quit to leave such work environments have to take what almost could be considered blackmail or verbal abuse daily to avoid losing money; which is why it is easier said than done and very understandable why people submit to bad work practices if the job they are doing is what gives them the money for rent, food and not become homeless. But that doesn’t mean nothing should change and the people within such situations should lump it and accept it, this is why open discussion is important and why more needs to be done towards mental health matters within industry.
Mental health practices
On the other end of extremes, it is hard to understand why some people try to overcomplicate and almost over sensitize mental health matters to the point that it creates awkward tensions to talk about or becomes very self-servicing to few individuals within the workplace that it pushes people away from considering suitable options or getting the support they need. There can be people who believe it is there right to the best mental health practices and thus take advantage of systems in place within companies that eventually reduce the quality and disregard fellow co-workers; a sense of ego that isn’t always justified.
This does not mean I am against people feeling like they need extra support and trying to lessen their own personal struggles, but more the infrastructure of any mental health support currently in the games industry needs to safeguard and actively be worked on so the support is not abused, static and mental health in the workplace is treated correctly. Almost like the meta of a fighting game where it takes re-balancing, patches and modifying daily to accommodate players because new and more things constantly change the dynamics, just like new and more staff do within a company and how one way is not always the way due to everyone being different and needing balance not doesn’t cater to just a select few.
Mental health does not lesser someone nor does it retract from businesses
I hope by sharing some of my own journey and tackling a few of the “elephants in the room”, it can help breakdown the stigmas around mental health to allow people to engage on the topic as respectfully as possible with no restrictions because talking about mental health does not lesser someone nor does it retract from businesses, I feel discussing mental health and acting on said discussions by developing initiatives and such can only strengthen the games industry to become a happier, healthier and more inclusive space to work in.
Though I’ve talked about much of the negatives, there is no question there are video game companies and professionals within the UK and around the world who are adapting while putting into practice systems to create positive impact, catering to people’s mental health and overall wellbeing.
As my thinking is if games can positively impact players’ mental health, then why shouldn’t we as an industry ensure positive mental health is an on-going standard for every individual and company’s work culture, and not just the latest buzzword or trend to be passed by! And that’s why its trending in Video Games Industry #MentalHealth.
By Dominic Shaw @DominicShaw94 #LetsTalkAboutIt
This article originally appeared in Analog Fanzine, you can download the magazine here.
Thanks for reading Trending in Video Games Industry #MentalHealth. For more features on the games industry, visit our Into Indie Games features pages