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The International Games Summit on Mental Health is doing good work in the games industry by getting people to acknowledge mental health challenges.
Now in its third year, the online event will take place on October 6 and October 7. TIGS will be an intimate gathering of people who are address mental health across game industries and among the people who make games. I have watched the events online for the past couple of years and the event has had some heart-wrenching and deep sessions, touching on topics ranging from suicide to the difficulty of admitting that you need help. The latter subject has been blown wide open during the pandemic, as so many of us have acknowledged mental health issues now.
Take This, the nonprofit that helps game developers deal with mental health, is the programming partner for TIGS, which was founded by Mark Chandler of Toronto, Canada. Chandler worked in the game industry for more than 20 years, but he wasn’t able to hold down normal nine-to-five jobs because of his illness. He acknowledges that he has bipolar type 2 mental health illness that was diagnosed in 2003.
It’s something he has dealt with ever since. After a particularly difficult stretch about five years ago, he decided to start a conference specifically about mental health in gaming, “so that others would realize that they are not alone in their daily hidden struggle.” The vision of TIGS is to create a game community that welcomes and supports people experiencing mental health challenges.
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Take This also works to decrease the stigma around acknowledging that you need help. Chandler noted at last year’s event that many men could not admit that they had mental illness, and so he focused on that topic at last years event. The pressure of having to perform and live up to reputations takes its toll on a lot of people.
Tammy McDonald, an adviser and CEO of Heavy Water, also told an emotional story last year about the suicide of her game developer husband, Matt McDonald, in a conversation with Take This’ Kelli Dunlap. They discussed Matt’s cycle of mental health challenges over 17 years and Tammy’s own survivors story.
This year, Ubisoft is a sponsor for the event, and that’s a big step forward as it’s rare to see a big company getting involved in such a subject. But one out of two individuals will experience a diagnosis or mental health challenge over their lifetime. This year, the event will address some of the most pressing issues affecting mental health in games: stigma, harassment, work environment, and game play.
This year, Double Fine Productions CEO Tim Schafer will do a keynote talk about Psychonauts 2 with Raffael Boccamazzo, clinical director at Take This.
And Celia Hodent, Carlos Figueiredo, and KooPee Hiltunen will talk about industry code of conduct and ethics in games. Sarah Ticho, Elan Schneider, and Amiad Fredman will talk about ethics, responsibilities, and pitfalls of streaming during COVID.
Alex Russell, Amanda Jones-Rincon, and Cassie Walker will discuss the mental health impacts of harassment and abuse. Eve Crevoshay and Jae Lin will talk about repair and accountability for harassment. Kate Edwards and others will discuss ageism in games. And Tammy McDonald and others will discuss sexual harassment and moving past the politics of protection and failing up in games.
Among the others who spoke in the past are John Smedley of Amazon Games and former Blizzard leader Chris Metzen. Chris Charla, senior director of ID@Xbox, spoke last year. In a statement, he said, “The number of people who’ve spoken to me privately after I spoke at TIGS about the show’s positive influence on them shows me that what this conference is doing is more keenly needed in the game industry than ever.”
I’m also an adviser to TIGS, and I’ve played some joyful rounds of Call of Duty: Warzone with Chandler.
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