It’s rare for videogame fans to get much airtime in mainstream media, and when they do, it’s usually because they’re being branded as addicts or fragile youth being groomed for a life of violence and crime. A new documentary from the BBC has set out to challenge that narrative however. Gaming and Me: Connections, Identity and Support takes for granted the fact that millions and millions us have very healthy and productive relationships with the games we play, and that games can be an integral and hugely meaningful part of their players’ lives.
The half-hour programme takes us inside the homes and into the preferred virtual playgrounds of three UK game players, including Abi, an artist and cosplayer from Weston-Super-Mare, Joe, a journalist for Celtic Football Club living in Glasgow, and Elissa, a student beginning her new life away from home. Through their stories, we learn that games are more than just idle pastimes, and can be places where we can build relationships, shape our identities and work through complicated emotions.
Abi’s story focuses on her relationship with Ellie from the Last of Us series, who she has embodied both in the games and in public life through her spectacularly accurate costume work. We see how becoming Ellie has helped Abi to process feelings of bitterness and anger in a positive way, allowing her to see parts of herself in Ellie and learn from her mistakes.
Joe, meanwhile, explains how games played a role in his mental health recovery following a tragic situation in his family life, providing him a place to escape to as well as the means to express what it was he was going through. Joe is a dedicated member of the Grand Theft Auto 5 online roleplaying community and we join him as he goes about his rounds as an in-game rubbish collector. It was playing Actual Sunlight, however, a harrowingly honest depiction of living with depression, which proved to be a turning point in his own metal health journey.
“To see a protagonist who was relatable, who was struggling with things which I could immediately identify with really struck a chord with me. It made me confront a lot of my personal demons. It helped me identify and articulate what I was feeling to mental health professionals and really helped get me on the path to get a grip on my own mental health”Joe Donnely on his experiences playing Actual Sunlight.
As for Elissa, we see how Animal Crossing: New Horizons has helped her maintain her relationships with friends and a sense of routine after moving away from home during lockdown. In her segment, we join her ingame Halloween celebrations and learn about how games more broadly have provided an invaluable place for people to be together across the UK during the pandemic.
With input from various academics and journalists, as well as featuring some beautiful cinematography, Gaming and Me: Connections, Identity and Support is a thoughtful and heartening watch that shows the human side of games we rarely see in mainstream media. It confidently makes the case that our time spent with games can be just as important to us as any other lived experiences and is a great template for more nuanced games coverage on TV.
You can stream Gaming and Me: Connections, Identity and Support on the BBC iPlayer.
UPDATE: In the original version of this post, we wrote that “we’d love to see more people of colour in any future programmes”. Elissa from the documentary was kind enough to get in touch about representation in the programme: “I am actually a person of colour – I’m mixed white and Asian – but you are definitely right that there could be more representation in the future!” Thanks Elissa!