Thursday, 10 October 2019

Today is World Mental Health Day, and to help us talk about it and share their experiences we have Kelly (from Tomb Raider Horizons), Noelle (of Critical Hit), Alonzorion (of Alonzorion's Blind Let's Plays), and Lodair (of Croft World and Tomb Raider Brasil) who all very kindly answered some questions about how they balance their work, life, and hobbies.

Before we get to those answers, I wanted to write a little about what set the ball in motion for this article. The internet and particularly social media has become a huge part of our everyday lives whether we are just checking the news, catching up with friends, or using it for work. But despite its benefits and potential to connect people, it can also negatively impact our mental well-being. Most of us are fairly anonymous online, we sit behind the keyboard with usernames and we talk about our day and the things that impacts us. It's easy to forget that behind another username is another person experiencing their own days and their own lives.

In recent years, I've become increasingly aware of how many people describe themselves as being "burnt out" on hobbies, feeling underappreciated, or feeling bullied out of fandom, particularly in the TR fandom. Getting "thicker skin" is weak reasoning, and "just ignore them" doesn't cut it. This is your hobby, and your passion, and you deserve this space just as much as any other fan; the time that you put in is just as valuable. As fansite owners, it's also so easy to look at the accomplishments or opportunities that another site receives and feel like your work is somehow less. The same can be said for cosplayers, especially ones starting out, who might feel at times eclipsed or overlooked for local conventions. Or streamers where the size of your audience impacts if you will be partnered with the broadcaster or game studios. In a digital world, we are so focused on influencers and our digital worth that we lose sight on things that really matter, such as our mental health.

Comic panel from Tomb Raider Inferno.

Recently I spoke with a number of fans whose hobbies put them out there, about what they do to relax and how they've overcome personal challenges in order to try to maintain some normalcy in life.

Kelly M.
Website Owner, Tomb Raider Horizons

"My name is Kelly M, I'm in my late thirties, and I'm the site admin and chief content creator for the Tomb Raider fansite, Tomb Raider Horizons. When I'm not tweeting about Tomb Raider or playing video games, you can find me indulging my love for Star Wars and Star Trek, my other entertainment franchises of interest. Other interests of mine include archaeology, wildlife conservation, archery, foreign languages, and East Asian cultures and I've been known to sketch a drawing or two when I'm feeling particularly creative."

As a self-employed translator with a number of exciting hobbies, Kelly is one of the most hardworking people that I know, but she has also faced a number of challenges within her work that forced her to reevaluate how she spends her time and energy.

For her, friendship and shared passions is what drives her to continue running her site as well as being active within the community, but it's a hobby that doesn't come without its difficulties. When asked what the most stressful aspects of running her site were, Kelly replied, "finding the time and motivation to work on the Tomb Raider Horizons site is certainly a stress factor (especially when I'm suffering from "brain fog") but the most stressful aspect of this particular hobby is dealing with fandom drama, especially on social media. There have been times when I've expressed joy or interest in something only to get shot down by overly critical fans moments later or had people hurl abuse at me for simply having a different opinion on whatever the hot topic of the day may be."

She continues, "while I have my personal preferences when it comes to Tomb Raider, I try to be as inclusive as possible and create content for all the different eras of this decades-old franchise but there are always people who will go out of their way to demand an explanation as to why you're not focusing enough on their favourite game(s) or incarnation of Lara. Some of them even resort to slurs and insults instead of letting things slide. Most days, I can brush it off and get on with my life but when you're having a less than optimal day, that sort of thing can really sting."

Tomb Raider Horizons' gorgeous header. Source: Tomb Raider Horizons

Even when her hobby feels rewarding, personal difficulties such as politics and financial instability has also fed into stress and made her side projects increasingly more challenging. "In the past, I would have added "travelling" to the list of ways I relax but even that can be stressful at times and my current income prevents me from travelling as often as I'd like. The past couple of years have been particularly challenging. Between the uncertainties of Brexit, various health issues, and the stresses of running one's own freelance business, I've found it increasingly difficult to "switch off". A lot of my hobbies have been thrown to the wayside due to the unpredictable nature of my current job but I do try to remind myself to take breaks from social media and that I need to make more time for my hobbies. I can't remember the last time I sat down and sketched something..."

When things get too much, stepping away from the hobby, even for a short time, can help improve your mindset. In her interview, Kelly also spoke a little about how giving her hobbies some distance during stressful times helped reset a balance, "people who have been following me on my social media accounts will probably know that I'm prone to taking breaks from Tomb Raider Twitter and from updating the Tomb Raider Horizons site. I do this to avoid over-saturation and burn-out. Fandom squabbles can wear a person down so when I find that any of my fandoms or hobbies are giving me more grief than joy, I step back and focus on something else for a while, perhaps one of my other fandoms or creative pursuits. It helps clear the mind and put everything back into perspective."

As our conversation with Kelly draws to a close, she had one piece of advice for fellow fans looking to balance their hobbies more. "Learning when to step back and take a break is an increasingly vital skill but one piece of advice I'd like to offer everyone is to remember that you are often dealing with real human beings who may be struggling with mental health issues, financial difficulties, or any number of personal problems. Always be kind. You don't always know what the person behind the screen name is going through. And if you feel that certain people are getting to you, don't be afraid to use the mute and block features at your disposal. Curate your own social media experience and don't hesitate to distance yourself from those who have a negative impact on your mental health or self-esteem. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people and let the haters and troublemakers wallow in their own toxicity. You don't need them."

You can follow Kelly's adventures on her website, Tomb Raider Horizons

Streamer & Let's Player

"I’m Alonzorion, I’m 28, I’m male, I have Asperger’s Syndrome, I’ve been a Let’s Player (someone who produces gaming videos with voice commentary) for over nine years, and I’ve also been streaming video games for the past five or so too! I don’t exactly do a lot otherwise due to juggling chronic health problems which cause me to have a lot of down time."

While I don't stream but I always had an admiration for people who do. I'm a moderator for a gaming studio on Twitch and even just dealing with the chat-side of things and maintaining peace there can be a challenge. For the host, they put a lot of themselves in the work they do, and there's no such thing as keyboard anonymity especially if, like Alonzorion, they use face cam.

When asked if he ever felt overwhelmed, anxious or stressed in his hobbies, he revealed "If I was being honest, I’ve always felt a little of all three in the face of what I do mostly over the fear of making mistakes or worrying people won’t like or will be too critical of whatever I’m doing. I’ve felt more extreme values of negativity when things have been going wrong in my personal life as anyone really would but otherwise, if I’ve made some major errors in my work (once I accidentally deleted an entire project and gave up on trying to continue it for a few years only finishing it recently), or if people have been overly critical."

Screenshot from the 2018 Tomb Raider movie.

Similar to Kelly, Alonzorion has been the target for online stalkers. "The most anxious I‘ve ever got was having a couple of scenarios where I’ve been hounded over real life issues online, having people suggest they’re fake, or that I don’t handle myself well, some going as far as to stalk me for months on end over them. Focusing on the latter problem, honestly, I need to step back more as I really don’t feel I do often enough, I just keep pushing on until it gets too much, until I erupt. I more often than not try to just cope."

Editorial Sidenote: Unfortunately, harassment and stalkers was a regular topic in my conversations on mental health. As it featured so prominently, I wanted to mention groups for anyone concerned about their safety online. There is help available online if you need support such as Crash Override a cybersecurity resource for those that feel threatened online, IGDA’s Online Harassment Resource a directory of advice and articles for dealing with online harassment, and Speak Up & Stay Safe which is a checklist for protecting your online and offline information.

In addition to his streaming hobbies he's also found exercise to be a good outlet for reducing stress, "gaming off Streams and Let’s Plays though usually the streaming side of things helps me relax as it’s rather laid back and enjoyable, editing videos also can have relaxing elements SOMETIMES (usually when Magix Vegas isn’t crashing at every corner) but otherwise my health has been improving recently and I’ve been trying to take advantage of that by getting back in shape! A lot of the stuff I do really helps me relax a lot both now and back when I used to do it years ago."

 Alonzorion can be found on Twitter or on his YouTube channel, Alonzorion's Blind Let's Plays!

Co-Owner of Croft World & Tomb Raider Brasil

"Hi, my name is Lodair Junior, I'm 32 years-old, I'm from Brazil and I have been a big Tomb Raider fan since 2003. I'm one of the webmasters of the official Tomb Raider fansite Croft World and I also run a Brazilian Tomb Raider Facebook group called Tomb Raider Brasil, which currently amasses 7,000+ members."

In our conversation, we spoke quite a bit about how he handles feeling stressed, "some times I come across sad/worrying/harrowing news on Twitter, mostly about politics, or bump into heated fandom discussions over silly stuff both on Twitter and Discord. Both these things can lead me to feel quite anxious and stressed... If what left me distressed were bad news, I try to rationalise it or simply analyse it from an outside-the-box, "rational" perspective. If that doesn't work, I know I will tend to get angry because of it, so I try to simply not pay attention to it, if possible."

When it comes to community debates, Lodair takes a different approach to dealing with difficult messages, as a mod on Facebook he found that stepping into situations could de-escalate the situation and avoid potential arguments. "Now, if the thing distressing me are fandom squabbles, I sometimes will try to get myself involved in the discussion, to try and moderate it, and make sure it remains a healthy discussion and doesn't turn into an insults-hurling argument." Stepping in may not always be the best though, especially if tensions are running high, something that Lodair expands on later, "in case the people having the discussion don't want to hear other opinions out, I simply ignore it, because I know that these people have already made up their minds on the subject and aren't open to changing their opinions or inclined to hear another point of view."

Croft World's incredible background. Source: Croft World.

In 2003, Christine Miserandino wrote an essay entitled "The Spoon Theory" which described how a person has a set number of spoons (spoons representing units of energy) at the start of the day. Throughout the day, we use up spoons sorting out and dealing with stuff that needs to be done. If you run out of spoons one day, you have to borrow them from the next, resulting in less spoons for the following day. It's an essay and term that is frequently brought up in a number of topics including mental health. For Lodair, he tries to designate time for his other hobbies such as watching Netflix and YouTube, chatting with friends, and playing video games, to ensure that balance.

But it's often easier said then done, and as we closed our conversation, he said some good words of advice for fans who feel stressed or nervous about their hobby, "I think the most important thing within a community is try and remember that... your hobby is supposed to be something that brings you joy and pleasure and makes you feel relaxed and happy, not something that gets you stressed, angry and unhappy. So try not to take your hobby too seriously and be acceptable of other people's opinions and points of view, always reminding that, just because someone disagrees with you over a certain subject, in most cases, it doesn't mean they have something personal against you or hold some kind of ill will towards you. And if you do come across people who do hold animosity towards other, simply avoid them, to evade having your hobby turned into a source of distress for you. Talk and interact with people who are friendly, always remember your hobby is only a hobby and supposed to be fun and to bring you happiness and you'll be okay!"

 You can follow Lodair on Twitter. Make sure to also visit his websites Croft World and Tomb Raider Brasil.

Fan Fiction Author & Cosplayer

"My name's Noelle, AKA pfangirl on social media. I'm an advertising industry copywriter in South Africa by day, and a pop culture fan, commentator and cosplayer outside of office hours. In terms of Tomb Raider specifically, I write fan fiction and have been an officially-sanctioned cosplay ambassador for both Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider in my country."

As a fan fiction author and cosplayer, Noelle's hobbies take place both behind the keyboard and in front of the camera. In our conversation she admits that she's since taken a slight step away from fandom-life now that Shadow of the Tomb Raider has launched and things have quietened down in the community. "I love Lara in her many forms (and I obviously have my favourite iterations that mean the most to me) but I don't have the energy to deal with outrage and drama that continually cycles around in the community. I've been in the fortunate position to never really be targeted for my views, but there is a lot of spitefulness, anger, judgement and resentment out there. I don't want to be a part of the toxic side of the fandom so I don't participate in areas where they gather - Facebook pages and The TR Forums being especially notorious for their continual negativity."

While there hasn't been a standalone issue that came to mind, she admits that she's felt overwhelmed or stressed in her hobby particularly when things get heated in the community. "There are obviously a lot of arguments online about which Lara Croft is the "real Lara," what makes a "true" fan etc. Given how often these opinions surface, especially when they're voiced repeatedly by people you otherwise admire or consider online friends, it really wears you down and sucks the joy out of the fandom."

Noelle as the Official Lara Croft Cosplay Ambassador for Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Photo by

She continues on the topic of stresses in her hobby, highlighting how the lack of advertising and community events in her country has also made her feel like an outsider at times, "I would also make a point that fans in far-flung territories are probably more likely to feel lonely, isolated and forgotten. I remember feeling very left out when the 2018 movie released and there were zero promotional activities - special screenings, escape rooms, merch - locally. It's also harder, if not impossible, for people in these countries to get collectibles because of the logistics and exchange rate. For it to be implied you're not a fan because you can't afford or generally acquire something is hurtful."

Noelle mirrored Kelly's and Alonzorion's advice of distancing yourself, when things get too much "I think the words "step back" are right on the money. With Tomb Raider, so much of the interaction around the globally-spread fandom is facilitated by the Internet and social media. When things get too much - whether you're caught in an argument or feeling like you're missing out - I recommend just closing your browser, apps etc. and walking away for a while to cool off. Easier said than done, I know, but it's worth the effort given the impact on your mental health and contentment in the long run."

She also added some personal tips that she forces herself to follow to ensure she maintains a balance, "in the case of arguments, do not engage because it's a hopeless, frustrating cause. Tomb Raider fans are stubborn and will not be swayed to your views. If there is someone who really grates you, I don't know that I would go so far as to block them, but an unfollow is definitely in order. Cut out any negativity that is spoiling what you love and don't feel guilty about it." Many social media channels offer a way to mute accounts or keywords, these can help make sure that you can avoid conversations or debates that you know will cause stress. For Chrome users, there's an extension called "Social Fixer" which will hide posts from pages or friends with a certain keyword.

Before the end of our conversation, Noelle made an interesting point which should seem obvious but is so easily forgotten when you feel stressed or overwhelmed by situations within the fandom, "it's Tomb Raider. At the end of the day, fans don't really need to be doing or creating anything; just enjoying/experiencing media related to the franchise. If you've taken it upon yourself to be a fan creator in whatever form (art, fic, cosplay, streaming, level design, fan films, blogging etc.), do it at your own pace and around your schedule. Fan creation should be an enjoyable artistic outlet, otherwise what's the point? Your friends and followers will wait if you need time to do work you're happy with and proud of."

You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram!

A huge thank you to Lodair, Kelly, Alonzorion, and Noelle for sitting down with us to talk with us! It was so lovely talking to all of you and you all gave brilliant advice.

While we hope that the tips above helps, if you have any concerns about your mental health, please seek professional advice. It can be intimidating and a huge step but it can help and you're not alone. This year the focus of World Mental Health Day is Suicide, you can find more information and where to turn if you have concerns that you or a friend may cause themselves harm, HERE.

For more information about mental health and to find resources that will help, check out the Mental Health Foundation, Mind, and Take This.


  1. What a great piece! It doesn't hurt that all of the fans interviewed here (and the interviewer) are friends, with whom I've shared these struggles over the years, but even if I didn't know them, I'd relate to their stories and take their advice to heart. I've also been in an "unplug" phase for a few months, but now I'm feeling inspired to dive back in.

  2. That was really thoughtful and interesting, and helps bring awareness to such an important topic.