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In recent years, mental health in the gaming industry has become a major topic of discussion. The growing conversation around it is starting to dispel the stigma around mental health in the workplace and organizations are now better equipped to help their staff.
Back in May, BAFTA and Safe In Our World held their first ever Games Mental Health Summit. This is the first time I’ve really noticed the conversation around mental health in games is starting to shift from a reactive approach – where game companies develop initiatives to help employees after the fact – to a proactive approach, one that looks deeper into the ‘why’ of mental health issues. industry.
Here, I encourage the industry to adopt that holistic mindset and offer game developers my own steps to take their path to becoming truly healthy organizations.
Step #1: Reframe mental health
The gaming industry needs a wholesale mindset change. Simple, right?
The end goal sounds intimidating, but the place to start is at ground level; look in the mirror at our own organizations and make an honest assessment of how we view mental health.
What does this mean in practice? I often hear the phrase ‘mental health issues’, followed by a discussion of the role of the studio in supporting people who are already experiencing challenges. It limits you to a purely reactive mindset. We need to think about mental health in the same way as physical health.
For example, when people talk about getting fit, about reducing cholesterol, about how many steps they’ve logged, they don’t take it seriously. They talk about it in terms of being healthier and happier. Mental health should be thought of and discussed in the same way.
This was enlightening as we went it alone at Ripstone, and it served as a trigger for us to take further action. I call on the gaming industry to reframe the way it thinks and talks about mental health and adapt itself to embrace positive, proactive perspectives that empower teams and foster healthier, happier individuals.
During the Games Mental Health Summit, fellow panelist Luke Hebblethwaite, head of game BAFTA, said: “Who do we want our games to be made for? Sad, stressed, depressed, and exhausted people… Or do we want to be happy, empowered, creatively fulfilled and balanced people?”
Mental health support and first aid are here to stay, but we need to shift our mindset to build a more resilient environment that promotes holistic health from the start. After all, empowered people have fun and live balanced lives making for great games.
Step #2: Open a conversation
Get everyone involved.
Every organization will find its own path, but it’s important to involve everyone in your company from the start.
The only way to deal with things proactively is to create a safe space where people can share and openly discuss the challenges you face collectively as an organization, and then explore potential solutions together.
Surveys can be an effective tool to help anonymize contributions. We found it very beneficial to make mental health awareness training available for all roles within our organization. This has helped create a common language that keeps the conversation going, long after the training session is over.
There is a lot of data to support that [proactive mental health care] not only necessary, but also good for the bottom line
By involving the whole team, you will gain valuable insight into the challenges individuals face and find common threads to tackle first. Remember, you don’t have to have all the answers at once. Humility is key, and acknowledging that you need everyone’s input fosters a sense of ownership and cooperation.
However, it’s important to remember that not everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts – and that’s okay too.
You may face some resistance when you start this conversation. So, if you need to convince someone of the value of proactive mental health care, the good news is there’s plenty of data to back up that’s not only needed in the gaming industry, but great for the bottom line.
The 2022 UKIE Census found that 38% of people who answered suffered from anxiety, depression, or both. This is up from 31% before the COVID-19 pandemic. More generally, Deloitte’s “Mental health and employers” report finds that, on average, for every £1 invested in mental health support, there is a £5.30 return.
The need is clear and the benefits of better mental health care are clear. Now it’s up to all of us to take action.
Step #3: Adapt your approach
Make changes that work for you.
An indie bedroom duo won’t have the same resources to implement ‘healthy’ changes as an international studio, but they won’t have the same needs either. So you have to choose your own path forward. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so, as we say at Ripstone, you need ‘Bruce Lee’.
Just as Bruce Lee adapted his approach by borrowing, adapting, and personalizing various styles of martial arts, we should all “Bruce Lee” our mental health initiatives.
Explore external resources, such as industry-specific charities like Safe in Our World, to take advantage of valuable insights and training opportunities. Join their Discord channel and be part of the wider discussion. Implement internal programs such as training and counseling sessions, flexible working hours, and implement policies that prevent work-related ‘crises’ and stress.
Small studios that are short on time or resources may want to consider an external certification, such as the Be There Certificate. This is a free self-help mental health awareness training for employees. I also recommend looking into the Employee Assistance Program. This typically provides 24-hour mental health care for your team and often includes things like counseling sessions and crisis assistance.
It is in our power to shape the gaming industry into a space where mental health is prioritized, individuals thrive and creativity thrives. By making positive wellbeing a fundamental pillar of our industry, we not only nurture the talent within us, but also create games that fill the world with joy, excitement and a sense of accomplishment.
Step #4: Real-world action
Start something! It doesn’t matter how small.
It’s not about fundamental or costly changes, it has more to do with focusing our attention. Any little mental health initiative in your workspace can be the thing that gets the ball rolling.
At Ripstone, our staff has monthly access to one-on-one counseling with me, but we also run a lunchtime walking club, as well as weekly ‘R Talks’; small talk by the campfire that serves as a safe space for employees to talk about whatever is important in their lives.
Small changes like these have a cascading effect on our culture, setting the stage for ongoing shifts in expectations and attitudes. They have become a part of who we are and what we do, and they happen to have enormous mental health benefits.
The long-term goal is to build a culture where everyone is responsible for caring for one another and championing positive mental well-being. Holding leaders and managers accountable for the mental health of their teams is key to building this. Their success should be measured on this, not just on their ability to complete work and meet deadlines.
Positive deterrence is an integral step towards creating a game development community that truly and proactively cares about its people
The BAFTA Games Mental Health Summit demonstrated that there is a real swell to doing things differently and that, with the right focus, we can make a real impact.
We are a young industry, built on the passion of its people. Let’s use this as a superpower to avoid the pitfalls that other industries fall into. Together, we can advocate for an industry that embraces a new, proactive approach to mental health.
Why not start with small first steps?
Try putting something – anything – into action. Encourage your colleagues and managers to talk more; sometimes you may need time and place to trigger those dialogs. Show compassion for one another’s worries. You may be surprised how a simple conversation can open the door to a healthier way of working.
Positive deterrence will look different for each organization, but it’s an integral step toward creating a game development community that genuinely and proactively cares about its people.
James Marquis is a psychology trainer with over 16 years experience in the mental health and wellness field. He recently joined Ripstone as their in-house expert, empowering employees to address personal challenges and industry-specific demands.
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