Horror Game Jam Takes Games Away from Mental Health Stereotypes

Horror Game Jam Takes Games Away from Mental Health Stereotypes

One game jam seeks to prove horror doesn't need to rely on stigmatization of mental illness.

Abandoned mental hospitals are popular settings for horror games, movies, and books. Take another moment to think about the well-known horror stories, especially in games and how many of them involve mental illness. Because mental illness is something many people still do not understand, and therefore also fear to some degree, they're an easy target for scary games. One game jam seeks to challenge those stereotypes of horror. The Asylum Game Jam is a 48-hour challenge that calls participants to create a game without using "asylums, psychiatric institutes, medical professionals, or violent/antipathic/'insane' patients as settings or triggers."

The website for the game jam states the purpose of the game jam is to prove horror games do not need to demonize medical institutes to create an engaging horror experience. "Many horror games use the negative portrayal of those who suffer from mental illness as extremely violent or sadistic, usually as the villain or antagonist, as an easy crutch to rest their story, characters, and motivations on," the site states. "This jam is to show that you can still create a great horror experience without using inaccurate stereotypes of those who suffer from mental illness, or the institutions that support them in diagnosis and recovery."

Asylum Game Jam points out Slender: The Eight Pages as an example of a horrifying game that did not use mental health as a crutch. Other games listed use slower build-ups of horror than usually seen in media, especially in western media, and tension and suspense are equally important to the story.

Game jams frequently use restrictions to keep developers from thinking too broadly and to promote innovation. Asylum Game Jam is even more about promoting awareness that the stigmatization of mental illness and that our media uses public fear of mental illness to sell entertainment in a way that damages perception.

The game jam takes place Oct. 11 to 13. To sign up, watch the Asylum Game Jam website to keep up with updates and links for signing up as the event draws closer.

Source: Asylum Game Jam

Permalink

They will all still just copy Slenderman where its basicly just a jump scare

The thing is, a good horror game has to channel inherent/irrational fear of something, be it mental hospitals or anything else.

It seems arbitrary. I could host a game jam that asked for horror games that didn't rely on religious themes (like in Silent Hill), zombies (like in Resident Evil) or killers lurking in forests (Alan Wake, Slender, etc), all to the same effect.

Is psychiatric institutions really even a common horror trope? I'm quickly flipping through my mental index, and all that's coming up is Sanitarium, a couple upcoming games and later Silent Hills. Resident Evil, early Silent Hills, Penumbra, Amnesia, and others didn't have haunted mental facilities.

josemlopes:
They will all still just copy Slenderman where its basicly just a jump scare

Everyone says this, but the jumpscare is NOT the main horror feature of Slender. The paranoia is. If you're not predisposed to paranoia, then you won't find the game particularly scary. I am, so the game is nigh-unplayable. Inversely, the third person view and movable camera of Silent Hill means it's really not that scary to me, despite many holding it up as the holy grail of horror, because religious horror, inexplicable ambience and complete silence doesn't scare me.

As much as I like the intent of this, I am worried it is an attempt to whitewash the ugly history of asylums as abusive institutions that often exacerbated some conditions and played inspiration for some of the most famous depictions of the institutions.

lacktheknack:

Is psychiatric institutions really even a common horror trope? I'm quickly flipping through my mental index, and all that's coming up is Sanitarium, a couple upcoming games and later Silent Hills.

There's Dementium, Outlast, Asylum (obviously) and Manhunt too.
It's not just the use of asylums as a setting that's the 'issue' - for lack of a better word - it's playing on mental illness as an excuse to subject the player to graphic violence or disturbing imagery. Games like Eternal Darkness, Dead Space, Condemned, Amnesia and Call of Cthulhu all implement 'insanity' as a game mechanic or plot device.

I wouldn't say this is a problem, or even particularly offensive to anyone in particular; there's certainly no need to reach Kotaku levels of preachiness and agenda-pushing (http://kotaku.com/nobody-wins-when-horror-games-stigmatize-mental-illness-912462538), but it does show a lack of imagination in concept and design.

lacktheknack:
Is psychiatric institutions really even a common horror trope?

In a nutshell, yes, much in the same way clowns and roadtrips-gone-wrong are.

The Gentleman:

lacktheknack:
Is psychiatric institutions really even a common horror trope?

In a nutshell, yes, much in the same way clowns and roadtrips-gone-wrong are.

There's a few horror games I missed in there, but many of them aren't horror games.

I guess that says more about the game industry as a whole rather than just the horror genre.

Skeggers:

lacktheknack:

Is psychiatric institutions really even a common horror trope? I'm quickly flipping through my mental index, and all that's coming up is Sanitarium, a couple upcoming games and later Silent Hills.

There's Dementium, Outlast, Asylum (obviously) and Manhunt too.
It's not just the use of asylums as a setting that's the 'issue' - for lack of a better word - it's playing on mental illness as an excuse to subject the player to graphic violence or disturbing imagery. Games like Eternal Darkness, Dead Space, Condemned, Amnesia and Call of Cthulhu all implement 'insanity' as a game mechanic or plot device.

I wouldn't say this is a problem, or even particularly offensive to anyone in particular; there's certainly no need to reach Kotaku levels of preachiness and agenda-pushing (http://kotaku.com/nobody-wins-when-horror-games-stigmatize-mental-illness-912462538), but it does show a lack of imagination in concept and design.

I suppose. Also, missed those. I think my mental index needs fixing.

Kotaku is kind of famous for its rebel-without-a-cause pieces, isn't it?

I think this is partially projection of a real problem onto a less real one - stigmatizing mental illness in horror movies is a major problem, where nearly every horror movie not about supernatural threats (and many that are about them, for that matter) uses "and they're crazy!" as its explanation for why someone is killing people. Being sensitive to the issue in horror in general, people then apply it to games too.

lacktheknack:
Is psychiatric institutions really even a common horror trope? I'm quickly flipping through my mental index, and all that's coming up is Sanitarium, a couple upcoming games and later Silent Hills. Resident Evil, early Silent Hills, Penumbra, Amnesia, and others didn't have haunted mental facilities.

lacktheknack:
Inversely, the third person view and movable camera of Silent Hill means it's really not that scary to me, despite many holding it up as the holy grail of horror, because religious horror, inexplicable ambience and complete silence doesn't scare me.

Silent hill isn't religious horror, it's physiological. The underlining themes are psychological trauma and loss.

The monsters are manifestations of someones subconsciousness (usually the protagonist.).

The the god in then series is not the focus point and may not even be anymore real then the rest of the monsters.

Both 2 and 3 had Brookhaven psychiatric hospital.

You know nothing about this series.

Nazrel:

lacktheknack:
Is psychiatric institutions really even a common horror trope? I'm quickly flipping through my mental index, and all that's coming up is Sanitarium, a couple upcoming games and later Silent Hills. Resident Evil, early Silent Hills, Penumbra, Amnesia, and others didn't have haunted mental facilities.

lacktheknack:
Inversely, the third person view and movable camera of Silent Hill means it's really not that scary to me, despite many holding it up as the holy grail of horror, because religious horror, inexplicable ambience and complete silence doesn't scare me.

Silent hill isn't religious horror, it's physiological. The underlining themes are psychological trauma and loss.

The monsters are manifestations of someones subconsciousness (usually the protagonist.).

The the god in then series is not the focus point and may not even be anymore real then the rest of the monsters.

Both 2 and 3 had Brookhaven psychiatric hospital.

You know nothing about this series.

Which is awkward, because I've played the first four multiple times.

The ones I play most are 3 and 4, which have a very decidedly religious-horror bent, and I don't like 2, which is the only not-really-religious one, so I imagine that's colored my perception.

And oh God, I thought the Silent Hill 3 hospital was a normal one that had been overtaken by the otherworld, resulting in insane people filling it. I... have no explanation for this.

By the way, Silent Hill is not physiological horror, that would be Parasite Eve. Make sure you get your words right when criticizing. I didn't find Silent Hill to be immensely psychologically traumatizing either, but apparently I'm all alone in that one.

josemlopes:
They will all still just copy Slenderman where its basicly just a jump scare

I see this happening with about half of the entries but I have hope that at least some will try something different.

I think the only game I've played recently that had an asylum in was Psychonauts, which isn't really a horror game so I guess it doesn't count. But it's nice that someone is trying to encourage some variety in gaming. I'm personally waiting for 'Chest-High-Wall Jam'.

The Gentleman:
As much as I like the intent of this, I am worried it is an attempt to whitewash the ugly history of asylums as abusive institutions that often exacerbated some conditions and played inspiration for some of the most famous depictions of the institutions.

Can I just say, maybe it's for the best if that conception sort of goes away? I'm not saying we should forget history, but, for a lot of people, that horrific picture of the old asylums isn't that different from what they expect current asylums to be like. People, for example, like the me from a few years ago. I spent years hiding and bottling up my schizophrenia (yeah, you're getting awkward personal information from me now, sorry, it's necessary for my point), absolutely terrified of being locked away in some dank room, drugged beyond coherency, stuck in some asylum somewhere (along with being terrified of demons and shit, cuz, ya know, schizophrenia). Eventually I ended up in a mental hospital, and you know what, they're really quite pleasant in this day and age (well, as pleasant as a place full of extremely mentally unwell people is going to be). Honestly, they make great places for recovery. I really wish I'd known beforehand that they were nothing like the hell-holes depicted in the media, I might not have been so panicked.

So, we shouldn't forget the sins of our fathers and all that, but they do have an image problem, and it might be for the best if people didn't keep stacking things up against that image. At least until they reach the like-ability of regular hospitals.

CriticalMiss:
I'm personally waiting for 'Chest-High-Wall Jam'.

I imagine a shooter where you play a white male chest high wall who has to use unarmed human civilians as cover in a gun battle against vaguely middle eastern brown chest high walls.

Phrozenflame500:

CriticalMiss:
I'm personally waiting for 'Chest-High-Wall Jam'.

I imagine a shooter where you play a white male chest high wall who has to use unarmed human civilians as cover in a gun battle against vaguely middle eastern brown chest high walls.

That would only work if the white chest high wall had stubble made from bullet impacts. The focus group responded well to that idea saying it was 'fucking dope bro'.

I wish horror writers would stop demonising graveyards.

I mean seriously, have you seen a graveyard? They're basically just nice gardens with a bunch of standing stones in!
No zombies, no ghosts, no ghouls!

I always felt that "demonisation" of mental health patients in the horror genre made sense. Lets face it, if someone randomly decides to kidnap, torture, kill, and mutilate people as part of some kind of game or for fun, they are not mentally stable. "insane" is a good descriptor. Of course, most (pretty much all) mental disorders aren't like that, but a lot of murders in horror media are definitely mentally ill somehow. Kinda a "all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares" thing.

roseofbattle:
Horror Game Jam Takes Games Away from Mental Health Stereotypes

One game jam seeks to prove horror doesn't need to rely on stigmatization of mental illness.

Abandoned mental hospitals are popular settings for horror games, movies, and books. Take another moment to think about the well-known horror stories, especially in games and how many of them involve mental illness.

Not specific mental illnesses, usually someone kills people for no apparent reason and is deemed crazy without any specific diagnosis, like in Halloween. Come to think of it Micheal Meyers is the only famous slasher we ever see in a mental hospital that I can think of.

roseofbattle:

Because mental illness is something many people still do not understand,

Is this going to be another of those "most people with mental illnesses aren't violent" spiels that misses the point?

roseofbattle:

and therefore also fear to some degree, they're an easy target for scary games. One game jam seeks to challenge those stereotypes of horror. The Asylum Game Jam is a 48-hour challenge that calls participants to create a game without using "asylums, psychiatric institutes, medical professionals, or violent/antipathic/'insane' patients as settings or triggers."

Ok ... escape from a bunch of werewolves. Gee that was easy.

roseofbattle:

"Many horror games use the negative portrayal of those who suffer from mental illness as extremely violent or sadistic, usually as the villain or antagonist, as an easy crutch to rest their story, characters, and motivations on,"

True or false: Extreme versions of mental illnesses can cause people to be violent?

That's really the heart of the matter isn't it? Because if the answer to that is yes then you guys don't have a legitimate complaint anymore unless you want to get into specifics. Horror movies do not demonize mental illnesses in general, sure they demonize asylums I'll give you that, but they never imply that everyone with a mental illness is violent.

It's just that if you see someone who acts like Jeffrey Dahmer (a real life serial killer, cannibal and necrophiliac), you're going to assume that person has some kind of mental illness and I doubt that comes from horror movies.

roseofbattle:

Asylum Game Jam points out Slender: The Eight Pages as an example of a horrifying game that did not use mental health as a crutch.

A crutch? My favorite horror movie is Halloween and that's all about a guy who gets committed to a mental hospital then escapes. Psycho is considered a classic and look what that's about. Sure you can give your killer a revenge motivation like Freddy Krueger, but someone who does horrible things with no rhyme or reason is always going to be scary.

And not to mention insane violent people do actually exist, and people are afraid of them. So expecting horror not to utilize them is quite frankly ridiculous.

It's been years since someone's released a solid horror set in an insane asylum.

This is completely unnecessary.

oh hello, you seem to not really know how discrimination works.

Father Time:
Horror movies do not demonize mental illnesses in general, sure they demonize asylums I'll give you that, but they never imply that everyone with a mental illness is violent.

They don't directly imply that, they just *never* represent mental illness otherwise. (or so seldom it's a token when they do). Problem there.

Father Time:
And not to mention insane violent people do actually exist, and people are afraid of them. So expecting horror not to utilize them is quite frankly ridiculous.

And not to mention [women who suck at math / black people who are basically only good at jazz / any stereotype you wish] do actually exist, and people [can react legitimately to them case by case]. So expecting [any media] not to utilize them is quite frankly ridiculous.

Please be more aware of your privileges, is all I'm saying.

srpilha:
they just *never* represent mental illness otherwise. (or so seldom it's a token when they do). Problem there.

I always felt Angela Orosco from Silent Hill 2 was a pretty good portrayal of someone with mental illness who wasnt actually violent, i grant she had killed her father but considering he raped and abused her for years its quite possible when she finally killed him it was to prevent more abuse, she was never actually violent toward the player and came across very much as the victim wanting to, but being unable to reach out for help rather than a violent headcase.

srpilha:
oh hello, you seem to not really know how discrimination works.

Father Time:
Horror movies do not demonize mental illnesses in general, sure they demonize asylums I'll give you that, but they never imply that everyone with a mental illness is violent.

They don't directly imply that, they just *never* represent mental illness otherwise. (or so seldom it's a token when they do). Problem there.

These are not documentaries or psychology lessons these are horror stories. It's not their job to show people how many mental illness patients are not violent.

srpilha:

Father Time:
And not to mention insane violent people do actually exist, and people are afraid of them. So expecting horror not to utilize them is quite frankly ridiculous.

And not to mention [women who suck at math / black people who are basically only good at jazz / any stereotype you wish] do actually exist, and people [can react legitimately to them case by case]. So expecting [any media] not to utilize them is quite frankly ridiculous.

And there's no case that I know of where the horror movie implies that all people with mental illnesses are violent. So I don't see what the problem is when going case by case. And I wouldn't expect movies to shy away from having a girl who sucks at math, a man who's a nymphomaniac or a black guy who's a crook because you can show people like that without implying that all men/women/black people are like that.

Father Time:
And there's no case that I know of where the horror movie implies that all people with mental illnesses are violent. So I don't see what the problem is when going case by case. And I wouldn't expect movies to shy away from having a girl who sucks at math, a man who's a nymphomaniac or a black guy who's a crook because you can show people like that without implying that all men/women/black people are like that.

You're missing my point. We clearly agree that representing these characters is perfectly okay, and does not imply any generalisation. The problem appears when they are the *only* representation we get, or very very nearly the only one, throughout the medium, or throughout media in general. That's one important way in which sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, and other discriminations, keep surviving and thriving in our culture.

Do videogames, or any artistic expression, have an intrinsic obligation to deal with this and actively work towards challenging these stereotypes? Nope. That would be like saying that TV should be 100% educational. Screw that.

Would it be nice to have some more diversity in how people are represented in our cultural outputs? By all means YES, and I won't stop asking for that any time soon. Reinforcing stereotypes is lazy at best, asshole-ish in general, and keeping that in mind is important when evaluating works of art (or any discourse, for that matter).

Oh great, looks like the social justice warriors from Tumblr are making games now.

Genocidicles:
Oh great, looks like the social justice warriors from Tumblr are making games now.

They're no longer just content to harass current developers into changing their own games content. No, they finally feel the need to take things into their own hands. In a way it's rather admirable.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here