Empathy & Anxiety
Game design = reflection
Small games about mental health and relationships.
First, I’ll talk to you about game design and how mental illness is being represented through mechanics, then mention a few games that I found helpful.
Make small experiments in video games about my experiences, and that helps me a lot to unwind, but that’s not all there is to it. There’s something inherent in videogame medium that is helpful. Interactivity for empathy. I’ll explain this with an example.
Small note: proliferation of small creators, some use games to express what’s bothering them, creative catharsis -> games focused on mental health.
Interesting games take <5 minutes to play, completely free, online, and don’t have overly complex mechanics or visuals, but they work. This is why i keep encouraging people who have never made games before to make their own games, especially using free tools that don’t require programming and allow for rapid prototyping, because they can have a therapeutic effect not just on the players/understanding/empathy, but on the creator too.
What Now? Arielle Grimes. Very short game. Walk around, slowly start glitching out, growing white noise, field of view reduced. As you move towards objects, they provide you with comfort - you get a new entry in your journal, but it’s only momentary. As you run out of objects to interact with… end. ALSO, just walking too quickly/interacting with too many objects - sensory overload
Proper glitch out, text all over, screen reduced. The end of the game. It hit home.
Games are about Figuring Out Patterns, most of the time, if you think about it. Games are wonderful as a medium to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and really experience what they mean, because in a way, you’re experiencing those feelings and seeing how the person with that mental health condition reacts and what thought patterns they go through.
"Games have always sort of just been there for me, not purely as escapism but also in a very productive way. They helped me deal with my struggles, and understand and prioritize goals"
Forces you to think about best way to implement mechanics, so understand how your illness works when it comes to mental health. Self-awareness can be very useful to get better. ALSO, cathartic to put everything out there and summarise it in a small piece. Can create dialogue between counsellor & person too.
Feedback you get -> realise why you did certain mechanics a certain way.
Formalise this, game design. Feedback loops. Player does something and the computer lets them know how this affected the world. Good for the player as they feel satisfied, game feels responsive.
BUT you can subvert this and create a LACK of response and frustrate the player, and by doing this, make a certain concept click with them. This works very well when it comes to modeling anxiety and depression in games, as they are caused by our brains not working in the ways we would like them to.
-> What Now : have to move to another object, have to always monitor your state
->>NOT A FEELGOOD FEELING. LACK OF REWARD
Depression Quest - might be familiar with it. Text-based, go through life of a depressed person. Make choices, choose-your-own-adventure type of game. Choices get crossed off as you get more depressed - as a player, you can see which options would be the best, healthiest ones, but the character just doesn’t have the energy and willpower to make those choices. It’s not an easy game to play, because you have very limited control over what happens, and this is exactly why it works well. Depression Quest was in fact made to raise awareness of what depression really is, and how you can seem fully functioning but actually be doing very badly. Allow others to understand.
NOW IM GONNA MENTION A FEW GAMES THAT USE MECHANICS IN AN INTERESTING WAY AND HOPEFULLY YOU’LL GET MY POINT
prescriptionpixel.com - stories how games have helped people. Not only mental-health specific games, but all games can help people. Associate with the character and interpret their struggles in the game as being their own. Violent games, when you become really good at them and speedrunning, can have a calming effect because you are going through the motions so flawlessly that it’s almost liberating.
But ofc, walking simulators, where you can take your time, can be relaxing as well, exploration, you can take your time to feel comfortable in your environment.
>> they have huge lists of games classified by category and what people thought of them, should definitely check it out!
PSYCHO-EDUCATION. Specifically meant for education & raising awareness.
Not always metaphorical, some directly psychological. Neurotic Neurons. Nicky Case - Explorable Explanations. Political party clustering, etc, better explained through interactive graphs. Better understand relations when you can fiddle with values. Like a video, but also interactive and guides you through, explains cognitive behavioural therapy. Neurons, connections, and that negative thought patterns can be retrained if you solidify the connections that are beneficial to you.
Games not specific to mental health: Stardew Valley - only played it for a bit but noticed how well it worked for me. Farming game, lots of possibilities, dungeons, etc. Usually overwhelmed, time-pressure to water things, etc. BUT GAME FEELS FORGIVING AND KIND. Characters are all super nice. Building things day to day, slowly, ROUTINE. NO TIME PRESSURE; it’s okay if you don’t do anything for a day.
VR - cardboard. You Can Grow by Lisa Janssens (so sorry for not knowing the name when I gave the talk lololol)
Move your head up and down as you breathe, and if you do it at the same rhythm as the circle that is expanding and contracting, flowers start to slowly grow. Ambient soundtrack, relaxing, get lost in it.
Really exciting time!!! VR’s immersion would allow games that serve a medical use to have way more impact and representations more powerful.
PTSD war veteran example; also STRONGER EMPATHY.
Really looking forward to what people will come up with. <3