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.

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