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The International Games Summit on Mental Health (TIGS) will feature keynote speakers Osama Dorias and Jamil Mullen Higley at its summit in Toronto on October 10 and October 11.
Organized by longtime game professional Mark Chandler, TIGS seeks to help game developers care more about mental wellness and to get them to talk about it when they need help. Chandler has a unique ability to get people to open up and talk about the mental health challenges of working in the game industry.
Dorias has had a long career as a game designer at places including Blizzard Entertainment, Warner Bros., Ubisoft and more. He’s also a game design teacher at Dawson College, the chair of the IGDA Muslims in Games Special Interest Group, the cofounder of the Polaris Game Design Retreat, and one of three Habibis on The Habibis podcast.
Dorias loves to empower people in expressing themselves through game making. He especially loves to give a voice to marginalized people and causes. He has hosted game jams, workshops and other community activities to this end.
Mullen Higley is familiar to folks who attended our GamesBeat Summit 2023 event in May, as she headed a roundtable on mental health in games.
For over 20 years, Alyx Vance has been a trusted companion within the Half-life 2 gaming world. Jamil Mullen Higley had the unique opportunity to work with Valve Software in the late 1990s, and she became the model for the face of Alyx, a non-playable character in Half-Life 2.
Today, Mullen Higley is transcending the boundaries of the game, creating extraordinary, life-altering opportunities that have the power to shape the future of gaming.
She is on a mission to ensure that emotional intelligence (EI) becomes core to game development. She wants to build empathy in the gaming industry from the inside out, creating a future in which all games utilize EI + AI to purposefully and positively influence brain development.
As a professionally trained and certified EI coach, Mullen Higley is answering the call to support the health and well-being of young adults who game by using AI to help and not hinder their ability to be more human as technology continues to evolve.
Chandler said that TIGS is extremely excited to be able to have two such distinguished keynote speakers this year and offers its thanks to both Dorias and Mullen Higley for being part of TIGS’ return to a live format again for this year. You can get more info at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Returning to in-person event
I asked Chandler how tough it was returning to an in-person event. He wrote back in an email.
“Very! Because so many shows came back this year, it took me months to find a suitable location. But we did, and people are going to love it,” he said. “It’s been tough to find speakers to attend because of the dates, but we have a very strong base now in place, anchored by Osama Dorias and Jamil Higley as our keynote speakers for this year.”
He said that he has learned more about his own limitations and what he is capable of doing nowadays due to his Bipolar Type 2 illness. And he took on a huge amount of the workload this year, such as finding all of the speakers, all the operations, the sales, the marketing, and the fundraising.
“It’s funny, but in a bit of a sad way, I can spend 30 minutes crafting an email to a friend or past colleague that have attained a certain amount of financial wealth and get them to make a donation to TIGS, and it’s immediately done,” he said. “Or I can spend months making a new sponsorship deck for distribution to companies with the gaming industry, and get from them 20% of what one of my donors has given me. So obviously fundraising is always going to play a big role in keeping TIGS alive and growing.”
Themes of 2023
I also asked what the themes would be big this year. The biggest one, he said, is how much the world has changed since the pandemic.
“The perfect example is that the golden goose that was laying the golden eggs for the gaming industry during the pandemic and its lock downs has now ended, and we are seeing mass layoffs everywhere,” Chandler wrote. “This is going to be a huge mental health issue for our industry, probably the biggest one yet.”
And he said, “[Another thing] that got worse during the pandemic was toxicity, especially in the online communities — a lot like the airplane rage we read about happening once every week or so. It’s almost like we have primally regressed as a species because of the pandemic, and maybe we have.”
Chandler said he wanted to try to address as many current important problems at TIGS as possible this year.
“But we also want to celebrate the strides that we have taken forward regarding mental health in the workplace,” he wrote. “I think that it’s a bit easier for others to understand what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes now because of the pandemic. With the horrible things that we saw during it, I think people, good people, are now more empathic towards their families, friends and colleagues nowadays, mostly. “
Why it’s worth it to speak up
I believe it is very important for people to talk about these issues, as that’s the only way you can get help when you need it. And I asked why Chandler why it’s important to talk about mental health challenges.
Chandler pointed to a study that said about half of the world’s population can expect to develop at least one type of mental disorder by the time they are 75 years old. As people live longer, the odds of having a disorder grow higher.
“So, to all of your readers out there, look up from your phone and look at anyone. If you don’t have a mental health illness, it’s almost a 100% chance that whomever you just looked at has a mental health illness/disorder,” Chandler said. “Sure, I am generalizing by saying the above. But video game development is a high-stress, high-pressure industry that can have a significant impact on the mental health of its employees.”
He noted that mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and burnout are common among video game industry employees. These issues can lead to decreased productivity and job satisfaction, and increased employee turnover rates, he said.
“TIGS strives to create a future where mental well-being is prioritized, stigma is reduced, and resources are readily available. Through this inclusive and collaborative platform, we aim to foster an industry that
supports the mental health of its professionals and promotes positive experiences for gamers worldwide,” Chandler said.
In full disclosure, I’m an (unpaid) adviser to Chandler, and I occasionally play Warzone with him.
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