I’m always a fan of inspiration in unexpected places. There’s a wonderful organization called Games Done Quick that hosts massive speedrunning marathons to raise money for charity. Gamers register to show off their skills beating games at breakneck speeds. This gameplay is streamed live from an event center to Twitch and donations from viewers go to different charities, such as Doctors Without Borders or Prevent Cancer Foundation. They’ve even done events with a very fast turnaround time to help with disaster relief—streamers volunteer their time and Games Done Quick captures their gameplay and rebroadcasts it on the GDQ stream. It’s a fun, intense display of high quality gaming for a variety of great causes.
Kate Gray, a narrative designer, journalist for Kotaku, and streamer, joked back in January about a then non-existent event she called Awesome Games Done Slowly.
hey folks welcome to Awesome Games Done Slowly, the charity livestream where everyone just chills and plays Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing at their own pace— Kate Gray (@hownottodraw) January 17, 2018
What started as a joke only took a few months to become a reality. Great Games Done Slow is an online charity fundraiser running from this Saturday, 15 September, to Friday, 21 September. The goal is mental health awareness in gaming. Participants, like myself, are encouraged to play games in a way that is relaxing, almost meditative, in approach and discuss mental health issues and tips for well-being. Each participant creates a fundraising page with a goal. Money raised through that page goes to CheckPoint.
CheckPoint is a wonderful charity with a clear mission I can get on board for. Their goal is to connect mental health resources with gaming and technology. They have a wide variety of resources, including an online community, a 16 part webseries called CheckPoint using video games to discuss mental health concerns, and tons of free online resources to use or share.
I’ve done online charity fundraisers before for some really wonderful organizations. Great Games Done Slow spoke to me so clearly that I signed up to participate months ago when I first found out about the event.
If you’re a new reader here, you might not know what I’m going to discuss here. I’m not even sure I’ve ever just addressed it head on like I’m going to. Buckle up.
I have multiple mental illnesses. I have been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Clinical Depression, and General Anxiety Disorder. Because of the stigma in the entertainment and writing industries about mental illness (get treated and you won’t be you anymore, you won’t be creative, you’ll lose your voice and what makes you special, great artists suffer, etc.), I lived for roughly 23 of my 32 years suffering untreated for severe mental health problems. I’ve been medicated for four years and, not going to lie, it’s a struggle to find a combination of medication, therapy, and self-care that can treat those very different conditions. It’s about functioning at this point, and I’m eternally grateful to everyone who has helped me come this far in living with these problems.
There are days where I still struggle. I’ve had to call out of work for everything from anxiety attacks to physical side effects brought on by the wrong medication for me. Still, I would never want to go back to not being medicated (even if the first doctor who put me on an SSRI called it a “temporary measure” and said he wanted to get me off them in six months—that did not go well; he’s not my doctor anymore).
I really did escape into arts and entertainment in my childhood as a way to cope with all these problems. I learned skills I use professionally now, but being able to write, or play music, or act on stage were tools I used for well-being. For goodness sake, the reason why I’ve researched, watched, and cataloged so many films, television shows, games, music, and plays in my mind is literally one of my rituals in OCD. I was so afraid for so long of making a mistake in public that I would spend weeks or even months researching extremely specific subjects (like the psychobiddy subgenre—a problematic name for horror films with old people in peril—or musicals based off Lewis Caroll’s work). I could, at one point, have a panic attack and be out of commission for the rest of the day if Nickelodeon had an I Love Lucy marathon and played episodes out of order. I know it’s not normal, but I never said it was. I have had people tell me I’m doing to stuff for attention and I really wonder what they think I get out of literally pulling hairs out of my head when I obsess over how I answered a student’s question for days after the fact; clearly not joy.
One of the only things that calmed me down at my worst before getting treatment was video games. I could go home after a really rough day, pop in a simulator or RPG game, and just escape into that world. My brain would focus on the art, the characters, the music, the narrative, and the gameplay giving me a chance to actually breathe. Finding things that help me relax, like games, is still a major part of maintaining my sense of well-being. It all seems absurd because it is.
The stigma surrounding mental health care is so high that Dr. Mario was literally my therapist and treatment plan at one point in my life. You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg to cheer up or just try yoga, so why would you tell those things to someone with a legitimate problem with proper brain function that they just need to shake off what’s wrong? I can’t magically rewire my brain anymore than someone with a peanut allergy could just smile away anaphylactic shock. It’s about finding treatments that works for you to keep you healthy.
The reason why I’m trying to raise $100 during Great Games Done Slow is multifaceted. First and foremost, I want to support the incredible work of an organization like CheckPoint. I found them through the event announcement and am incredibly impressed with their voice, the quality of their materials, and how much they care. If CheckPoint can help one person find their way to treatment that works, they’re a worthy cause in my eyes.
Their web series, in particular, is wonderful. The first episode alone provides a definition of mental health from the World Health Organization that just clicks for me:
A state of wellbeing in which every individual [realizes] their own potential.
Can cope with the normal stresses of life.
Can work productively and fruitfully.
Able to make a contribution to their community.
CheckPoint founder and series host Dr. Jennifer Hazel then stresses why she likes that definition, “it doesn’t actually mention illness at all.” You want to talk about making mental health care accessible and destigmatizing mental health as a field? Start by explaining that everyone can benefit from good mental health practices.
Aside from supporting CheckPoint directly, I also want to help raise awareness of the reality of mental illness. It is not my responsibility, but my choice. I’m someone who was finally convinced to find help through various online communities that took the time to break things down for. Participating in an event like Great Games Done Slow gives me a chance to give back.
Because I’m extra, I’m also going a step beyond what Great Games Done Slow is asking for. I will be playing calming games like they suggest (though my definition of calm might be very different than yours). Expect some Stardew Valley, of course, but I’m also looking at games like Costume Quest, Doctor Who: The Adventure Games, and Little Inferno. We’ll see where the week takes us.
I will also, on certain nights, play through games that deal directly with mental illness. We’re talking games with wonderful, honest portrayals of mental health problems like Neverending Nightmares and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, as well as more problematic games that I want to go in on (I’m looking at you, Doki Doki Literature Club*). Maybe I’ll finally be able to clearly articulate through gameplay and discussion why I believe Dear Esther is one of the greatest games ever made (hint: it deals with its portrayal of mental illness and art) or how some games just upend themselves by trying to go there for shock value (cough Outlast** sputter cough).
If you’d like to contribute to my campaign, you can use my link here. I’ll be streaming when I can, though I can’t quite set a full schedule until I confirm whether or not my Saturday theater classes start this weekend or next. There will be day and night streams. Day streams are going to be for relaxing games, while night is where the head on critical talk will happen. If you can’t donate, there’s no pressure. Come hang out and have a good time. Share you story. Ask questions. Let people know about the event.
No matter what, CheckPoint will be walking away with a minimum of $100 through my campaign even if I have to donate it out of pocket. That’s how much I believe in this Great Games Done Slow event. I hope it’s a rousing success that turns into a mainstay like the evergreen Extra Life 24-hour gaming stream events for Child’s Play. I’ve done that in the past, too, and might do it again this year (but never will I try the 24 hour stream again—I started to disassociate hard after 12 hours and then felt immense guilt for not completing the stream in one session). But right now, the focus is Great Games Done Slow. See you Saturday at my Twitch.
*For all that Doki Doki…does right, it really uses mental health problems as a shorthand for weakness or fault. It’s also pretty callous in its depiction of depression and warning signs for suicidal thoughts. Suicide is also used for cheap jump scares, aka pure exploitation. These problems don’t make it a bad game, and I still quite enjoy it. We’ll get into it.
**Outlast is a game I’m never going back to. Not because of the awful gawk at the asylum stereotypes, but because the lighting is so dark even if I raise gamma and futz with settings that I, a person with really bad light sensitivity and depth perception issues, cannot figure out where to go.