"We need to stop glamourising overwork as a badge of honour"
That's Anna Hollinrake’s message to students looking to get into the industry. Hollinrake is a senior artist at Climax Studios and one of 2017's BAFTA Breakthrough Brits, in an interview with MCV coming in next month's magazine.
Hollinrake has been a vocal supporter of mental health for those in the games industry, talking primarily about her own experiences with anxiety, depression and burnout. In this talk, given at Rocket Jump in 2016, Hollinrake talks about how at university she found herself in an "emotionally abusive relationship" with herself.
"I shout about mental health literally all the time." says Hollinrake, saying that for students and those working on the bottom rung of the games industry ladder, paying attention to your health is "fundamental".
It's a growing crisis, with an article from the BBC in 2015 stating that rising numbers of students are seeking help with stress and other emotional problems with an annual rise of 10% in the demand for counselling. Those numbers are from 2015, but the problem hasn't gone away in the last few years, and that's across all students, not including the games industry where burnout and people struggling in underpaid and overworked roles is a known problem.
"I'm fairly sure that 90 per cent of game developers have anxiety," says Hollinrake, with a wry grin. "The number of people I have spoken to because I share my experiences on depression and anxiety and dealing with the stress of studying and overwork."
"I've had so many people come forward and say: ‘I thought it was just me’, and It's so prevalent that talking about it is so fundamental."
Hollinrake says that students looking to get into the games industry should try to dispel the myth that creativity and suffering are interlinked and pay attention to what matters to them, rather than doing things for other people because they feel obligated to. "This includes creating work that they're just doing for their portfolio because they'll get exhausted and frustrated," says Hollinrake. "Challenging yourself is important, but there are so many ways to do that in a healthy way."
At the moment, Hollinrake says there's a culture of glamourising overwork in the industry, and it has to stop for the good of the development commmunity and those studying to get into it.
"I remember being at university and standing in the corridor and bragging about how little sleep I got," Hollinrake says. "But it didn't make me a better artist, it made me terrible at learning anything because I was malnutritioned and sleep-deprived. It's just a bad time. We need to move away from that, be more mature and realise that if we want to stop burning out after five years in the industry, we need to slow down."
Hollinrake says that the stories of burnt out games industry employees is an all too real creepy pasta for those working in the profession, and that if people want to get the full worth for the training and effort that they've put in?, people will need to listen to what matters to them, and take steps to work in a healthier way.
"I brute forced my way through everything. I spent years on these concept art forums where everyone would post: 'Oh, I've been working for 12 hours just painting rocks' and I would do that because that's what I thought you were supposed to do. Actually, that's a useless way for me to learn anything because that's not how I learn - I'm not a visual learner. I have to do it. If I want to learn how to draw a rock, I need to go out and pick up a rock off the ground and hold it, muddy, in my hand and actually look at it and analyse it.
"In a similar way to what I was saying earlier, I need to stop listening to other people as much when they were preaching a lot of rubbish and be a bit more discerning about how I look up to because I just ended up burning out horribly. Four months down the line of binging on studying I was at a physiotherapist getting needles jabbed into my arm because I had wrecked them from overwork. We need to to do better."
"Take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, try to broaden your horizons and don't just stay in the games bubble. Ultimately, you'll be drawing on an infinite number of topics if you want to work in the creative industries anyway, and no one is more responsible for your own health than you."