Mental illness / depression in the games industry – Simon (Saint and Simon)

Simon Karlsson_640

Whilst going through depression is a deeply personal experience and unfortunately in some cases might be the first step to a much deeper malaise. However once overcome it could be used to channel creative endeavours as is the case for indie developer, Simon Karlsson whose game A Song for Viggo is very steeped in themes of loss, sadness and depression.

As someone developing a game with depression as one of its central themes, do you have any personal experience with it and could you share it?
Thats correct, I dealt with depression some years ago, and there are days where I still struggle, but it’s going a lot better. There are tons of things to share, but it all boils down to anxiety of being stuck in life, focusing on the crappy things instead of the good things. Describing depression in the “right” way, is an impossible task since it’s so very different for every individual.

How has your knowledge with depression influenced the way you structure your working life today?
It has definitely changed my way of working. My project A Song for Viggo is based on depression, sorrow, family and neurological problems. I started out with the project as a means to expose myself to anxiety as a subject, anxiety of working with anxiety. I firmly believe that by projecting your own feelings (sorrow, anxiety and so forth in this case) into a project, you can create something interesting.

How do you cope with the pressures of being an independent developer?
I’m not sure that I do, some times. Working on a game so closely connected to your name is really frightening. There are several others on the project, but when people google the project, it’s my name that comes up. I’m not sure I was ready for people talking about the project when it was announced, or ready for people talking about me. It’s quite an unusual situation. It was a really large step between being unknown to being “the guy with that paper project about depression”. And it is still a large step.

Do you believe there is a stigma against mental illness in the game development community and if so how do you deal with it?
It’s a stigma all over the world, not only in the game development community, “get over it, stay positive, shape up” is so common comments. What society doesn’t always realise is that neurological problems is a kind of an illness, and a comment about “shaping up” doesn’t always help. In industries where the focus is solely on achieving, it’s easy to forget basic needs as health and well being.

To the best of your knowledge have you ever met an industry colleague suffering depression and if so, what sort of advice or support did you provide?
I talk with so many everyday in the industry saying how it’s hard to maintain focus due to much crunching in the industry. Several get depressed. It’s a creative industry and when the industry itself prohibits certain creativity or force unpaid work overtime, well, it’s natural it takes it’s toll.
Just talking about feelings is a good thing. Specific cultures doesn’t really allow to talk about feelings, as it could be seen as a sign of weakness, and who wants to be weak? I often spill my guts all over the place, and that kind of mirrors back, and people get naturally in touch when they wanna spill their guts. Spill the guts – it’s a good thing. How else can we get to the next level? By really getting to know each others struggles, it’s becomes a more natural way to talk about all worries.

What do you believe can be done to help address the issue of mental health and depression within the industry?
Unfortunately there isn’t a magic cure for these issues. Getting better work-standards, limiting crunching and starting to talk about these things to each other is a good start. Not talking about issues gets stored in your body and people explode soon enough. Avoiding meltdowns is a good thing, both for the individual and the company itself. Raising awareness about depression and getting to know different kinds of neurological issues should be standard knowledge, especially in the AAA-industry. I guess that’s why I went indie – I wanna be creative and feel good.

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