How Games are Changing the World

October 12, 2020

Colin Campbell, previously of Polygon and IGN fame, has launched an important newsletter devoted specifically to idea of How Games are Changing the World.

I’ve been enjoying some recent issues and figured I’d share an excerpt from one in particular that had an especially profound effect on me.

The talent of empathy:

Chris Metzen retired from game development in 2016. He’d spent 23 years in the game industry, working at Blizzard on some of its key games, including Warcraft, Diablo, Overwatch, and Starcraft (a solid bio is here). Yesterday, he spoke about his struggle with mental health challenges, and the game industry’s long-standing absence of understanding the centrality of mental health.

Speaking at The International Games Summit on Mental Health, with Take This executive director Eve Crevoshay, he talked about his experiences in an industry that saw itself as a warrior culture where performance was all that mattered, and where a relentless competitive spirit was valued far more than empathy or care. The session was called “The talent of empathy.” (Note. I’ve tidied up some quotes, for clarity.)

“Part of my leaving was I started having some serious issues with anxiety and panic and horrific imposter syndrome,” he said. “It was there all along. The psychology of being afraid, of feeling unworthy, and not being able to ask for back-up from friends and co-workers. There’s a lot of shame that can come with that. It doesn’t feel safe to talk about that.”

He acknowledged his privilege in being at a point in his career that he was able to step away from his work and find “perspective and time”. Most people have to endure the particularity of their workplace, and to compete for position, recognition and career survival.

He began at Blizzard when he was 20 years old. “It was a frat-house. Even though we were all nerds, everyone was trying to be a tough guy. The expression of emotions like tiredness or fear was not culturally acceptable. If you feel overwhelmed then you feel like a weak link, like you’re breaking a grand tradition, like you’re breaking a contract.”

As the years went by, and despite a record of high level success, Metzen was struggling. “I was a grown man and was feeling things that I didn’t know how to process. My performance was linked to my self-esteem and my sense of purpose. I was terrified by the question of ‘who am I’, if I wasn’t this creature who was here to perform in this way.”

I strongly encourage you to read the rest of the piece and subscribe to Campbell’s newsletter.

One of the ideas behind Zero Counts was to share positive impacts video games have on the world. But I remain an outsider to the industry — simply observing and playing here and there. Yet, I recognize the toxicity in it, which hurts. It sucks to have such a pleasant part of your childhood associated with so much pain for others. Video games are joyous marvels of engineering and art. They spark conversations of curiosity and wonder and should be just as fulfilling to work on.

I’m so glad there are more outlets popping up with the mission of sharing positivity within the industry. But positivity holds no weight without also holding others accountable. Outlets like Into the Aether, Polygon, and not only showcase positive stories and emphasize fun, the hold feet to the flame of injustice, discrimination, and exploitation. I’m happy to add How Games are Changing the World to that list.