In life, we wear many hats.
As a gamer, I enjoy most genres. I look back fondly on horror
classics such as Silent Hill II and the early Resident
Evil series. Falling deeper and deeper (both metaphorically
and quite literally) into the foggy world of Silent Hill
II is one of the most vivid memories of my youth.
As a doctor working in mental health, I feel I have an important
role in challenging the stigma of mental illness where I see
Sadly, these interests can at times clash, as some games have a
track record of treating mental illness with the subtlety of a
brick hurled through a window. Horror games can be the worst
offenders, using the mentally unwell as a cheap trick to shock or
frighten the player. Consider the murderous artist 'Sander Cohen'
from Bioshock, who is described as 'a real lunatic', or
the rather on-the-nose 'Crazy Dave' from Plants versus
Zombies, who sports a bushy beard, an un-tucked white shirt
and a dented saucepan on his head, and seems to utter only
gibberish, his slogan being: "BECAUSE I'M CRRRRRAAAAAAAZY!"
The use of the 'asylum' as a horror environment is a well-worn
trope, inspiring a category on Wikipedia entitled
'Video-games set in psychiatric hospitals' which is no doubt
incomplete, having missed the Thief series, which has visited the
concept of a haunted old asylum more than once!
This is why I was excited to learn about the game jam known as
A game jam is a gathering of game makers, who compete to make
functioning games over a short period of time. Because of the speed
at which the competitors must work, game jams often produce
avant-garde games (Superhot and Surgeon Simulator
2013 both originated in game jams).
Asylum Jam challenges game developers to create horror
games free from mental health stereotypes. Its sole stipulation for
developers is to "not use asylums, psychiatric institutes, medical
professionals or violent/antipathic/’insane’ patients as settings
or triggers." Developers are given 48 hours to craft their
game before the games are played and ranked on criteria such as
'innovation', 'atmosphere' and 'scare factor'.
And with that, hundreds of participants have created oodles of
games managing to show how easy it is to scare, without needing to
Asylum Jam has been running yearly since 2013
and more information can be found (including the games to download)
on the Asylum Jam
website or on their tumblr.
What thoughts do you have about how horror gaming approaches mental
illness? Do you know any horror games which cover mental illness
well? Please leave us a comment.
Authored by Donald Servant
Subscribe to this post's comments using