Gaming has always been a social activity throughout history, either as a player, an observer, or as a member of the community around a game. There have frequently been support structures within those communities for people to recognize the bonds between people that began by playing games or being part of these communities. Ever since the dawn of MMOs, you have heard of those feel-good stories about real life relationships that started out within the gamespace, and of course, they don’t have to be romantic in nature. You might very well meet or have met your platonic best friend through grinding hours of content in EverQuest or rolling some dice at a table just as much as some players have found their soulmates.
What’s interesting is that many large game companies tend to do the occasional celebration of this sort of camaraderie, but it’s rare that a company continues the tradition and in fact doubles down on it. ArenaNet started such an initiative last year called Friend/Ships, acknowledging both romantic and non-romantic lasting relationships that sprung up amongst their Guild Wars 2 community, and it continued this year with a modest booth on the show floor and a special panel at PAX East. The booth featured a tall column made of the same material as whiteboards, where players could use markers to acknowledge their fellow players, friends, and lovers, and to thank them for being there or helping them. ArenaNet employees were on hand to ensure the messages were appropriate for the situation, because you know someone had to post something political or draw something crude, but overall, the messages were supportive of other players and offered encouragement to those who are struggling either mentally or physically.
Coupled with this was a panel held in the Arachnid Theater, which sadly wasn’t streamed by PAX. The panel featured Rubi Bayer (NCSOFT’s Content Marketing Manager), Rebecca Mir (Director of Digital Product Management for the Ad Council), Doctor B (Clinical Director, Take This), Dr. Christine Moutier (Chief Medical Officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), and Rook (aka birdofchess, variety streamer and ArenaNet partner). The big theme of the panel was ArenaNet’s partnership with the Ad Council to promote their Seize the Awkward suicide prevention campaign. This campaign teaches the use of a moment of silence to allow someone to process and also find a means to assist someone through their own struggles.
The main point the panel was making was not that a person had to be a hero for another, to swoop in and do all the things and save the day, but rather to simply be there for your friends and to be observant of their situation and quietly remind them that they are not alone. The stigma against mental illness is powerful amongst gaming communities, and it’s hard for gamers to reach out to ask for help if they need it, but the panelists showed a video of GW2 players speaking of their experiences that resonated with the audience.
Dr Moutier spoke at length at how this feeling of support from others around you was a key data point in suicide prevention, particularly the presence of a steady adult willing to listen over a period of time. Doctor B was a little more light-hearted in his comments, but he also drove home the overall point that folks need to hear that others are struggling as well, quoting Take This’ mantra ‘It’s okay not to be okay’, and that it’s all right to listen without needing to start problem-solving to ‘fix’ someone else’s issues. Rook also spoke about how she fostered positive connections within her stream community, pointing out that it wasn’t meant to be all sunshine and puppies, but to be a welcoming and supportive place where people were respected.
There were plenty of personal experiences offered in the panel, but overall, the message was fairly basic: keep an eye out for your friends if they start acting unusually, offer to listen to see what they needed, and generally, be a good community member willing to be there for your fellows.
If you’d like more information on these important campaigns and the organizations represented here:
- [PAX East 2020] Azeroth Reborn: Nostalgia Trips at PAX - March 16, 2020
- [PAX East 2020] Stack Up Looking After Veterans - March 14, 2020
- [PAX East 2020] Marvel and Netmarble Announce Marvel Future Revolution - March 13, 2020