This week started out as difficult as any that I can remember in games, and it ended with a reminder of why we’re in this business.
The accusations of sexual harassment exploded after women in the industry called out prominent video game writer Chris Avellone. Within a couple of days, he lost two major writing jobs for Gato Salvaje’s The Waylanders role-playing game and Techland’s Dying Light 2. The quick action inspired other survivors of abuse and harassment — mostly women — to come forward.
More than 268 stories are listed on a Medium post about the allegations. It has affected all parts of the industry: game developers, marketers, publicists, influencers, game journalists, livestreamers, and companies big (Ubisoft) and small. Many names are familiar. Two people that I consider friends have been accused, though I have no personal knowledge of what happened in their cases.
Perhaps the most prominent person accused is Ashraf Ismail, the creative director of Ubisoft’s upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. He stepped down from his role at Ubisoft and apologized following the allegations. Not all of the cases will be handled so swiftly. Some people believe that is appropriate, as justice must be fair and due process must be served. But others feel it is a way to sweep things under the rug, as human resources investigations have a history of just fading away. I feel like we are at the beginning of a new time.
This latest eruption is a full-blown crisis, years in the making, and it is boiling over independently of the Black Lives Matter movement and the coronavirus crises that are hitting us full bore, all at once, as we watch a president who only knows how to make things worse. I am pissed off that the sacrifices we have made for three months, with tens of millions of people out of work and locked in quarantine, have been for naught as our leader fails us and tries to open things up too early — leading to a second wave. We have had cascading crises. A triple-whammy. It’s enough to drive you crazy — and also make you hopeful about change.
I will not say how angry you should be or that you should ignore any of these crises, which are all legitimately terrifying. Here’s a secret: They terrify me, the hardened journalist. The relentless bad news takes its toll, and I just want to shut it off. But I can’t do that. I write publicly. I have to bear witness to both our triumphs and our tragedies, and right now, one after another, the tragedies are rolling in fast. As a member of the press, I believe we should be unflinching. But I also believe we need to take care of ourselves and back each other up.
Doctor my eyes
Bearing witness is a hard thing. As Jackson Browne once sang, “Doctor my eyes. Tell me what is wrong. Was I unwise, to leave them open for so long.”
I can have a bad day. But here’s a few things I’ve learned about picking myself up. I hope they can help someone else cope with these times.
I do not believe in putting up professional barriers, pretending that these bad things do not affect me. They do. When stress ratchets up, I face it. I protect those who are near me. I wear a mask and stay at home. I tell my three daughters not to fear, because fear is the mind-killer. I love that “litany against fear” from Frank Herbert’s Dune novel because it says so much about what you can control yourself. Fear can incapacitate you and stop you from doing what you must to prevent further harm. But if you acknowledge it and let it pass, it will go, and you will remain.
It is like a little prayer that gives me peace of mind. I use it; it works for me. If you can find something that works for you, then use it. When we are in a state of fear, we do not operate at our best. We make mistakes and make decisions based on things that we don’t want to happen, rather than on things that we want to happen. It’s best to make decisions when you are calm and can see clearly.
Video games have also been a savior. I also play games to calm myself, or perhaps distract myself. Call of Duty: Warzone has been a godsend as a fresh game that has kept me entertained. I enjoy talking with friends on the microphone as we play. It makes playing a multiplayer game into a social experience.
I’ve also played The Last of Us Part II, which is perhaps the most violent game I’ve experienced in a long time. While it’s about living after an apocalyptic pandemic, it is strangely cathartic to play. I bonded with my daughter while playing the game, which is as close to a work of art as any game has come. This gives me a break, in between work and reading about tragedies. It isn’t about putting my head in the sand. It’s about getting a little relief before I have to go back to our cursed reality.
In the past, I got a lot of joy from traveling around the world. I can’t do that anymore. That has made it hard to meet new people. It has made it hard to collect the little anecdotes that give our readers insight into the people that we write about. But most of the time, when I do an interview with someone, I turn on my camera in the Zoom call and they do the same. I peer into their lives, based on how they have set up their room at home. It feels like I can get to know them better that way. It’s almost like I’m meeting them in person, which is what I miss about travel. This is why I’ve enjoyed doing some recent roundtables and hosting our recent GamesBeat Summit event. I always feel better when I feel like I’m part of a community. And when the Zoom meetings get to be too much and I need a really short break, I check in on my little handheld Tamagotchi to see if it needs anything.
Now I exercise. The last place I went to as the coronavirus lockdown began was my gym. I had been going every day for weeks. But when the lockdown began, I started jogging. That was something I hadn’t done in more than a decade. But I struggled and picked up the habit. I ran a little farther each day … and a little faster.
Of the last 105 days of lockdown, I have jogged 101 days. On the days I missed, I rode my exercise bike a couple of times, and I was playing games for too long on the other two occasions. I’ve lost seven pounds, but I’ve also eaten a lot, so haven’t lost more. I can now run more than 2 miles at a 12.5-minute pace. It clears my mind, and I can listen to books on Audible.com while I run. During the pandemic, I’ve listened to An Economic History of the World Since 1400, The Singularity Is Near, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and All the Light We Cannot See.
I feel good, and my family jokes that I have massive calves. But running makes me feel better, and I still get everything else done that I need to do. I have kept this relentless pace because the world has thrown things at us relentlessly. I feel like I need to offset that. If these things work for me, then I hope that they can work for you. If I can inspire you to carry your burdens better, then that makes me happy.
I don’t think this is a race to mental fitness. It is not a new thing to brag about. I can’t celebrate feeling better when everyone else feels bad. What works for me won’t work for everyone, and not everyone will be well. When you’re not feeling well, it can be annoying to hear people give you advice about what will make you feel better. Sometimes, you just need some time to pass.
But you should know you are not alone. We have so many ways to fight off the things that plague our minds. When you need help for your distress, when you need some mental wellness, seek help. I have the fortune of living with my family and being able to be around them all of the time. That has been good for us, and good for me. My mental state has its fluctuations, but I am never alone and I am never lonely. That is a blessing, and when I ask for help, I can get it. That’s important for humans, as we are social animals. People ask me how I’m doing and how I keep going. In many ways, I’ve never been better. But I don’t do this on my own. Neither should you. Among the resources for help are The International Summit on Mental Health Awareness, Take This, Stack Up, and others.
All tragedies pass. A little rainbow of light came yesterday as CD Projekt Red showed off Cyberpunk 2077 to the world. What better way to make us feel better about the game industry — as bedeviled as it is — than to show us a game that represents the finest of what can be achieved. I loved watching how the developers created a believable world that we could all escape to when it comes this November. It made me think that, come November, we will have more than one thing to celebrate.
Be empathetic. Be kind. Be patient. Be real. Be well.