Addressing Mental Health By & For Community Managers in Gaming
By April Marie
View this blog on the Tilting Point website
Due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, while more people are playing games than ever before, mental health concerns have been pushed to the forefront of many minds. The added attention to this particular topic is sorely needed. According to a study that concluded in March of 2021: “Over the course of the pandemic…the proportion of participants at risk for clinical depression ranges from 46% to 61%, up to a 90% increase…compared to the same population just prior to the pandemic.” If we don’t take the pandemic into consideration, there’s still the relatively well-known statistic from Johns Hopkins Medicine: “About 1 in 4 adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.”
With knowledge like this, it’s clear that mental health is something we should be addressing, both on the consumer side and for our work colleagues who might be struggling. In gaming companies, Community Managers tend to interact closest with the general public, next to Player Support. Considering the odds they’ll come in contact with someone grappling with mental health issues, and the negativity they’re exposed to which might wear on their own minds, Community Managers deserve all the help we can offer.
In this blog, I will provide an overview of resources and best practices for Community Managers to approach mental health concerns when communicating with players, as well as suggested resources for any gaming company looking to provide these managers with the support they need.
When players & Community Managers collide
There are a number of different channels where Community Managers come “face to face” with players. There are the social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Twitch, etc. Most of these involve sharing a “post,” which can be simple text, or paired with an image or video. Social media platforms like Discord differ in that they allow players to speak more one-on-one with Community Managers. Even more personal would be live-streaming. During streams, players can speak to Community Managers directly and get immediate responses.
Pardon the generalization, but most Community Managers are the empathetic sort. The folks drawn to this particular role are usually those who enjoy helping others and are ready and willing to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. But dealing with mental health issues can become tricky for non-medical professionals. Morally speaking, it’s important to do what we can to help those in need, but at the same time, it’s important to understand boundaries, where to set them, and when to enforce them.
How to handle self-harm & suicide threats
((If talk of suicide is a trigger source for you, I would recommend that you skip this section and move on to “What’s happening behind the screen?”…))
Here’s where things get a little intense. Despite suicide being the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. (according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), most Community Managers do not know how to handle threats of self-harm or suicide from their community members. It can be surprisingly rare in this industry to find companies that have standard reaction plans in place. We at Tilting Point reached out to a number of sources to try to uncover some sort of industry standard, without much luck. But thankfully, organizations like Safe in Our World (in conjunction with Mind Fitness) are working to correct this with training courses, and their Champion/Ambassador programs (at the time of this writing, I myself am a Champion for Safe in Our World).
It’s also up to Community Managers themselves to reach out to each other and have serious conversations about this topic. As of the time of this writing, the Tilting Point Player Experience Department has had some simple interactions with Community Managers from other companies. We are at the beginning of discussions around how to standardize community management from an employee standpoint.
We’re going to take a moment to discuss plainly what a self-harm or suicide threat from a player may look like. It can manifest in a number of different ways, like someone saying “I’m going to kill myself” in a Discord chat, or a player sharing concerns for another player who has made mention of suicide in chats in-game. Every threat should be taken seriously. It’s easy online to discount things as a joke or sarcasm, but in these cases, it’s best to err on the side of caution.
What is mental CPR?
The best way forward, when a threat is recognized, is the CPR method of suicide prevention. Broken down into each of its parts, the CPR method stands for Current plan, Prior behavior, and Resources. The intention of this method is to engage the person point-blank. In asking them direct questions, you are able to gather as much information as possible in a short amount of time, and hopefully catch them off guard with your candidness.
- C = Current Plan: The first step is to ask them if they have a current plan to end their life. This is often the space where those who were “just kidding” or didn’t really mean it, can out themselves. If they say they were joking, or “no I’d never do that,” etc, you can safely exit from the conversation. Conversely, if the person is able to tell you an exact plan, it’s time to move on to step two.
- P = Prior Behavior: Ask the person, have they felt this way before? If they have, what helped them at that time? In asking these questions you can potentially uncover something that will help the at-risk person that they hadn’t even realized themselves.
- R = Resources: Here we want to ask if this person has the means (the resources) to carry out their plan. This can feel incredibly counterintuitive to ask someone who has just mentioned they intend to commit suicide, but this method has been proven time and time again to save lives. If the at-risk person says they do not currently have the means, then you know there is time for them to get the help they need. If they stumble over the answer, it means they haven’t fully thought it through and there is still time. If the person lists the exact resources they have available, then it is time to take immediate and further action.
Next steps — Player is high-risk
Once the CPR process has been completed, it will become apparent whether the threat of self-harm or suicide is genuine. If genuine, Community Managers should immediately collect as much information about the player as they can (without asking them to provide it). Here are some examples of what to gather: username, player ID, social media accounts, IP addresses, location. All of this information should be shared with authorities local to the player. If it is not possible to determine the location of the player, then it is still important to share as much information as possible. Any mentions of suicide or self-harm should be removed from your community to protect your other members. But keep a record of the messages shared both publicly and privately.
Next steps — Player is low-risk
The usual recommendation after carrying out the CPR method of suicide prevention is to ask the person if they have anyone else they can talk to. Being that this will occur on the Internet, there are a number of helpful resources that Community Managers can share with them. I would recommend keeping an up-to-date list of websites and call centers for at least the main countries your players are from. In the United States, for example, there is the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the JED Mental Health Resource Center (and helpline). The United Kingdom has Samaritans or Selfharm. You can find these and a number of other countries’ resources at SafeInOurWorld.org. Keeping a list of these on hand will allow Community Managers to simply copy and paste the applicable resources to the person in need.
What’s happening behind the screen?
While it’s incredibly important that we support our players when and where we can, it’s equally important to keep an eye on our fellows. Community Managers are on the frontlines of our games’ online spaces, and as we all know, those chats aren’t always sparkles and unicorns. Sometimes they can be muddy and toxic. I myself have personally experienced interactions with players that are borderline abusive. It’s easy to bully and demean when there’s a computer screen between you and your target.
It’s because of instances like these that it’s also incredibly important to support Community Managers. Their day often includes reading and internalizing dozens, if not hundreds, of negative comments. Some may be targeted at the game or company they are representing, but sometimes the statements are directed towards themselves. I’ve had players say outright that I “should be fired,” just because they didn’t like a community program I was trying to run. In one specific instance, players created multiple memes about me insinuating that I was unintelligent and bad at my job.
How to help (as a coworker)
So we know Community Managers in gaming are often confronted with the worst the Internet has to offer. Now how do we support them? I’d like to look at this from two different angles. As one of their coworkers, it’s as easy as asking how someone is doing. Were things a bit rough with the players that day? Allowing them to vent their frustrations is thousands of times better for them than being expected to bottle them up inside. You may find your Community Manager seems happier to return to work after a simple rant session.
How to help (as a company)
For a company, supporting Community Managers has to be a top-down effort. There should be procedures in place to assist them with situations that we all hope never occur. Just as you would have anti-harassment policies in place for employees, you should also have systems that are agreed upon across the board (and preferably checked by a legal team) to prepare them for mental health concerns within their communities. Reaction plans for certain kinds of messages are extremely helpful, including if and when the Community Manager should elevate a situation to a higher position. At Tilting Point we’ve created our own escalation plan for the community team, a resource we can share if requested by other professionals.
Additionally, it would be extremely helpful to provide mental health reaction training for Community Managers. These will allow them to better serve the players in their communities. On the other side of the same coin, these employees should be given access to mental health counseling of their own. Communicating as the main focus of your job means facing confrontations that others may normally be able to avoid. So it’s important to give Community Managers access to therapy or mental health assistance, to aid them and keep them motivated to continue doing their best job.
As mentioned, there is seemingly no industry standard for mental health in the community management space, nor a “go-to” system for reacting to mental health issues within a game community. Equally so, it isn’t standard practice to take steps to maintain positive mental health among Community Managers. With mental health concerns on the rise, the time is now to work amongst ourselves to truly improve things. If you can, reach out to peers at other companies to see what they’re doing for their communities or Community Managers. Encourage them to put procedures in place for assisting their players, and share resources that might help turn someone’s life around one day. It’s up to all of us to make positive changes within our industry, and sometimes it’s easier to do than you would think.
Here’s a quick summary of what we covered in this article:
- Suicide is a leading cause of death in the US, but the CPR method of suicide prevention can help.
- Players who are at high risk of self-harm should be reported to local authorities. Players who are at lower risk should still be given resources that they can use.
- Chat with your Community Manager coworkers! Give them the space to vent their frustrations if need be. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
- If you are in a leadership position, consider discussing mental health with your Human Resources and Community teams.
Community Managers aren’t always sunshine, daisies, memes, and quirky catchphrases. Behind all that are still human beings who sometimes need a little help.
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As a Community Manager within the Player XP department at Tilting Point, April’s main responsibility is to act as the liaison between game players and the development/publishing teams behind them. She takes player feedback and crafts it into actionable points that the teams can use for future developmental changes. The Safe in Our World Community Management Mental Health Training Program was the catalyst for her interest in how Community Managers can positively impact the wellbeing of their players. She hopes to continue wielding the torch on this subject in the future. Prior to her time at Tilting Point, April worked for the indie development studio Madorium as a Marketer and Producer/Project Manager for the point-and-click adventure The Puppet of Tersa (PC).