Autism Anxiety In the gaming industry

 

April is  World Autism Awareness Month, and we have partnered with Autistica’s Anxiety Breakthroughs campaign, which focuses on anxiety. Throughout April, Autistica will be sharing the latest evidence around autism and anxiety and raising money for anxiety breakthroughs and encouraging more people to get involved in research.

 

More than half of all autistic people have had anxiety. These feelings of stress, worry and fear are stopping thousands from living and enjoying life.

 

Thanks to research, we are already starting to understand the causes of anxiety in autism. And we’re beginning to know why standard treatments don’t work. We now need more breakthroughs to know what does. Airship is working with Autistica this month to help support their work with researchers across the UK, Government and the NHS to develop personalised anxiety treatments and services that work for every autistic person.

 

Along with our fundraising operations this month, we wanted to spotlight what it is like to be neurodiverse in the games industry & focus on autism anxiety.

Over the past few years, the gaming industry has blossomed into one of the highest yielding industries bringing in $159.3 billion last year. With that came pressure to consistently create games to a now “AAAA” standard or game content creators. Fortunately, especially during this pandemic, we have started giving mind to the stresses, anxieties & the toll it takes on our mental health. Unfortunately, we rarely look at how these stresses affect people, so we sought out the opinions of the neurodiverse.

We asked an artist from a UK studio & and UK games content creator five questions that we feel opens the eyes of the industry to where the sector when handling the neurodiverse both have asked to remain anonymous, so we have used the name Anna (for the game artist) & Dianne (for the content creator)

 

Do you think you have struggled with anxiety more during this pandemic?

Anna said – “Yes, absolutely. From what I understand, it may not be the typical experience of somebody who is neurodiverse. Still, in my case, it is without a doubt been the highest level of anxiety I’ve felt over such an extended period. I think that my living alone, not having a pet or a garden, and also having setup my office in my living room are all contributing factors to the problem for me. It also does not help that my usual means of de-stressing is lifting heavyweights.  I would say that when I visit a gym many times, I feed off of the visceral atmosphere which is generated by people striving to achieve their fitness goals in a relatively small space (I’m not talking about a big fitness chain), I can’t think about my worries under a loaded barbell and when I am unable to relax, tiring myself out more often than not seems to do the trick.”

Dianne says – “I would say that I have struggled with anxiety more in the pandemic. But mostly in terms with communication and the idea that I feel forced to reply in a timely manner because we’ve all spent most of our time at home so it’s like they might think “she’s at home, what could she possibly be doing.”

 

Do you believe anxiety is an inherently added pressure of the games industry compared to other industries?

Anna says – “I think everyone knows that any extended period of crunch time (which is a games industry term for working extra hours to get a game shipped) is likely to push people towards anxiety, or burnout but crunch is not 100% ubiquitous in the industry, I think I have been very lucky with that myself.

It also does not really help that many of the applications we use in our work tend to be less stable than say Microsoft office and this can cause applications to crash and hang which can be stressful when you are doing work to a deadline. Think of it like sitting in a traffic jam when you are in a big hurry.

That said though the act of doing something you enjoy and or are keen to learn is protective from anxiety, or in other words, you would be more likely to experience eustress (positive stress) rather than distress (negative stress) as a result of this protective characteristic of the industry.”

Dianne says – “I think anxiety exists at all industries. Each industry has its toll on people in different ways so I couldn’t say that anxiety is inherent to gaming industry that it isn’t to other industries but what I can say that it can manifest because of different reasons that may not appear in the gaming industry.”

 

Is the games industry supportive of those with anxiety & especially of the Neurodiverse?

Anna says – “I think overall staff in the industry seem more accepting of neurodiverse colleagues, but this could be more the result of changing times. So far I never have felt I had to ask anything of an employer specifically because I am neurodiverse, in fact my previous employers and all of my previous colleagues still don’t know, which is possible because it’s not obvious. But I guess it can be a lot of effort at times keeping it that way. I am sure the company I currently work for is keen to support the neurodiverse, which is why I felt comfortable enough to disclose it, and the stress caused by the lockdown probably motivated me to do so.“

Dianne answered – “ I wouldn’t say that it’s supportive tbh. I haven’t really seen the gaming industry reach out to its neurodiverse group nor do I see games that are created with a neuro diverse group in mind such as taking into account how colours, sound make impact their experience or considering how gaming events could be catered to neurodiverse people”

 

What do you think needs to be and can be done to support the Neurodiverse in the games industry?

Anna answered – “It’s a very wide question that I don’t think I can presume to answer fully because of course the neurodiverse are very diverse and even people with certain diagnosis particularly with Asperger’s syndrome (now absorbed into the definition of ASD in the US under the updated ADSM5 definition) which I have. I do think that some kind of forum could be an interesting idea and perhaps we can start to figure it out. Speaking for myself I know I often like to do work related communication in pictures wherever possible because although I think I write and speak well enough. I can take things very literally and often spend a lot of time thinking about and worrying about even very simple communication with words, especially when I’m first getting to know people. Or I may spend extra time re-writing and editing e-mails (I have on occasion spent 6 hours on an e-mail when I was very anxious about the subject and I felt the possibility of a negative reaction to the e-mail existed). This is because I find people’s reactions to what I say sometimes unpredictable.”

Dianne answered – “I think that gaming industry need to do more to incorporate neurodiverse people into the industry so proper representation can be provided at all areas”

 

What is one thing you feel the world should know about the Neurodiverse & Anxiety?

Anna says – “I think some Neurodiverse people who are high functioning are less likely to know what is causing their anxiety sometimes because they are more likely to be made anxious by things that are not known to be common causes of anxiety. Sometimes it could be a sensory sensitivity that other people do not have, and other times it could be a difficulty in processing or understanding people’s behaviour because that makes the world a more unpredictable place. Also, if in your experience the world is unpredictable perhaps anxiety about anything becomes more likely. I think this is possibly why some people with ASDs tend to love domesticated animals and are so particular about the order of say a DVD collection, when the rest of the world is unpredictable, there is a comfort in the predictability of these things.

Dianne says – “ That we exist and exist on a spectrum. You could get us all in a room and we would not act or respond in the same way. We are diverse.”

 

I want to thank both Anna & Dianne for answering these questions, ultimately it’s very humbling to remember that the needs of the neurodiverse vary and these are things we often miss or don’t even consider. What I hope flourishes from this article is for us all to pay attention to our surroundings and take mind, we often break down our methodologies for our day to day into one size fits all cookie-cutter solutions, which often leave people alienated, a little more communication and compassion could go leagues in supporting a more inclusive and intuitive industry!

 

If you would like to learn more about autism anxiety, please visit Autistica, our partners for this Autism Awareness Month.