Intentions – Putting Mental Health ads in Video Games

Before we begin, it is important to state just how crucial mental health is. It is good to see that people and the media are beginning to talk about it more. Everyone deserves the chance to enjoy life and be happy. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many people have been forced to stay at home. That isolation can wreak havoc on one’s mental health, and for those with mental health disorders, it could be even worse.

Organizations that treat and deal with mental health find themselves at a critical point. While the impact of the pandemic has led to a surge in mental health issues, the pandemic itself makes it difficult for those afflicted to seek help.  As such, these companies have searched for different ways to reach out. One of these ways comes in the form of ads, but in a unique medium – Video Games.

Normally, advertisements in video games range from innocuous to absolutely infuriating. Most of them push for a certain product or service, but recently, one has instead carried a message straight from the government.

NBA 2K21 adds in-game, unskippable ads during loading (Xbox One) | Stevivor - YouTube
The ads in 2K21 were pretty obnoxious. Players have already spent $60 – $100 already. Source

Codemasters, the team behind popular racing games like F1 and Dirt recently added government messaging to the ads you see while driving in their games. If you live in the United Kingdom, you will see ads stating “Stay Home, Protect the NHS (National Health Service), Save Lives, and “Every Mind Matters”.  The latter is the tagline for the NHS’s mental health service.

Government Ads Source

Codemasters were happy to use their games as a way for players to get better help, and their marketing director has stated that “if we can help just one person then it has been a worthwhile addition.”

Positives, and Negatives

When I saw the advertisements online, I had mixed thoughts about the entire situation. While I am fortunate to not have depression, anxiety, or other mental disorders, many of my peers do. When I asked them their feelings regarding gaming, many found it an “escape”, a distraction from their struggle. Having advertisements remind them of what they are trying to get away from can be a bad move, regardless of intent. The advertisements are also relatively small, and when one is whipping corners at +100 MP/H, seeing an advertisement that says “feeling anxious?” can take you out of the game in a flash.

Granted, I do not believe the NHS has ill intent, and I believe that there are positives to the advertisements as well.  Acknowledging others conditions is important, and having a large government body note that there are people who are going through mental health struggles is a great stride. Making the topic of mental health less taboo, and letting people in the UK know that there are services out there that can help. For everybody that sees the advertisements and moves on, there are be some that see the ads and might be encouraged to seek help.

All in all, Dirt 5‘s advertisements bring a lot of discussions, both positive and negative. The game has invited a lot of attention as a result of this addition, and I am curious to see if Codemasters have data after a few months regarding if their players in the UK were affected by the advertisements.

Dirt 5 Source

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