Speaking at Develop 2017 about difficult topics in games!

Updated: Jul 3, 2019

Trigger Warning: This article (and the panel) does involve discussion of mental health issuesI was lucky enough to be invited to be part of a panel on Tackling Difficult Topics in Games with Toni Brasting from Wellcome. The panelists were: Dominic Matthews (Ninja Theory), Rob Yescombe (Freelance Writer and Narrative Director), Veve Jaffa and myself (Alyx Jones).

It was a really interesting mix of people. Dominic Matthews talked about how for their soon to be released title Hellblade, they interviewed a lot of people suffering from Psychosis so they could apply it in a sensitive and authentic way to the character Senua. They also collaborated with Paul Fletcher, a psychiatrist and professor of Health Neuroscience from the University of Cambridge. Veve Jaffa told us about their current work on a game that is essentially about baking bread, but as you go further into the game, with options for providing Nazi's with bread and joining a resistance of perhaps adding poison to the bread. It sounds like a fascinating game that plays with morals and social responsibility, and I can't wait to play it!Rob talked about the need for teams to be open about their own experiences and be willing to explore subjects in games that may be difficult. I talked a little about my game "The Quiet Things", based on diary entries from my life when I was fifteen. An audience member said they had also kept a diary through some tough times but felt like, looking back, that they felt differently now. I said that when I look back at some of things I wrote, I think "Oh that's a silly thing to have written", but it was my truth and for many people who are going through something like that now, it may also represent their reality, and they can relate to that.I was also asked why games were the best medium for this kind of game. To which I responded, that games are immersive, it's not like watching a documentary, you're living in someone else's shoes for a few hours, but also often a lot of these games a single player, so a player is probably playing alone, so it's a good environment to open up about difficult topics, with nobody present to judge their reactions.

It was also asked if the panelists thought there was a line, on what subject could or couldn't be explored in games. Dominic Matthews finished the discussion saying he didn't think there was a line, but if there is, that you should cross it. It was a really great experience to be in a room full of people open to healthy discussions about really hard things to talk about, and we really only touched the surface. It was great to talk to everyone afterwards and throughout Develop. The take away message is simply to keep making games that encourage a more open and communicative society. Games are one of the best tools available to promote a society where people can share their problems, feel less isolated and be able to ask for help.

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