Nearly all of us have a gamer in our lives. At first glance, video games might appear to be a frenzied, flashing flurry of sight and sound. They have often been criticized for disengaging us, as mere entertainment and escapism. But they can be so much more.
Fraser Valley resident Nissa Campbell, a graduate of Douglas College, writes for the non-profit charity “Take This,” which aims to provide resources and information about mental health issues and combat the stigma surrounding them. She also writes in depth analysis of games, which explore and examine the experience of mental illness through the medium.
One in five Canadians will suffer from a mental health issue in their lifetime, and virtually all of us will be indirectly affected by mental illness via friends, family, or a colleague. While gaming is very visible, mental health problems often aren’t. Campbell shared her experience with us on her efforts to bring awareness to mental health issues, with a special eye on what gamers can do to help in the fight against mental health and its persistent stigma.
Could you describe what Take This does as an organization?
Certainly. Take This is an American non-profit [charity] that works in the gaming community to offer education and information about mental health issues and to reduce the stigma of mental illness. From a practical standpoint, that means we provide research-backed information through our website and through media partnerships. We give people a platform to share their own experiences with mental health issues, work with clinicians, advocate for mental health awareness at geek-related events, and make safe, quiet spaces at conventions for people who need them.
Can I ask how it is that you came to find yourself writing for Take This?
I’ve been a fan of the work Take This does since the organization was first founded. I have some fairly serious issues with anxiety myself, and while attending gaming conventions is a lot of fun, it can also be hard to enjoy them when you’re also dealing with panic around crowds and things like that. So the AFK Room Program — which offers a quiet space staffed with mental health clinicians — was very much on my radar. I’ve been playing video games for most of my life, and writing about them for years for outlets like TouchArcade and GamesBeat, so when the folks at Take This decided they wanted to expand their website into a resource that looked at mental health in the games industry from different angles, it seemed like the perfect fit.
Mental health issues and gaming can often butt right up against each other, as the more particular social aspects of gaming, especially online, tend to be very…harsh places. So I think this kind of work is really cool.
I don’t think that people involved in gaming are more likely to be coping with mental health issues than any other group. I mean, the stats differ but upwards of a quarter of us will deal with mental health issues in our lifetimes, so any group you find will have some people dealing with depression, anxiety, and other issues whether we know it or not. But gaming as a hobby is growing up, and part of that is recognizing that we’re all human, and we’re all going through our own issues, and realizing that we’re not alone in them can make a huge difference.
How long have you been writing professionally? I think you mentioned you got your start online?
I’ve been writing professionally for nearly a decade. I graduated from Douglas College’s professional writing program in 2008, and started working at a shopping centre trade magazine right out of school. A great job, but not a topic I was particularly passionate about. Getting into writing about games was almost a fluke — the editor in chief of TouchArcade happened to post on the same forum I did, and was looking for writers for the site. I was big into mobile gaming, so I sent in a couple of samples, and we went from there.
Is there a piece you’ve written that is particularly meaningful for you?
Last summer I collaborated on a project at Take This that I’m very proud of — a white paper about the damaging effects of crunch in the game industry. It’s common practice for people working at major game studios to work long hours, often without compensation. Sometimes 80+ hour weeks for months on end. We looked at the research and found that not only can that be damaging for the people working in those conditions — physically, mentally, and socially — but it can also have a negative impact on the end product. We all want a healthy, sustainable video game industry, and right now a lot of development practices are working against that. So the white paper helps shed a little light on the subject to show that while crunch seems necessary, it’s often counterproductive at best.
I’ve heard about this — a kind of competitive culture that permeates the industry with people pulling long, often uncompensated overtime. Being told that you’re “doing what you love” to often justify this kind of exploitation. It’s an ugly side of the industry that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough.
The thing is, people often are doing what they love — it’s a self-sustaining issue, because developers enjoy their work and want it to be the best it can be often want to put in as many hours as it takes. I’m guilty of that too. I end up working long nights on my game project, even though I’m the only one driving that. So personally, I hope that people who see this research will be aware of the long term costs they’re looking at, and do what they can to moderate, even just a little. Not to say people aren’t being exploited as well, but it’s not a straightforward top-down issue.
If you want to read more about Take This and Campbell’s work, check out takethis.org