eevelop: Brighton, hosted by Tandem Events, is set to return from July 12-14, with the gaming industry heading to sunny Brighton for another conference full of conversations, networking and business opportunities – and even more not to mention the beach, which will certainly be a more attractive prospect now that Develop: Brighton is back to its traditional July slot.
And as we look forward to our annual trip to Brighton, we decided to try some of the conversations available at this year’s event. There is certainly a wide range of topics to choose from – from discussions about Houdini to the best TikTok tips.
While you should definitely check out the Develop: Brighton website for the full list of speakers, this month we’d like to focus on one specific talk focused on managing ADHD in the video game industry.
Anna Holinrake, Head of Creative Services Autumn boys at Mediatonic, will give a talk entitled “ADHD City – Strange Things That Help the Creative (Noisy) Brain” – in which Hollinrake will go through his own diagnosis of how ADHD can perform in the gaming industry and training strategies for dealing with distraction and brain noise while working on video games.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a condition commonly diagnosed in childhood that affects a person’s ability to maintain attention and cause changes in energy levels (among other things).
This is very relevant for the gaming industry – especially at the moment. According to the 2022 Ukie Industry Census, 10% of the industry has a condition affecting their concentration, such as ADHD. This is an increase of 3 percent from the 2020 survey and significantly above the estimates for ADHD among the adult population of 4 percent.
Although ADHD, of course, has always been here, the devastating shift to homework due to the pandemic has exacerbated many people’s symptoms – prompting many in the industry to be diagnosed for the first time. As the transition from home and hybrid work seems to be ongoing, it is more important than ever for both companies and their employees to understand the challenges and support required when dealing with ADHD in the workplace. As such, we sat down with Hollinrake to find out more.
How and when did you come to be diagnosed?
[ADHD] it was something I really had to deal with, and I had no idea until the blockade happened. And suddenly all the tools I now recognize as effective ADHD methods for focusing and working more effectively suddenly disappeared overnight. I had a few suspicions that the way I approached my work might be a little unusual, but I just thought I was eccentric! I was just better at my job at night, suddenly I was just working in these huge intense waves and I could produce absurd amounts of work in a very short time – but that was also very variable.
During the first block, I really needed external structures to help focus. There is a key element of the ADHD toolkit called body doubling, which is essentially that if someone is sitting next to you and doing something, even if it’s not what you’re working on, that presence tends to take you into space. on your head to focus on something you need. This is something I’ve inadvertently used extensively all my life – I used to sit in Google Hangouts for eight hours a day, just share my screen and talk empty-handed with people online in completely different countries, we all drew and worked together.
So, once I had that moment of awareness, I posted about it. A lot of people contacted me and suggested various processes that could speed things up, because it is very slow to diagnose in the NHS, and that includes documents. I kept not doing this for a year. Then, in January 2021, instead of going through all these methods, I just went down the path of least resistance and just wanted to be targeted by the NHS. It takes some time – the NHS, as everyone now knows, is chronically underfunded, especially in terms of mental health support. And for me I was very lucky that it took me a year. But even then, in terms of extra support, I didn’t have a huge amount. I received my recommendation and stamped “yes”, you have ADHD and that was it. But I am still very grateful to have this. But it takes some time and there are some people who have been waiting for several years.
You know, it’s pretty funny. When I was diagnosed with my psychiatrist, I said I worked in games, and she laughed and said, “Oh, I see so many people working in games. Yesterday I saw one of the games! ‘ It seems to be something.
How is your ADHD presented in the workplace and how do you manage it?
I just couldn’t concentrate as much as I wanted to. If there is something that is quite intensive workload administration, it will take a lot more cognitive workload to be able to dig into really complex email, for example, or source very, very complex files. And I think there’s a lot of inner frustration, the feeling that I can’t handle the tasks I have to deal with, or I’m not quite sure where to start. I have a lot of methods and tools I’ve somehow put together over the years to handle this, but it doesn’t make it any less difficult to just jump.
Brains with ADHD benefit from the structure, and its loss can simply be completely disorienting. Like all the things you do when you walk into an office or have to work from home, no one had it when they were suddenly forced into their bedrooms to work. There is so much that has been lost because of this.
There are ways to get around it. I use a lot of deadlines to get things done, and if I lose something, I’ll be much more involved. I did a short story writing course and I was really trying to do my homework. So I told my friend, “If I don’t write my short story in the next hour, I have to give you £ 15.” A friend of mine, who knows how my brain works better than I do, said, “Okay, I’ll take that £ 15 and donate it to the Church of Scientology. Because I know you’ll hate it. Yes, that really motivates me.
I also tried to make my workspace as enjoyable as possible. One of the things I realized that made my brain very noisy was just the fact that I had a very crowded desk – both visually and as an artist, it really touched me. Also, everything that stops me from focusing – dehydration, cold. I have a huge weighted blanket, and if I keep it here, it will be too much effort to lift and move it – so it keeps me in one place, as well as not being too cold.
And then I do things like externalize my brain. Many of my ADHD traits wanted me to do many, many external things. So, in addition to my full-time job, I have my own online store, I go to Comic Con, I give lectures and seminars at universities … Trying to maintain all this can be quite impossible. I use Notion to chart everything in time and set tasks so that I can forget about the things to come. Because I know that once he appears on the timeline, I will have the time to deal with it. This only works because it is deprived of everything I don’t need, which is too noisy or too much effort. Because the moment I create a system that is too crowded and requires effort to use, I will not use anything. So it requires a lot of self-acceptance and kindness.
For a while, I also had an ADHD coach who made the amazing recommendation of using the voice-to-text dictation feature on your phone. So I will talk through a lot of emails, if there is a big feedback session, I will usually dictate that. Ideally, while walking, because, especially with very particularly hyperactive people with ADHD, movement helps the brain to move.
Is there a stigma around ADHD and just being accused of being “lazy”?
When I went for my diagnosis, it was horrible. The fear that you are just lazy and useless and can concentrate because you are bad and devastated. That it was your fault. And this horror becomes very acute when you are on the brink of being labeled ADHD or not.
I’m a little afraid to talk so openly about it, but part of the reason I’m directing the conversation is that I had this experience of seeing someone talk about something and realizing that it’s good to talk about it. Or raise the point to “hey, maybe I have that too.” I received a lot of messages from people asking questions about how I approached things, how I was diagnosed, or whether I had advice on how to deal with it. Or just say things like “thank you – I think I can have it and it’s nice to see people talk about it.”
What can companies do to support employees with ADHD?
Understanding is really important, it’s something that needs to be built in between the line manager and the person with ADHD. I think there are a lot of small things about communication that can be corrected. Things like how to give feedback, whether it’s something they prefer to talk about, or whether it’s a very clear list of highlights to address.
I also think I have a place for people with neurodiversity, because a kind of support group is really wonderful – or even ADHD coaches, I got my ADHD coach at work and it was very helpful. In addition, it would be extremely useful for these body doubling spaces to be digital.
But just a common understanding that brains work in different ways, each person is different and requires different things. And I really want to avoid making people feel that people with ADHD are working too hard, because that’s obviously not true. Given the huge number of people in the games who are likely to have ADHD, it’s important to avoid making people feel that way. I know so many phenomenal people with ADHD who absolutely kill him for what they do. They’ve taken what they’re obsessed with and turned it into a career. I think this level of very specific passion is quite rare.
ADHD and the games industry – Mediatonic’s Anna Hollinrake on her diagnosis, and how best to support neurodiverse employees