– Thanks very much for appearing on ‘Mental Health in gaming’, Sketch. Firstly, could you just confirm the type of mental Illness you suffer from?
“No problem, I suffer from anxiety and depression, both diagnosed in my early 20s. I was diagnosed with anxiety in university when I was 21 then depression at 23.”
-And was this diagnosed before you noticed that gaming relieved the burden of Anxiety somewhat?
“Sort of, as I’ve become older I’ve become more self-aware of myself and on reflection, now knowing what I do about mental health and my own personal issues with it, I noticed that I would go to games to get away from an endless cycle of bad thoughts. By having something that required my attention and skill, it took me away from my own cyclical negativity that would spiral out of control. Games are great for the days with low mental health because you can get quick wins that lift your spirits.”
-It’s an interesting fact that you were a semi-professional Counter-Strike player, could you tell me about how you managed your anxiety during that period in your life?
“Sure, it’s easy, I didn’t ha. I didn’t really know at that time I had anxiety, but in hindsight the only thing that ever cut through my anxious thoughts was the idea of competing. Obviously, competing at LANs was completely and utterly terrifying at first and getting to those events was a huge challenge, but thanks to great teams and friends, I had confidence in us, myself and it all started to settle once I finally pushed myself to get there.
Putting my thoughts into strategies and practising my aim endlessly obviously was helpful in regards to competing, but it can get a little unhealthy too, requiring a balance I wasn’t really capable of. Although I still struggled with my anxiety in a lot of ways, CSS was the one exception to it where I seemed to succeed and instead of letting the anxiety hold me back, it pushed me to be better or to make sure I got to events so I didn’t let down my teammates. “
-With your gaming career spent at tournaments and in online lobbies, I’m sure you became close with some of your team. Would you say that these relationships benefited your mental health?
“Massively. I made friends for life with people that still check in, even though we haven’t played together for nearly a decade in some cases. Before you know it, you have this group of people that you rely on – in-game and out-of-game. You go from internal communications, to staying on Ventrilo for longer just to chat and have fun, distracting you and in those moments, it feels like the anxiety has disappeared.”
-It’s so uplifting to hear about such a positive time in your life. Online game chatting services such as Discord and Ventrilo which have communities of their own played a big part too didn’t they?
“Yes, Ventrilo was the one back in the day for CSS, but now it’s almost the same way with Discord. I go from playing with people from esports organisations from my time in the past to university friends, meeting on a Discord server nearly every day when we finish work to play games and talk a bunch of nonsense and stream it. It’s great.”
-How do you feel about the games industries representation in the public eye?
“I think it is starting to become much more positive, especially from a professional perspective with so many places making fantastic workspaces to have your career. The positive working experience they’re promoting is almost like a sanctuary where a lot of gamers want to go. Positive, uplifting work environments where you can progress as well as have freedom, flexibility and a great work-life balance. This wasn’t always the case, with many acting like other tech companies and burning out, but now there’s movement away from that with more sensible, practical business decisions.
The negative representation about the industry, including the esports industry, all comes from those who do not participate I feel. With their current fascination of ‘gaming disorder’ becoming recognised when in actuality, it’s a symptom of a larger issue if you believe that someone is suffering. Really, why do people do it? To get away from real life or real thoughts and that’s where the focus should be, not the blame being put onto the individuals.
We’ve already established addiction is a disease, including by WHO, so how can gaming be that different? That’s not to say gaming is innocent, there’s a lot of toxicity online which I think can really take down someone in the industry and has been known to happen, but I like to think of something more positive like DrLupo’s streaming community – on the days where he’s open about mental health, he gets supportive messages because he’s created this community where positivity is their key.”
-Finally A, What would you do differently with the representation of gaming and mental health?
“I wish I knew what was best to help, I really do because I would love to improve this if possible. I think perhaps more narrative-based games having characters who have mental health issues so the representation of it makes it more inclusive and also just a little less lonely. Another is more specific to esports but those who are brave enough to share their issues and struggles can change the discourse around mental health and promote support through family, friends, support groups and any other ways that just helps. I think the best is for people to feel that they’re not alone, these thoughts aren’t individual nor are they too powerful for you, you can win – just like you do in games.”
Some brilliant points made by Sketch, he has provided a unique viewpoint on Mental Health from within the eSports industry itself. This writer would say that competitive gaming and community building through online gaming has served A very well. Thanks again for agreeing to be interviewed for ‘Mental Health in Gaming’
Sketch can be found on Twitter: @GamesSketch and Twitch: Sketchh