Gaming community takes steps toward mental health support

Dr. Christine Matier listens to Dr. Raffael Boccamazzo as he talks about mental health in the gaming community at PAX East Thursday. PAX East is a four day gaming convention held in Boston every year. Photo by Paige Colley / BU News Service

By Paige Colley
BU News Service

BOSTON – Reaching out to someone struggling with mental health problems is as simple as remembering extra-virgin olive oil.

“If you can remember EVOO, you can remember how to do this,” said Dr. Raffael Boccamazzo, the clinical director at Take This, a mental health nonprofit that serves the gaming community. “It stands for – in a very specific order – empathize, validate and then offer options.”

Boccamazzo, who goes by Dr. B, was one of five panelists gathered at PAX East, an annual gaming convention held in Boston, Thursday to discuss shifts in the gaming industry toward increasing mental health awareness.

“Connection is one of the most powerful forms of healing you can have,” he said.

Boccamazzo helped train Enforcers, the people who volunteer at the convention, to be on the lookout for people who might need help.

He said if a person’s behavior is unusual for the situation, that’s a clue they may need someone to talk to.

“Look for the behavior that’s not normal,” he advised.

Dr. Christine Maitier, the chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, agreed.

“Trust your gut instinct if something feels off,” she said.

Maitier said that although a quarter of adults in the U.S. will be diagnosed with a mental health condition, less than half will seek help.

The easiest solution, she explained, is forming connections.

Rebecca Mir is a part of the Seize the Awkward campaign, which emphasizes using moments of awkward silence to open a dialogue about mental health.

The campaign teamed up with Guild Wars 2, a popular online role-playing game, to spread the message to the online gaming community. For the month of February, game avatars can wear a t-shirt to show support in-game.

Online streaming communities such as those on Twitch can also take steps to raise awareness.

“It’s really important to be conscious of ourselves and educating ourselves on the way that we can always improve our interactions,” said Rook, a Twitch streamer who goes by the name birdofchess.

Rook, whose Twitch channel has over 7,500 followers, explained that it can be difficult while streaming a game and engaging in chat to pay attention to viewers who may be struggling.

She tells people in these situations to reach out to her directly or else talk with other members on their Discord channel, which is a messaging service designed for gamers.

“When it comes down to it, I think the greatest regret any of us would ever have would be to know that somebody…did not get that help from us when they needed it,” she said.

The gaming community has worked to create a supportive community in social games that involve interaction and cooperation.

Back in 2012 Rubi Bayer, who is part of the marketing team at ArenaNet, the developers of Guild Wars 2, helped shape the community policies that are still in place for the game.

“We wanted a community that cared about each other,” she said. “The rest of our community started picking that up after a while and we taught them by example.”

The message Bayer wanted attendees to take away was that no one is ever disappointed when someone reaches out to them.

“Reach out,” she said. “Do it.”

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