BREAKING NEWS: Gamers are an introverted folk. We get engrossed in fictional realms, adventuring with boundless, intimate imagination. Gaming is an activity than attracts those already prone to introversion and a bit of the ol’ social awkwardness, because it is in these fictional realms that we can find power and a voice. And this can be an amazing thing; the complete immersion into artful fantasy and intricate clockwork is what can transcend gaming from a mechanical system to a fulfilling art form. But a predisposition to introversion can become self-doubt, then darkness, and often describes many people in the gaming community.
If you’re a gamer suffering from depression or anxiety, the notion of attending a large convention like PAX can be both exciting and terrifying. You want to see the latest gaming innovations, rub elbows with creators, and try out unreleased hardware, but the thought of crowds makes you want to vomit out your insides. You are far from alone: an organization called TakeThis knows exactly how you’re feeling, and they’ve created a unique convention space where you can relax for as long or as little as you need. They’re called AFK Rooms, and they offer a safe, quiet place staffed with licensed clinicians and mental health practitioners.
Image Source: TakeThis Blog
AFK Rooms are the brainchild of TakeThis, a non-profit charity founded in 2013 by journalists Russ Pitts and Susan Arendt as well as clinical psychologist Dr. Mark Kline, Psy.D, upheld by an advisory board of gamers and developers. TakeThis was created to help those who suffer from emotional issues find perspective and hope in a community in which they feel understood.
Easier said than done, right? If you suffer from anxiety, the suggestion of a new environment doesn’t really soothe the nerves. Russ Pitts took some time to describe to Geek & Sundry what you can expect when you walk into an AFK room, and it’s not the office waiting room you might be thinking of. “The first thing you notice in the AFK Rooms is how quiet it is. The pressure of noise at an event like PAX is extreme. Conversely, its absence in the AFK Room is shocking and soothing.”
In fact, most of the guests that enter the rooms are just there for a little break. And you’re not going to be dive-bombed with pamphlets and fainting couches. The environment is relaxed, as Pitts explains: “Our volunteers will try to make eye contact with each new guest and approach those who appear to be in need. We try to be as unobtrusive as possible, but we are there to ensure no one suffers in silence.”
Russ also goes on to explain that these rooms are not meant to be revealing therapy sessions, so don’t expect to be scrutinized upon entry. “Our hope is that PAX attendees will make use of the room for taking a break from the stresses of the show. If a guest decides to talk to our volunteers about their own mental health issues, or to learn about treatment options, then that’s their choice to do so. But we hope that by simply being at the show and being willing to discuss these issues we can make it more likely someone experiencing a mental health issue will feel more comfortable getting the help they need.”
Image Source: TakeThis Blog
The very best thing about the volunteers in the AFK rooms is that they’ve been vetted for their perspective on gaming. No one is there to tell you that gaming is harmful. In fact, Pitts says this is one of the areas where they work the hardest. “We see ourselves as a bridge connecting video gamers—who have traditionally been overlooked by mental health care workers—with mental health clinicians, who are often misunderstood by gamers and often misunderstand what gamer culture is about.”
AFK Rooms aren’t the only place you can find gaming-positive support. TakeThis has curated a huge database of resources on their website. Blog posts cover topics from clinical depression to the societal stigma of mental disorders, advice columns for those suffering or love someone who is, and every step that can be taken to find the kind of help you might need. Take the opportunity to share your own story, and find others whose story sounds eerily similar to yours.
In the worst circumstances, we’re deprived of the opportunity to be heard, understood, or seen. In the best circumstances, we are blessed with a tribe who understand what we mean, even when we aren’t saying it. As of this year, AFK Rooms are installed at every PAX worldwide, with over 500 visitors per day. Don’t be afraid to go out and try something new, intrepid gamers. Make it epic. There’s never been a better chance to equip yourself with the weapons needed to face this battle. Many of us are already here, clashing steel, and though you may not know it yet, we need you here, too.
Featured Image Credit: TakeThis/YouTube