A '90s-inspired arcade game is now showing at the City Library, inviting players to toggle with intrusive thoughts and be the hero in their own mental health adventure.
Mind Invaders: The arcade game offering lessons in mental health
With a steady stream of chiptune music playing through our headphones, CityMag is presented with three options four our bud-eyed digital avatar jostling at the bottom of the City Library monitor.
The Thought That Counts
Until 31 October
Adelaide City Library
3 Rundle Place, Adelaide 5000
In order to progress in the game, called The Thought That Counts, we can either select “another beautiful day to be alive”, “life sucks”, or “I want a burrito”.
Each option corresponds to a coloured button on an electronic plinth in front of us.
For the sake of this article, CityMag adopts a devil’s advocate attitude and smashes the “life sucks” orange button.
The Thought That Counts was created by educational game designer Joshua Kernich in the midst of Victorian lockdown. He says the game’s purpose is to highlight the effects adopting mantras like ‘life sucks’ can have on a person.
“I really designed it to explore ideas around how choosing our thoughts and reflecting on the thoughts that we have [affect our] trajectory in a mental health space,” the Melbourne-based mental health worker tells CityMag.
“I also want it to reveal how when we are in crisis… we often lose control of our thoughts and our brain kind of gets away from us.”
The Thought That Counts is a free interactive installation showing now until 31 October in the CBD’s City Library, off Rundle Mall.
It’s one of many events spanning writing competitions to visual art exhibitions featuring as part Mental Health Month, spearheaded by local mental health advocacy organisation, mindshare.
Although the work was created in a Melbourne lockdown, Joshua says the game will resonate with Adelaide audiences because mental health issues aren’t bound to any one place. They can be felt anywhere by anyone.
“The game really dives into anxiety, social anxiety, and crisis and all the way up to suicidal ideation,” he explains.
“These are the kinds of things that have been faced by so many people, regardless of how privileged our circumstances are.
“This past two years, even in Adelaide, I know a lot of people have lost their jobs. I know the spectre of COVID hangs over us all and we’ve all lost freedoms.
“We’ve all got this low-level kind of anxious thing to worry about in the background. I think it’s taken so many of us into new and challenging spaces that perhaps we haven’t felt before.”
Joshua says he chose the medium of an interactive game as it allows individuals to adopt the role of the player and be a part of the digital story.
Back in the City Library, CityMag progresses further into the game. We encounter new zany characters, who either disrupt or enable our journey depending on our chosen perspective. We’re also given the opportunity to eat strawberries.
If this story raises issues for you, call LifeLine on 13 11 14.
Without giving too much away, the narrative arc of this role-playing game peaks as our avatar reaches a crisis point on a cliff. Flashes of thunder and lightning occupy the screen, and the chiptune music is drowned out by crashing and discordant sounds.
Our new friends try to talk us down from the cliff with coaxing and the promise of treats, and we’re presented with three additional options: “I do like strawbs”; “That’s very thoughtful”; and “Maybe just one”. We give into the positive thoughts and eat a strawberry.
“What I like to do then is give users or learners or players, in this instance, the opportunity to make a choice and see for themselves what that choice will result in,” Joshua says.
“They’re putting themselves in the shoes of this character, rather than just observing them from a distance.”
If this story raised issues for you, call LifeLine on 13 11 14.