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Impact 0173: Helping others cope with mental health issues through games

Desmond Wong · 13 September 2021
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Desmond Wong co-founded and currently heads the game studio, The Gentlebros, with two others. The company is most well-known for its game series Cat Quest – a lighthearted game in which a cat goes on an adventure to save a fantasy world. The game has received many reviews for bringing families closer together during the pandemic lockdowns, and has even helped some fans cope with their mental health. 

Question: Cat Quest has impacted the lives of many people, especially during this pandemic where people are looking for new outlets to relax. Could you share some of the stories people have told you about how Cat Quest has impacted them?

I still remember one of the very first fan mail we received was from someone in Australia. He was a bouncer in Sydney’s nightclub scene. He thanked us for the games we made because it helped him cope with his PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). To this day, it still warms my heart to know that the games we make have impacted many people’s lives.

We also received messages from parents who used Cat Quest 2 to introduce gaming to their children for the first time. One mother in particular has a daughter who suffers from autism. She told us how Cat Quest was one of the few things that managed to put a smile on her daughter’s face. We had never set out to create games for these reasons. Nonetheless, I am very touched to know that the games I helped create can benefit others in such a significant way.

Question: We live in a world where gaming is a vast industry. As a creator in the field, could you share some of the ways you have contributed to the gaming community?

At our studio, we strongly believe in shaping the next generation. As such, whenever given the opportunity, members of the team will conduct talks or host gaming sessions in schools to show the younger generation that game development is a viable business path in Singapore, and that we can create world-class products for a global audience to enjoy.

I will always remember a particular gaming session for Cat Quest that we held in Nanyang Polytechnic. A student approached us as he was surprised that a game of such quality was made locally. Unfortunately, the stigma that Singapore-made products are not as good as international ones is still very prevalent in our society, but I am glad that we are able to change this narrative bit by bit as we move forward.

Question: How has video games impacted your life personally?

When I was a child, my father bought me a Sega Genesis. It was my first ever gaming console and my introduction to the world of gaming. The concept completely blew my mind as previously, entertainment was always just one-sided. You either watched, read or listened to something. Video games revolutionised all this because they give gamers the added opportunity to interact with and shape the world they play in as well.

From then on, I knew that no matter what, I wanted to be a part of the awesome industry when I grew up. In primary and secondary school, I would constantly sketch video game levels and characters in my exercise books (much to the dismay of my teachers) and read books on game theory and good design. And when the time came for me to decide between Junior College or a Diploma education, I chose the latter without hesitation.

To say that video games changed my life is an understatement. Even today, video games are the one thing that keeps my friends and I together. We’re all working in different parts of the world and can’t meet as frequently as we previously could, but video games offer us a way to keep in touch while having fun in the process.

Question: Being a video game developer has become increasingly popular in this age. Could you share some advice for aspiring game developers?

Being a video game developer is one of the toughest things you can do in life. It requires long hours, is a complicated job and has a high risk of burnout. But it also can provide great job satisfaction.

I won’t say that you can’t make a small fortune by developing video games.  But if making money out of this is your sole purpose, then I would highly suggest you to stay away from the gaming industry. You need to enjoy the work and have a passion for it, otherwise, you won’t last very long.

With that being said, if you’re sure that a career in the gaming industry is for you, what you can do is to play many games and start actually making games yourself. While going to school and getting a video game education is important, nothing beats creating your own product because you’ll learn so much more this way. 

There are many ways to make simple games that do not require programming knowledge (a simple Google search will reveal those ways), so don’t wait to do it and start now!

Question: Multiple awards have been presented to your studio. Could you share some things that have gotten you to where you are today?

What we learnt early on was that if you follow your heart, and do what you’re good at, chances are you’ll create something good. It’s very important to put a bit of yourself in the things you make, because this is what others will relate to and appreciate. I feel these are the things that helped get us to where we are today.

It’s very easy to follow a trend and do something that is currently popular, but if you’re not good at it, you won’t end up creating anything significant. If you’re great at cooking chicken rice, you wouldn’t try to sell pork chops, right?

By following this mantra, we created Cat Quest and many people ended up resonating with it too.

Question: What are your plans for the future? Are there any new initiatives that you are working on?

For the Cat Quest series, we always had the goal of making nine games in the series (because cats have nine lives, right?). Ultimately, we wanted to create a universe where many stories can be told. By doing this, we believe we can create something that is long-lasting and sustainable at the same time.

We’re also currently working hard to expand our company and create a place where future game developers would want to work in and be inspired by. We want to show Singaporeans and the world that world-class products can be made on our tiny island. We want future generations to see that game development is a career to be proud of.

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