Harnessing the power of empathy games for mental health awareness

Finding and creating a supportive mental health community while developing games

I have been a game developer for the past 8 years. But I worked in game studios and I programmed whatever my company told me to.

But I never made my own game on my own.

As part of my Masters by Practice for a degree in Video Game Enterprise and Production, I had the option to make my own game.

I can work with a team, but I chose not to, even though I never made a game all on my own. By my own, I mean, I do code, art, design and production. Why did I chose to do that? It’s not because I think I can do everything on my own. It’s because I don’t want to let anyone down.

You see, I have depression. I struggle to wake up every morning, my mind won’t rest at night. So my classmates think that I’m lazy, but it’s more complicated than that.

I met so many amazing game developers at conferences and they talk about how they just took the leap, quit their job and made their own game. I never took a leap before, because I was too afraid.

But now, the confines of school gave me the safety net to finally take a leap. Also a strict deadline and a Masters degree on the line gives me a very good reason to just do it.

One advice people give writers is to write about what they know. And I wondered if the same can be applied to making video games. Boen Wang says “What can you learn about a person through a screen? What can you learn about a creator through their work?”

So I decided to make a game about depression, even though it’s something that I don’t normally talk about. I normally don’t talk about it because it’s hard for me to tell people that I’m not okay. I wear a smile every single day, because I thought that is what is expected of me.

But it’s okay, not to be okay all the time.

I didn’t want to make a game that only features my own voice. So I made a project on HitRecord and asked for other people for their stories. And reading other people’s stories made me realize that I’m not alone. Also knowing that other people have gone through the same thing and have beaten it, gave me hope that I can too.

Working on the game and writing development blog posts, allowed me to be honest and be vulnerable, to show a side of me that I’ve never been able to before. It gave me the medium to finally open up the conversation about mental health with my friends and the people around me.

It took me more or less 4 months and I made a game, which I called “Depression Simulator”. It is a point-and-click game that simulates the everyday life of someone living with depression, where even the most mundane and menial tasks become a challenge.

Video: Early acccess demo of 'Depression Simuator'

And then I graduated with Distinction from my Masters degree.

But I didn’t want to stop there.

I realized that there are more stories to tell and more conversations about Mental Health that needs to take place.

That is why I approached my friends and together we are making a web platform called “MuniReality”, where people living with mental illness can share their stories and have them transformed into interactive games. The games will be be built around comments and contributions from the community.

But we can’t do it alone, we also need your help.

Video: About MuniReality

Watch the developer diary for Depression Simulator

Video: Developer diary for a mental health empathy game called 'Depression Simulator'