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June 18, 2019
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I'm a game developer struggling with mental health

by Marina Diez on 05/31/19 10:26:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

When you are a game developer that contributes actively to the community, your circles in work and outside work use to be formed by people that also are involved in one way or another in the games industry. This is great because many of us found “our place” belonging to a flourishing community of talented people that contribute so much to our lives very positively.

In the last times, I could have the opportunity to attend so many events related to the games industry around the world: GDC, Pirate Jam, Amaze Fest, Feral Vector, Casual Connect and I also will be attending so many more until the end of the year. In all of these events, interacting with other professionals, I noticed that all of us have something in common which is not that positive: most of us are struggling with mental health. It doesn’t matter the age, the field or the point where people are in their careers. Working for the games industry is rewarding as much as it’s also very tough and stressful at the same time.

I’ve been making my own games and creating as well as being part of many projects since a little bit more than two years ago. When I was not entirely dedicating myself to videogames, I used to work on my games and projects evenings and nights after my daily 8-10 hours real job in a very different field: the fashion industry. One day, I noticed that I was not so much happy and the idea of entering the games industry resonated stronger and stronger each day. I decided to give up everything in my hometown in Spain and apply to a master’s degree in London. I didn’t have savings or anything that could support me if selected but I’m brave and fortunately has the support of my family and friends for taking this huge new step in my life. In September 2018 I arrived in London with a suitcase, a tiny room in a dorm one hour and a half far from the city center and lots of hopes. In the months before, I’ve been spending lots of hours thinking about how was going to be my new life in the British capital: aka one of the best places in Europe for making games. I’ve been aware of all the difficulties once I was there, alone, in a new country. I also was lucky because I already had some friends in London and I felt better and less alone. My money for surviving came thanks to the loan I asked for to the UK government: 10,000 pounds for paying rent, food, transportation… with some help from my parents. My parents couldn’t go to uni and they’ve been working so hard since I was born for giving me the best they could.

But also living in London is not cheap. At the same time, I was working so hard in projects, applications to scholarships, preparation of conferences and trying to make myself a place in the industry. I was working every day more than 13 hours easily, many weeks I only had to eat bread with Nutella and rice soup. I was very aware of the fact that this was not good for my mental health and health in general, but I also thought that sometimes you need to make some efforts if you want “to be there”. Some people can think that I was silly for doing this or that it was probably a very bad idea to move to a new country without so much money to keep myself alive decently. Maybe I was silly, maybe not. I don’t regret anything but I also know that this is not just something that only happened to me.

And I tell this story because of a reason: there are so many bad practices that are kind of “normal” in the industry and totally shouldn’t be.

Crunch is for sure one of them. When we talk about crunch we imagine people in an office working for long hours, and it’s true. But I also have so many friends that after their jobs they keep working so hard when they reach home in the evening. This is also crunch. Even being your projects your “babies” and your passion, even if you love what you do so badly this still being CRUNCH. And obviously has lots to do with your mental health. Crunching for long periods leads to many mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and once you are in the path to that black hole it’s very difficult to get out of there; above all because you feel it as a permanent state that never ends and it’s exasperating.

Another problem is that I’m not the only one that sometimes forgets to eat or to have healthy meals or to drink enough water because I’m too much into what I’m doing. I only notice that maybe I didn’t do some of this because migraine appears. And when migraine appears I become a horrible angry person that can only look at the ceiling and stay in bed.

What about the pressure of your economic situation and your desire for looking successful for the rest of the community? This is a vicious circle because if you want to go to events you need to have money. If you want to meet people you need to spend money to go to the places or maybe you are not in the best place in the world for studying or work in games and you need to consider the possibility of moving to a new city or to a new country. For all of this you need to have money. For having money you need to have a job.

On the last months, my mental health was very delicate because of this. I was pouring all my soul in the exhausting activity of looking for a job in the industry. I could not believe how hard it was being after all my qualifications, my work for the community, the 6 languages I can speak and all the rest. And I was a privileged that had the support of her family for doing all of this. Lots of people don’t or have very difficult personal situations.

I hate to see my friends in bad places because of their jobs, because of this monstrous industry that we love so much. I just want to end with a message: keep yourself healthy. You are the most important in the world. Value your possibilities and ask for help. Don’t despair. You’ll get there.  We are all here for you.


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