How to Navigate a Game Development Career With Mental Health Issues or Chronic Illness


Game development is often a stressful career, whether you’re working in a studio or working for yourself. For developers with chronic illness or mental health issues, the pressure can be even more intense.

As Gamasutra points out in this outstanding article, the best thing you can do if you’re trying to thrive as a game dev while coping with either is to find the environment that works best for you. Alex Wawro interviewed four developers about managing their health and their careers, all of whom had different approaches.

Game designer Mike Stout spoke about trying to go indie while dealing with a panic disorder, a combination that he found to be untenable for his mental health.

“I was a much worse boss to myself, and I worked myself constantly. I agreed to do too much, contract-wise, and was barely keeping my head above water,” says Stout. “By mid-January, I was having panic attacks for 45 minutes out of every hour. I had pretty much stopped seeing friends and family entirely. I couldn’t take care of bills, or really do much of anything. When we called for help, and friends and family came, they found the house as a war-zone and found me shell-shocked and barely functioning.”

Stout says he’s in a better place now. He had to relearn how to continue a career in game development with a chronic condition, one that makes it very difficult for him to be available to other people and capable of working under stress for long periods of time when a project requires it.

He recommends other devs in similar situations be proactive about finding a medical professional who can treat their needs, and then also schedule time with a talk therapist who can help them learn coping strategies.

“I’ve learned how to ask for a break. How to stop conversations and resume them later. I’ve learned the warning signs that panic is coming on,” he says. “And when I notice them, I can take a break and use all the things I’ve been learning about how to take care of myself.”

Two of the developers Wawro spoke to found the opposite, that going indie was the only way they could find the flexibility their health issues necessitated. But each of them echoed the same fundamental idea: that there are many ways to have a game development career, and some of them may be just what the doctor ordered.

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