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Improving mental health to foster a better industry; an interview with BAFTA and Safe In Our World

Improving mental health to foster a better industry; an interview with BAFTA and Safe In Our World

Working towards a better, healthier future

Our mental welfare is so important, yet it gets all too easily neglected both by ourselves and external forces. As an industry, video games have borne the brunt of misconceptions about their impact on mental health for decades; and while a shift in attitudes has finally occurred, much work still needs to be done.

This is where industry giants like BAFTA come into play. They work with invaluable charities like Safe In Our World to champion the importance of raising awareness, but also in seeing that awareness turns into supportive action.

For the last two years in a row, these two intuitions have joined forces to create a mental health event to help bring this issue to the forefront of our minds. Filled with a whole host of experts, its aim is to provide a “dedicated day” that addresses “mental health issues” the industry faces.

Discussions on four-day work weeks, social mobility, building resilience, and other vital workshops took place throughout the day of 3 June. I was eager to attend, given my own experiences with mental illness, yet, on the day of the event, as I waited for the train, I suffered a severe panic attack. Ironically, as I waited to attend a mental health workshop, my own mental health decided to remind me of the hold it has over my life; over my experiences.

To be humbled like that in such a public setting was incredibly distressing. Yet, it also emboldened me. Not in the moment, of course, but afterwards, when the fear had subsided. I wanted to do more than write about the event, as important as it is, and instead focus on its aftermath; to delve into the work that continues once the BAFTA HQ doors are closed.

This isn’t just about the representation of mental health within the medium, but also how it affects those creating the games we’re so captivated by. Arguably, it’s an aspect of the discussion that rarely sees the light of day, nor is it taken as seriously when debating the merits and cons of the impact of games on the mind.

“Video games are a powerful tool to hold discussions around serious issues such as mental health and mental illness, and offer players a unique opportunity to empathise and gain a greater understanding of these topics by being part of the story,” details Safe In Our World’s partnerships and training manager, Sky Tunley-Stainton. “In order to continue sharing these experiences, it’s imperative that we support the people who are making the games that we love.”

BAFTA’s head of games, Luke Hebblethwaite, reaffirms this stance saying, “There are a multitude of pressures on people within our sector – some that are unique to games, but many that are also common to people in all kinds of roles. Our aim is to help address those challenges and improve the working lives of everyone in our industry, whatever your role.”

It’s easy to speak of awareness, but it’s only through actions that we’ll reap the benefits we keep referring to yet rarely seeing. Arguably, this is what’s spurred on BAFTA and Safe In Our World: so we’re not doomed to repeat only a performative display of mental health advocacy.

“Ultimately, we believe that by improving mental health we foster a better industry which is more capable, creative and ready to create the amazing games we all love,” Hebblethwaite’s words here perfectly encapsulate why events like BAFTA’s Mental Health Summit are vital as we grow as an industry. Even more so when faced with layoffs and frequent burnout.

But our mental welfare isn’t just a standalone entity; it impacts every aspect of our lives, both socio and economic. We see this in the north/south divide, as well as in the class divide that many claim isn’t there anymore but is now more evident than ever. Placed in situations where access to the same opportunities as those born into wealth is removed, is just one of the many ways our mental health can be worn down, especially in a sector that predominately favours those from financially stable backgrounds.

It’s a topic that Hebblethwaite delved into during the Summit, providing an interactive way that we, as a collective, can better improve access. As a working-class individual, social mobility is incredibly important to me, not least of all because I’ve faced many obstacles because of my upbringing. Being automatically written off because of my birthright – or should I say, lack of it – has undoubtedly hindered my career progression. Granted, I’ve weathered those storms, but it’s left unseen scars because I’ve had to fight tooth and nail to earn my place.

As Hebblethwaite summarises, “The socio-economic make-up of our industry intersects with many other areas of representation, as well as mental health, because of the additional pressures from obvious financial ones such as needing to paying the bills to ones that are perhaps more hidden like impostor syndrome.”

Consequently, we find ourselves in familiar but unpleasant territory, in which senior roles are held and maintained by those from affluent backgrounds. People are left in a void of uncertainty as they attempt to make their way through an industry not designed to easily allow them access. This is why this year’s theme for the Mental Health Summit was ‘Driving Change’. When others won’t take action on our behalf, we must lead the way instead.

“We sought to offer sessions that addressed real-world issues faced by games industry companies like burnout, online safety, and resilience,” explains Tunley-Stainton. “We also looked forward to what could be done differently [...] to foster an environment of empathetic communication in work, and the tools that are available to support this.”

These tools aren’t readily available yet, with progression mired by the lack of understanding intuitions like BAFTA and Safe In Our World still face despite the advancements they’ve made thus far. The tide has turned, certainly, but it still has a long way to go before it hugs the shores of a place that fully comprehends the multifaceted nature of mental health.

The work never stops. And while there’s no confirmation of another event just yet, there are many irons in the fire, so to speak, about how to continue supporting mental health within the games industry. In the words of Hebblethwaite, “Mental health in games will remain firmly on BAFTA’s agenda.”

Featured Image Credit: BAFTA, Safe In Our World

Topics: Mental Health, Features, Interview