I’ve watched the panel “Build Your Guild: Make and Support Friends in Gaming” for the PAX Online 2020… The trouble is that it gives too much focus on the general subject of mental/emotional health and not enough regarding how to seek support for it in one’s gaming circle friendships. The panel just touches on this idea at varying points.
The subject, as explained officially on the PAX schedule’s description for the panel, was about the impact gaming communities can have on mental health… to “empower players to check in with each other about their mental health while showcasing the many ways they can do so.” But for the hour-long discussion, I found myself waiting and waiting to hear *how* this works with explorations into the dynamics and ultimately getting very little in return.
It wasn’t a *bad* panel discussion by any means; I just expected something more specific.
The panelists presented live on Twitch and YouTube on Sept. 12th. ArenaNet crew members Rubi Bayer (Content Marketing Specialist) and Nick Hernandez (Game Designer) represented “Guild Wars 2” — a game which has partnered with the “Seize the Awkward” campaign for Suicide Awareness Month — joined with Dr. Christine Moutier, MD (Chief Medical Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) in this discussion which was moderated by Francine Simeon, a campaign manager of The Ad Council which develops different communications campaigns around some of the most pressing issues facing the country.
There was emphasis on issues raised by the large-scale isolation due to the home quarantines for Covid-19: anxiety, depression, and more. Simeon said that for many young adults, isolation and physical distancing have posed a big barrier to reaching out or obtaining social support that is needed during times like the current pandemic.
“At the end of March, the World Health Organization officially made the recommendation to play online games,” said Moutier. “as a way to stay safe and actually, like, prevent spread of the virus.”
“I think something that has helped too to kind of break down that taboo about mental health, because we’re all distancing, so many of our conversations have become from in-person to online.” said Bayer. “And that means that people are starting to share little tidbits here and there of ‘I’m not okay, and here’s why. I’m struggling, and here’s why’. That’s happening online so much more than ever before in front of everyone and showing people ‘Oh, I’m not the only one! I’m not weird for feeling like this! I’m not wrong or being a baby for feeling like this! Everyone feels that way.’ And I think it’s helping people feel a lot more comfortable.”
Bayer spoke of how the people associated with “Guild Wars 2” noticed a lot more people playing the game back when the distancing and quarantines began and subsequently the game developers had a lot of conversations about what they could do to help players make connections in the game. Focus was given on events that players could do together which encouraged playing with others; fostering a sense of togetherness and camaraderie which Bayer says was starting to grow in the game.
By the end of the panel, the point was made: in trying times, gamers can turn to each other within their circles in the gaming community for support and it seems more and more possible that they will if game developers create opportunities to encourage it. Again, I would have liked to hear more specific examples of how this can be done; but I did walk away with the important message and so will anyone who watches this panel, which I recommend.
Incidentally, Seize the Awkward is a campaign which facilitates tools, guides, and tips to help people have conversations with others about mental health. Check them out anytime!