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PAX East Panel Recap: What Does Game Design Tell Us About Mental Illness?

What can mental illness in games tell us about our society and how we view people with mental illnesses

Mental illness stereotypes have been frequently used in video games. Games like Until Dawn, ManHunt 2 and Arkham Asylum (like many others), often play up the negative connations of mental illness. These stereotypes range from the blatantly obvious to very subtle.

This PAX East panel on game design and mental illness, host Kelli Dunlap PsyD (Psychologist  at American University Game Lab) explored all these tropes and why games use them -- from storylines all the way down to basic mechanics.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mental illness is described as:

Kelli explained that games are used to reflect the culture that makes them. Culture is relative to your region. For example: Monopoly is a game about American capitalism. While for people here in the US the game make sense, someone in China might view the game differently -- or as completely irrelevant.

Mechanics are influenced by culture as well, and all mechanics in games are there for a reason. Whether to get a rise out out of players or to invoke some sort of emotion, it is all intended by the developer. With the exception of bugs, the way that the game is set up is mainly a cultural reflection.

Much like with movie tropes, mental illness is viewed as villianous or inhernetly bad, thus making them "scary". That's why so many horror games place players in mental wards or asylums. Characters with perceived mental illnesses are 85% more likely to be violent in video games and films than in real life.

Kelli did a case study of 39 different games over different genres, all of them about mental illness. Her criteria were broken down in to 3 different categories:

All of which led her to the conclusion that the view of mental illness is skewed. the narritive is consistant with violence and games just reflect what people are already thinking about those with mental illnesses. No one really knows what to do about it. On the bright side however, there are a lot more games being developed from the view point of those with mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder. This way we, as a society can have a better understanding of it is like to live and deal with these disablities. 

While the wolrd may never know what causes mental illness we as a society can help one another better understand it. Plus now with how immsersive games have become we can better understand what the trama is that others go though and have a little more empathy twards them. If you are interested in finding out more about Kelli Dunlap besure to follow her on twitter and check out her website for more of her findings.

A mental illness is a condition that impacts a

 person's thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis. Each person will have different experiences, e

ven people with the same diagnosis.

- See more at: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions#sthash.RjogxK26.dpuf

A mental illness is a condition that impacts a

 person's thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis. Each person will have different experiences, e

ven people with the same diagnosis.

- See more at: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions#sthash.RjogxK26.dpuf

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