Every week, for one week only, we are showcasing a film of a theatre show from a previous SMHAF, with brand new programme notes. From 11-18 May, we are delighted to bring you Amy Conway's Super Awesome World, with videography by Rob Jones.
This film is available to watch for free but if you would like to support SMHAF you can buy a 'pay what you can' ticket here.
When computer games and mental health are mentioned together, the focus is often on the negative impact that gaming addiction can have on mental health. Amy Conway’s Super Awesome World offers a different perspective – it’s a show about how the kinds of challenges set by computer games can help you navigate depression.
Super Awesome World has a long association with the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival. SMHAF first showcased an early ‘work in progress’ version at the CCA in Glasgow in 2016. The following year Super Awesome World went to the Edinburgh Fringe, where it was shortlisted for the first ever Mental Health Fringe Award, a new prize founded by the Mental Health Foundation. The show then toured Scotland as part of SMHAF in May 2018. It was to have been part of SMHAF again this year – Amy was planning a one-off performance to mark the 60th anniversary of Samaritans of Glasgow.
Amy’s experiences as a Samaritans volunteer are part of the story of Super Awesome World, a show that insightfully explores her own depression as well as how to support others. One strategy, she suggests, is in setting yourself the kind of achievable tasks that computer games thrive on.
As Amy explained in an interview on SMHAF’s website in 2018, Super Awesome World was partly inspired by a TED Talk by Jane McGonigal describing a game she’d created to fight chronic illness. “She’d had a concussion and it had debilitated her so much that she’d wanted to take her own life. Because she was a games designer she was like: ‘well what do I do best?’ She decided to make getting better into a game, and it was through breaking things down into small goals and tasks that she was able to finally make some progress and get out of that dark place. I found it was a great metaphor for talking about some of the difficulties that having a mental illness can throw at you.”
Super Awesome World is a very interactive show, so in some ways a film of the live show is not the ideal way to watch it online – it would be interesting to find out how a more interactive online version of the show might work. But if you’ve never seen it, it’s one of the most uplifting, life-affirming and fun theatre shows that SMHAF has supported. And a story about the mental health benefits of computer games is perhaps exactly what a lot of us need to see and hear during lockdown, with computer screens providing one of our few sources of accessible entertainment.
Amy Conway says: “This show is about a very particular point in my personal mental health journey when I didn't yet realise I was ill, when I hadn't yet asked for help, when I thought that the way I was feeling was my fault and a sign that I was fundamentally failing at life. I couldn't have made the show at that moment in my life; I didn't have the self-awareness, I wasn't well enough.
“But a few years later, I had a handle (for the most part) on my depression and had learnt a lot about myself, and my illness, in the process. I was two years into volunteering for the Samaritans and I was struck by how many people that rang in used the same language as I had before I began my recovery. They described themselves and their lives in terms of failure and success, they equated their worth with achievement or what they deemed to be a lack of it.
“I wanted Super Awesome World to be a fun show about depression and I also wanted people to hear these thoughts of not being good enough and of feeling like a failure reflected back at them in a world of videogames where falling flat on your face and having to start again is not only a given, but celebrated as part of the enjoyment of the game narrative.”
The Scottiah Mental Health Arts Festival is led by the Mental Health Foundation.