Since we launched the AFK Room program in the spring of 2014 with PAX East, we knew we’d want to eventually expand it to additional conventions. In the year since, we’ve managed to do so, securing a presence at every PAX event worldwide. To four conventions in four cities from one. To two continents, even. Amazing.
Our partnership with PAX has been a shot in the arm for Take This. Not only in allowing us to reach their massive audience, but to know that an organization like PAX values our mission, and supports our efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness is huge. For PAX, one of the largest convention companies in the world, to stand up and say that they acknowledge mental health issues are a serious concern for not only their audience, but the video game community at large is inspiring to all of us. We can’t thank them enough.
That’s why it’s especially exciting to be able to announce today our first expansion of the AFK Room program to a non-PAX con. Starting this year, Take This will be hosting an AFK Room at QuakeCon, the annual event in Dallas hosted by Bethesda and id Software.
This is a big opportunity for Take This for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is it will allow us to adapt the AFK Program to a completely different convention from PAX, and reach a brand new audience for our mission. While many fan conventions are similar, the realities of running a convention and the variations in each company that puts one on make each opportunity to host an AFK Room different for us. We have to adapt to an entirely different organization’s needs in an entirely new place. And especially when we consider adding a new city to the AFK Room program, we have to begin building an entirely new network of clinical advisors, often licensed in entirely different ways from those we already know. It’s no small undertaking. So for QuakeCon to be willing to work with us to hammer out those details is a great benefit, and will allow us to do great things for them and their fans at the show.
More importantly, though, we’re learning how to adapt as an organization. Expanding to QuakeCon is just the first step. Taking the lessons learned in planing for attending QuakeCon and building a new network in the Dallas area, we’ll be able to start looking at how to host an AFK Room at any con — anywhere. There’s just no other way to describe this but to say: HUGE.
“So what’s the big deal?” You may be asking. “Isn’t the AFK Room just a quiet space for people to relax?” We get this question a lot. Sometimes form convention organizers. And the answer is: Not really.
When Take This hosts an AFK Room at a convention like QuakeCon or PAX, we do set aside a space at the con that we can keep quiet (or try to — thanks Dance Central!) and relaxed where people can take a break form the bustle of the show without feeling pressured, without being photographed and without worrying about someone taking their stuff. But if that was all the AFK Room was, we wouldn’t need an organization like Take This to host one.
Before we even begin planning for hosting an AFK Room at a con, Take This sits down with convention organizers to determine what it is exactly they need. Sometimes it is just a quite space, but more often it’s a top-down, convention-wide assessment of awareness of mental health issues in general, and a plan for addressing the mental health needs of their particular con.
Working with PAX, Take This conducts regular training sessions for PAX volunteer enforcers and provides PAX-specific educational materials about mental health issues they might be exposed to at the show. Prepared by Take This’s experienced mental health care clinician advisors, these training materials are mandatory reading for all convention volunteers, and the training is invaluable in helping them to understand why convention attendees might be experiencing trouble at a show, and how to help.
We also post our mental health care volunteers in the AFK Room, to monitor the space and ensure that anyone who arrives needing more than just a break can get to the help that they need. These volunteers have years of clinical experience, and many of them are fully licensed by the state where the convention is held. They’re not there to perform therapy or diagnose someone experiencing mental health issues, but to ensure that anyone who does need help can get that help.
“So why do the clinician volunteers need to be trained and licensed if they’re not providing treatment themselves?” That’s a great question. The answer is we rely on our trained and licensed clinician volunteers to know the difference between offering someone advice and perspective and actually dispensing care.
Think of the AFK Room like a First Aid Station. Most of the people who come into the AFK Room are simply looking for a band-aid, i.e. five or ten minutes ina quiet space where nobody is asking them to do anything. We can provide that. And we can also talk to people about mental health treatment options, or give them some perspective on what various mental health issues are like, if they want. Just like a nurse at an Aid Station could maybe talk to you about how to treat your gout. But when someone comes into the First Aid Station with a broken arm, the nurse is trained to recognize there’s not much they can do but stabilize that wound and call for an ambulance.
For us, monitoring the AFK Room with licensed, trained mental health clinicians is the same thing. They’re there to provide “emotional first aid” for those who might need it, and to be able tpo recognize when someone might need more and sound the alarm. At Take This we take our responsibility to the games community seriously enough that we’re not taking any chances. We want the brightest, most experienced people we can find on-hand to staff our AFK Room and ensure that every guest who comes in can get the help they need, whether its something we can provide or not.
Starting later this year Take This will be working with the organizers of additional conventions around the country on a pilot program to offer Take This mental health awareness and training services to conventions of all sizes, everywhere. This will be a huge undertaking, but we believe its worth it to help the community positively address mental health issues, and to let people know it’s dangerous to go alone.
We’ll be making an announcement about this program soon, so stay tuned to takethis.org and our Twitter feed @TakeThisOrg for more details as we have them. In the mean time, we hope to see you at QuakeCon!