The first will be a week-long bike ride in August, though the dates have yet to be determined. Wired has also pledged to donate a percentage of sales from its game The Town of Light to Take This.
Take This is perhaps best known for its AFK Rooms, quiet safe spaces it sets up at conferences and events such as PAX and the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Shannon Gerritzen, the executive director of Take This, says that over 200 people visit their AFK Rooms on average, sometimes exceeding 500 per day at large events like PAX East. It also commissions white papers and studies for the sake of education as well as de-stigmatizing discussions around mental health.
“We have many developer and media partnerships that vary from awareness campaigns, disseminating messaging and articles, and more,” said Gerritzen in an email. “One of our current partnerships is with Habitica. We have worked to create self-care challenges, similar in style to walking a certain number of steps a day on a workout tracker, but this rewards you for doing all sorts of things to care for yourself, e.g. getting outside once today, exercising, etc.”
Its partnership with Wired, though, is the first time it’s worked with a publisher and developer that specifically addresses mental health in a game. Wired recently brought an enhanced version of the 2016 psychological horror game The Town of Light to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Developers LKA did extensive research on the psychiatric hospital where the protagonist Renée, a former patient, uncovers her tragic past.
“The Town of Light is based on extensive research of the Volterra Asylum,” said Leo Zullo, Wired’s managing director, in an email. “Luca Dalcò, the genius behind the game, spent literally months of talking to ex-staff, reading reports and accounts of what atrocities happened to patients, looking at other institutions, and really digging deep into the era, and sad reality of treatments during this period.”
The horror games community in particular has had discussions about how its genre treats mental health, particularly since tropes about disorders such as schizophrenia are often recycled. Last year, the Asylum Jam held its fourth annual game jam, challenging developers to create games over a period of 48 hours without relying on stereotypes about psychiatric hospitals or mental illness.
Zullo says that there can be a right way to approach these topics on the developer side. The Town of Light, for instance, explores sensitive issues such as sexual assault and abuse. However, by focusing on the story and putting those topics in that context, Zullo believes that the game communicates a clear message.
“Abuse, rape, brutal medical treatment, and the whole de-humanising aspect of these establishments were the norm not just in Italy, but all over the world,” said Zullo. “In any game or movie or book, if any dark or repulsive actions are in context, treated with respect, and not just used for PR hype, then the end product will feel ‘right.'”
As an industry, Gerritzen says that studios can work toward creating healthy environments for developers. Take This recently started its Underground Program, a consultancy that works with studios on just that.
“The first thing I would encourage developers to do is to create a company culture that fosters self care, respects the stresses of working in a creative field, and keep the doors open to conversations about mental health,” said Gerritzen.
Zullo agrees that it’s important to de-stigmatize discussions around mental health and start addressing these issues.
“Mental health is a secret killer and a massive burden on our society, and frankly the person suffering normally feels that they can’t talk to others, and the people around sometimes don’t know how to help or react. This must change,” said Zullo. “Talking does help a large majority of people. It also helps get you the treatment you may require at the right time, before it is too late.”