Remembering Matt Hughes – Depression in the Games Industry

About four weeks ago Matt Hughes’ death was all but passed over thanks to another industry talking point that’s bellyached its way to top of games journalists’ list of professional tragedies.

Hughes was a freelance games journalist whose work appeared on Joystiq and GamesRadar among other sites. His apparent suicide, which was first reported all the way back at the beginning of November, should be remembered for two reasons.

One, because like most dealing with depression Hughes suffered it in silence, making it all the more necessary to put it back on table and onto the blog circuit where with any luck it will keep from getting swept back into obscurity. And two, for making almost no visible impact on the industry whatsoever.

Hughes’ death roughly coincided with the start of DoritosGate one month ago, out of which was born a full-blown journalist-led investigation into the blurring lines between professionalism and commercialism. Fits of anger are de rigueur among games bloggers right now. While the industry is being hauled out to the Stocks for possibly aligning itself too closely with commercial entities, particular effort has also gone into providing a cold bucket of water for any journalist who’s still enamoured with the way things are.

Regardless of where you stand on all of this, the result, at least in retrospect, has been an impressive show of what can happen when journalists throw their weight into their favourite pet issues. Weeks of extensive self-analysis in the industry.

About the same amount of time has passed since Hughes’ suicide, but the significance of this whole dreary saga of Lauren Wainwright, of corruption, and the now semi-iconic Geoff Keighley Emperor Palpatine impression has continued to read fresh because of the work of a few impassioned Internet users who have been burning the midnight oil on this stuff.

Comparatively, one week and a few blog posts following Hughes’ suicide, his death was already downgraded from a few online eulogies to a passing human interest story. It comes down to priorities. It’s nearing December now and the neighbourhood watch surrounding the Wainwright narrative seems to be quieting down. But now even in these brief moments of tranquility, of which in this industry there are very few, I think we’ve got our priorities all wrong.

Take it from me, depression is a monster of a thing but it can’t be dealt with alone.

It’s been sarcastically referred to as The Artist’s Reward, but I prefer this description, which I’ll paraphrase:

In military vernacular there is a term called “the fog of war.” This originated after the Napoleonic war, at a time before the invention of smokeless gun powder when shots from muskets would result in a fog so thick soldiers would lose sight of the enemy, making it impossible to tell apart friend from foe.

The first person to write about this in depth was the Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz, whose solution, in part, was this: “The first thing [needed] here is a fine, piercing mind, to feel out the truth with the measure of its judgment.”

Which makes Depression, perhaps, the ultimate expression of the fog of war. You can see the result of that enemy’s attacks but you can’t see the enemy, and worse, that fog can become your reality; Worrying then, when as Clausewitz says, we can only rely on our heads – Because it’s hard to rage against a war when it’s going on in you.

Which is why we need to rely on each other. And in the past month we’ve shown, even at its most maniacal, the industry can make a difference just by talking.

About DreadfulBlog
A devilish combination of slightly bored and quite hungry

11 Responses to Remembering Matt Hughes – Depression in the Games Industry

  1. Sam says:

    Matt Hughes’ death was an absolute tragedy.

    I agree that the games journalism self-examination truck has been rolling on for a very long time now, but I don’t see what more the games industry could have done for Matt at that time. Of course, depression is a much bigger issue than any petty arguments made in the games industry. But also, it is much bigger than the industry itself.

    It’s cheesy, but I live by the quote (attributed to Gandhi) “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Shout about it, blog about it… tell people where and how they can get help. From my vantage point (you know me, I’m an industry observer who frequently sticks her oar in where it’s not wanted) I could see plenty of industry people in my Twitter feed posting tributes to Matt and sharing support information, and (of the tributes I saw) the sentiment was not politicised with thoughts on the talking-point dujour, which to me felt appropriate at that sad moment in time.

    If depression is *particularly* prevalent in the games industry, then yes, the industry should concern itself with making that priority number one by creating its own support networks and supplying resources. That would, in my opinion, be a wonderful way to remember Matt. But who is going to make the first move?

    (Love reading your blog btw, please post more!)

  2. David Anthony says:

    Fine words.

  3. Lauren says:

    I didn’t know Matt personally but I’ve certainly read his words. A real shame and a loss in games journalism.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve battled with depression but the only fix for it is to reach out. The drugs only go so far. It’s devastating he chose to end his life instead of fight for it.

    Keep blogging.

  4. Shirley says:

    Thank you. We need to talk about depression more, it affects so many people, we shouldn’t sit in silence trying to cope on our own.

  5. Paul says:

    I agree that awareness should be raised, and within the industry every effort should be made to ensure work doesn’t become so stressful or insular that people become depressed. However, I disagree that discussion will necessarily help people on the edge.

    Counselling and open forums do help in the short term, but people suffering from depression can very quickly go from being reassured to fully consumed by their emotions again. Sometimes it isn’t brought on by an obvious trigger, rather it just happens. Anxiety of sharing can also be a trigger, with the worry being that people will either disapprove or push for the person to go onto medication. Awareness then, should be aimed at those who aren’t suffering depression,

    Journalists could definitely get the ball rolling by investigating depression and suicide within both games development, and games writing, possibly even extending the discussion to players too. Having said that, if an article helps one person who has been keeping their depression a secret, or didn’t realise the pain they were feeling was depression, then any such article will have been worth it.

  6. Vito Gesualdi says:

    I really don’t think the game journalism industry is in any position to tackle the issue of depression, nor should it be expected to. This is what makes your assertion that our priorities are “wrong” a bit hard to comprehend. Some clarification would be nice, do you really assert that we should be talking about mental health issues as relating to our creators rather than journalistic ethics?

    • Vito Gesualdi says:

      I guess depression as relating to the industry as a whole is a valid subject, but I still think it’s wrong to say that the so-called “DoritosGate” debate on ethics isn’t a subject of equal (or perhaps greater) importance.

      • DreadfulBlog says:

        Hey Vito – absolutely not. It’s not a zero-sum game, and the fact that one industry issue (Ethics) received particular special attention other another (mental health) when I believe both are necessary conversations is what I take issue with. When I talk about ‘priorities’ I don’t mean we should prioritize ethics over depression; I mean to say that ethics WAS prioritized over Hughes’ suicide when I don’t believe it needed to be.

      • Vito Gesualdi says:

        Yeah I was misreading a little bit there. Definitely sad to see somebody go, and I’d like to know if this is a symptom of his work in our industry or something else.

  7. Pingback: Remembering Matt Hughes | Take This

  8. Pingback: His apparent suicide, which was first reported all the way back at the beginning of November, should be remembered for two reasons. One, because like most dealing with depression Hughes suffered it in silence, making it all the more necessary to put it ba

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