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Throughout 2021, Compass Festival will host interactive installations across the city, created by local artists. One installation, Anxiety Arcade, uses retro gameplay to start a conversation around anxiety, isolation and mental health.

Leeds Mind’s vision is working towards better mental health for all, and one of the ways in which we do this is by “making mental health everyone’s business”. Giving people different opportunities to reflect on mental health – whether that’s through films, storytelling, music, gaming or anything else – plays a massive part in fulfilling our mission.

Leeds Mind spoke to Matthew Allen, one of the two artists behind Anxiety Arcade, to hear about the project, and how our community can get involved.

Tell us a bit about Anxiety Arcade

Anxiety Arcade is a full-sized arcade machine exploring themes of anxiety and isolation. It draws on 80s pop culture and video games, and allows players to just reset and take a break from everything in their world.

You play a character that is battling with everyday things that can be really difficult if you’re struggling with anxiety, for example, getting showered, brushing teeth, or tackling the dreaded email inbox! The game has a few small branching pathways, secret rooms and different endings, so it’s going to be fun to play a second or third time round too.

Adam and I [Adam Sam Sas-Skowronski, who together with Matthew leads Closed Forum, a collective of artists] have actually learned how to code games from scratch for this project. We learned how to use Unity, an industry-standard games engine, and secured funding from Arts Council England to develop the project.

How do you think gaming can help mental wellbeing?

In terms of our game, it’s about getting people thinking and talking about mental health. We’re under no illusions that playing a game might solve someone’s problem if they’re struggling with, but if we manage to start a conversation, or get someone to think differently about mental health, the project will have succeeded.

More broadly, gaming is a medium just like films, TV or reading, that can offer that bit of escapism; a way to relax and temporarily forget about your current stressors; or a way to connect with friends. It gets a bit of a bad rap as something that is detrimental to mental health (which it can be, if it gets in the way of work, sleep, exercise and other things), but so many people get a lot of value out of gaming and the gaming community.

How are you making sure this is a safe space for people to explore ideas around anxiety and mental health?

This is really important to us, and was something we factored in from the very start of the project. We consulted with staff at Leeds Mind and people with Lived Experience of mental health difficulties to try to have the game give an accurate representation of what anxiety and isolation can feel like for some people. At the event, we’ll have people on hand if you need any info about the game, and we’ll also have signposting information to local support services if someone needs more help.

We’re also aware that some people won’t want to be out and about due to Covid. With this in mind, we’ve given people the option to experience it virtually via a live play-through on Zoom. You can also come along to this if you do manage to visit the game in-person, and you’d like to learn more about the project.

 

Thank you to Matthew for sharing more about Anxiety Arcade with us! The game will be free to play, available at Trinity Kitchen from 24th – 30th May 2021, 12pm – 7pm.

If you do check it out, post about your experience online using the hashtags #CompassFestival and #AnxietyArcade.

The live play-through will be hosted on Zoom on May 29th at 1 pm – access the event here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/154459603833

For more info, please visit: https://compassliveart.org.uk/event/anxiety-arcade/1

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