The Games And Online Harassment Hotline is a new service for anyone in the games industry to use if they want to talk to someone about abuse, burnout, depression, or other issues they might be facing. It's free and anonymous, and it's designed to encourage people to seek help when they need it. Headed by Feminist Frequency's Anita Sarkeesian, the idea for the hotline was born during the #MeToo movement the games industry experienced in August last year. The movement has continued in 2020, most prominently in accusations about Ubisoft's company culture.
"When we started seeing this in August many of us were like, 'okay, we've got to do something about it'," Sarkeesian tells me.
"We started realizing that we need to have a multi-pronged approach to really ending abuse in the games industry, and looking at deep systemic change so that we can actually stop abuse in the future. But also, we need to help people right here and right now, because systemic change is a long process."
The hotline, though currently only available if you're in the USA, is for everyone and anyone in and around games that needs it. That includes developers, press, streamers, esports competitors, fans and players alike.
"It's for those who want a confidential, anonymous space where they're not judged at all for whatever the issue is that they're experiencing," Sarkeesian says. "And that can be a really wide range of topics. We let you lead the discussion and we let you lead how you would like your experience to be when it comes to our agents providing emotional support."
This isn't the first hotline of its kind. Sarkeesian said she considers the Games And Online Harassment Hotline a kind of spiritual successor to Crash Override, a support network started in 2015 to help victims of online abuse, which is unfortunately no longer active.
But a service like this is still needed. From personal experience, I know how difficult it can be to discuss things like online harassment with people who don't quite understand, but that's exactly where the hotline comes in.
"Workplace issues or harassment issues online are not unique to games," Hotline coordinator Jae Lin tells me. "But there are some specific considerations because of the way that games culture exists and how our communities are structured."
"Many times when folks from the games world go out to seek mental health support, whether it's therapy, or another hotline, or just trying to talk to someone else about it, the reactions they get center those more outsider perspectives, saying things like 'that sounds so unbelievable' or 'that's so ridiculous' or 'how could that even happen.'
"We're really hoping that by having a game specific hotline we can really provide a space for folks to center their own experiences without having to educate someone or uphold another person's reactions."
If you call the Hotline, you'll talk to an agent who understands the industry and is trained in mental health support. They're able to direct you further to other resources and organisations if that's what you want, but first and foremost they're there to talk with you. The hope for this service is that it will encourage more people in games to reach out and get help if they need it, even if that is just a chat with an understanding voice.
"I think that we really need to get over the stigma of asking for help and recognizing that sometimes we need more than just ourselves to get through a difficult time," Sarkeesian tells me. "A lot of games themselves encourage this behavior of stoic-ness, and you're the one person that can come and save the world on your own.
"I'm hoping that a service like this will encourage folks to realize that it's actually courageous and even brave to ask for help, that it's necessary and that there's no shame in that."
If you're affected by any of the issues mentioned here, or you just want to know a bit more about the Games And Online Harassment Hotline, check out their website.