Emily x Vivi
Uncovering identity, connection and healing in virtual worlds
For mental health advocate Emily, a search for connection uncovered places to heal that were miles away from traditional approaches to recovery. Virtual gaming worlds and communities gave them the creative freedom and emotional support they needed to recover and discover themselves beyond the limitation of others’ expectations and biases.
Through a symbolic composition of animation and characterisation, artist and animator Vivi recreates Emily’s journey of healing and self-discovery by highlighting the different characters they walked with along the way.
Emily Unity (they/them)
Growing up, I was always surrounded by other people’s expectations. I tried so hard to be someone other people wanted me to be, but along the way, I lost sight of who I was. Healing looks different for everyone, but for me, video games were a place of recovery.
Video games made me realise I didn’t have to be alone anymore. They allowed me to connect with others at a time when I wasn’t emotionally or physically able to leave my room. It was also the first time I found people and characters of diverse struggles and identities that I couldn’t find in real life. When I created an avatar, they became an extension of myself. I could choose to be whoever I wanted to be, developing my personality and values without being influenced by other people’s expectations.
In video games, you see the me I want you to see. Unconsciously or not, people’s perceptions of me have always been influenced by my gender, race, age, or body. Video games were one of the only places where I didn’t have to worry about discrimination or prejudice. When you meet me in a video game, I can just be present, unfiltered, and unapologetically myself.
Vivi Feng (she/her)
This piece is a 24-frame walking cycle animation made with 24 of Emily’s favourite game characters. These characters represent parts of Emily throughout their life, as a combined walking cycle. The animation symbolises their journey of becoming themselves through video game play.
When I first talked with Emily about the collaboration, we focused on ethnicity and self-identity, but throughout the conversation, the direction evolved into Emily’s journey through their relationship with video game playing, and how it helped shaped their identity. We soon realised how important this aspect was to Emily. An animation that depicted all their favourite game characters walking quickly became our creative direction.
MY VISIBLE MESSAGE
Mental health looks different for everyone.
I want people to understand that recovery looks different for everyone. Video games carry a lot of stigma. Not just about causing violence, but also about being a waste of time, or only negative for wellbeing.
I want to highlight that mental health recovery is not one-size-fits-all. It’s disheartening when people generalise intricate issues that can’t be generalised, and shame people for enjoying things that make them happy.
I hope that in sharing this part of my journey, it will help start conversations about mental health, video games, and other non-traditional ways of supporting mental health. No matter what your mental health journey looks like, your experiences are valid, and you are not alone.
I am not a game player but from Emily’s journey I learnt of the depth and complexity that can be reflected from this often-stereotyped aspect of life. I learnt that things can be good or bad, depending on how you reflect and grow with it. I also learnt that it’s important to acknowledge and accept who you are as well as the ways that you are grounded and supported.
The final piece is so different from what I originally expected. Every time we had a conversation, there were new ideas and new thoughts. I’m so thankful for Emily’s openness in talking about themselves and their journey.
Vivi’s artistic talent knows no bounds. Would you believe that she has never played any of these video games? Because neither can I. She has perfectly captured the essence of each of these characters and I consistently get chills every time I see this work.
However, Vivi’s brilliance extends so much further than her art. She is one of the most understanding, open minded, and patient people I’ve met. She listened to my story with kindness and without judgement. I was unsure about what aspect of my mental health to share, and I changed ideas from my initial brief. I felt guilty, but Vivi made me feel sure of myself and helped create a safe space for me to express my story. I am forever grateful to Vivi for her generosity and compassion, and I absolutely cherished the opportunity to partner with her.
Emily Unity (they/them)
Emily is a mental health advocate who is particularly passionate about CALD, youth, and LGBTIQA+ intersectionality. They are currently a Peer Worker for Orygen and lived experience advocate for headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation, ReachOut, Beyond Blue, the Centre for Multicultural Youth, and the Mental Health Foundation of Australia. With qualifications in computer science and psychology, they intend on exploring the future of combining technology and mental health, including the potential of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and video games for mental health interventions and supports.