by Tara Voelker, Gaming & Disability Co-Lead
In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, Xbox is amplifying voices of empathy, honesty, and mental health awareness. Now more than ever, people are experiencing new challenges which impact their mental health. With the ongoing pandemic, physical isolation has elevated the importance of virtual connections to stay in contact with friends and loved ones. Through gaming, we can both explore mental health, its impacts, and provide community. More and more studies* have shown that gaming has real benefits on players mental wellbeing. Through a virtual world, people have been able to do everything from ease their symptoms of PTSD to build social connections that are so crucial right now, to finding moments of joy, building connections, fostering empathy and helping to reduce anxiety.
For me personally, gaming is a key part of my mental health routine. When I need to step away from the world and limit my exposure to things that could trigger a PTSD episode, gaming is my escape. It gives me something to focus on and an outlet to funnel any potentially destructive energy I may have. It’s even a place where I can explore complex topics in an environment and know that everything is going to be okay, no matter what is happening in the real world. And you don’t have to trust me, plenty of other gamers talk about the positive effects of gaming they experience.
An Xbox study within the Xbox Research Accessibility Community Feedback Program, a group made up of players with disabilities, showed 84% of respondents agreeing that gaming had a largely positive effect on their mental health during the pandemic. Other community members shared that gaming provided a great distraction from stress (82.9%), emotional stress (63.5%), physical pain (38.6%), and that playing games has offered them more control than their real life (54.1%), demonstrating that people participating in this study use gaming to benefit their lives in a variety of ways.
Especially relevant with the pandemic, 71.7% of respondents in the study agreed that gaming helped them feel less isolated, showcasing how gaming helped them -maintain connections with family and friends during challenging times. The study also showed that 71.7% of participants felt that playing video games during the pandemic was an important part of their daily routine.
We know that video games can provide connection and joy for so many. Over 11 billion multiplayer game sessions were played globally in January through March this year, with over 3 billion game invites being sent in the same period.
Xbox aims to provide captivating gaming experiences ideal for stepping into different worlds beyond our everyday lives. We know that during the pandemic, issues of mental health have been exacerbated and that people need to build connection more than ever. We invite our community to safely engage in play and communicate with others who may share in their same challenges.
Ninja Theory/Hellblade and Psychonauts 2
In a world where mental health is more at the forefront of society, team Xbox strives to create and bring the most immersive and entertaining gaming experiences available, inviting all gamers to explore exciting new worlds and embody incredible characters. Two of our Xbox Game Studios teams, Double Fine Productions and Ninja Theory are exploring the theme of mental health through unique gameplay.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice launched to critical acclaim in 2017, with great praise for how it represented mental health conditions and psychosis in particular. Hellblade is both a dark fantasy title telling the story of a Celtic warrior’s journey to Hel and an exploration of the psychosis experienced by the protagonist, Senua. Dominic Matthews, Studio Head at Ninja Theory, tells us “It was critical that our exploration of this subject was grounded in research, and as such our development team collaborated closely with those in both the science and lived-experience communities. This became a creative partnership that saw our designers, artists and audio team work closely with neuroscientists and people who live with experiences of voice hearing, seeing visions and holding unique beliefs. We’re incredibly proud of the reception Hellblade received and to hear from fans about how it’s made a genuine impact on their lives – both enlightening them on the experiences of severe mental health issues and providing a platform to talk about their own experiences. The exploration of the true potential of games to help people manage their mental health has become a part of our mission at Ninja Theory, manifesting in The Insight Project. Our ambition here is to create a powerful tool to help people understand and support their mental wellbeing.”
Double Fine’s Psychonauts 2 tells the story of Razputin “Raz” Aquato, trained acrobat, powerful young psychic, and new member of the international psychic espionage organization known as the Psychonauts. Using his psychic abilities, Raz is able to dive inside people’s minds, where he experiences things from their perspectives, and goes to battle with their inner demons. While it’s primarily a fun and lighthearted game, there are some deeper aspects of it, and Raz explores the minds of people who experience addiction and depression. “One thing about mental health is that many people have experienced it themselves or with someone in their lives, it’s familiar to many of us.” says Tim Schafer, Founder of Double Fine. “We wanted to approach the topic with care and concern, with our goal to make sure the game is fun while speaking to those who may have gone through some of the things we talk about.” Double Fine worked with outside experts and consultants to help ensure the representation in Psychonauts 2 was grounded and well represented.
This story on the Microsoft Blog reveals more from both Dominic Matthews and Tim Schafer and explores real life stories from our Xbox Ambassadors and wider community on their personal experiences of how gaming has had a positive impact on their mental health. Read it here.
Online Safety: Xbox connects gamers with help through Crisis Text Line
By Athima Chansanchai, Microsoft Stories
Every day, people come to Xbox to play, have fun, relax and for self-care to reduce stress. Sometimes, they need someone to take them from a “hot” moment to a calmer state. Thanks to Xbox’s partnership with Crisis Text Line, they can reach out to a mental health resource, if they need it. Every month, Xbox refers people to this non-profit organization, which provides free, text-based 24/7 support, connecting those in need to a network that includes 27,000 trained, volunteer crisis counselors throughout the U.S. The New York-based organization helps create individually tailored safety plans and de-escalates situations through a platform – texting – that makes it easier for people of all ages to reach out safely. See the full story and resources here.
During the month of May, here are ways in which Xbox will champion and support mental health awareness:
Gaming and Impact with Microsoft Rewards
Microsoft Rewards Members in the United States can earn and donate points to organizations supporting mental health awareness through Xbox. All Microsoft Rewards donations made to the organizations listed below will be matched by Microsoft through the month of May.
- Take This: – Take This’ Mission is to decrease the stigma, and increase the support for, mental health in the game enthusiast community and inside the game industry.
- CheckPoint: CheckPoint provides mental health resources for gamers and the gaming community. Their missions are to raise awareness for mental health issues, reduce stigma, and improve wellbeing in our community. Checkpoint is passionate about using video games for positive wellbeing and resilience.
Xbox gamers in the United States can earn Microsoft Rewards points in various ways, such as playing or purchasing games after downloading the Microsoft Rewards app on Xbox. Earn points and redeem them for real rewards. Join today and donate through Xbox.
Xbox Game Pass: Spotlight on Mental Health Awareness
During the month of May, Xbox Game Pass is highlighting a selection of games chosen by the Gaming and Disability community at Microsoft that raise awareness surrounding the issues of mental health and accessibility.
Featured Games chosen by our Gaming and Disability Community:
- Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – Set in the Viking age, a broken Celtic warrior embarks on a haunting vision quest into Viking Hell to fight for the soul of her dead lover. Created in collaboration with neuroscientists and people who experience psychosis, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will pull you deep into Senua’s mind.
- Sea of Solitude (Electronic Arts / Jo-Mei GmbH) A When humans get too lonely, they turn into monsters… Sea of Solitude takes you on a personal journey of a young woman’s loneliness. Set sail across a beautiful and evolving world, where nothing is quite what it seems. Meet fantastical creatures and monsters, learn their stories, and solve challenges. Explore a flooded city, either by boat, on foot, or by swimming through the water itself. Dare to look what lies beneath the surface, in a haunting struggle of darkness and light, and discover what it truly means to be human. Members can play Sea of Solitude now with EA Play, included as part of their Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Xbox Game Pass for PC benefits.
- Celeste (Matt Makes Games) Help Madeline survive her inner demons on her journey to the top of Celeste Mountain, in this super-tight, hand-crafted platformer from the creators of multiplayer classic TowerFall.
Be among the first to play the latest titles from Xbox Game Studios and ID@Xbox, available to Xbox Game Pass members the same day as their global release. Join Xbox Game Pass.
Xbox will be featuring livestreaming content on mental health and gaming the week of May 17th. Join us as we learn from game developers and nonprofits who have explored gaming and mental health.
Play. Connect. Impact: Learn more about what Xbox is doing to raise awareness and support issues related to mental health at the Xbox Community Hub.