‘Asylum Jam’ Sheds Light on Mental Illness
Video games made with realistic mental issues in mind
Published: Monday, October 14, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 14, 2013 14:10
The United States doesn’t like “crazy” people.
Society has great strides in recent years toward awareness and understanding of mental illness, but popular media still uses it mainly as a means to shock and entertain, usually through vilification of the mentally ill.
Video games are a bit different. Mental illness has been a driving factor in survival horror games since “Silent Hill.” The ideas presented in that franchise evolved in games like “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem” and “Amnesia: The Dark Descent,” where insanity was actually a gameplay mechanic.
However, realistic mental illness remains largely unexplored. Lucy Morris wants to address that with the “Asylum Jam.”
“Asylum Jam” is a game jam where fledgling developers come together to make games around a specific theme in a set amount of time.
Recently, they have been used to generate awareness of specific topics, such as journalist Jenn Frank’s Boob Jam, which asked developers to make games about breasts in non-sexual contexts to promote women’s health and gender equality.
“Asylum Jam” seeks to do something similar with mental illness.
“Horror is usually derived from what we don’t understand,” Morris said in an interview with Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek. “There isn’t a lot of mental illness health awareness out of there, and I think that’s partly what has driven it to become a trope. The fact that it’s glorified in horror movies and video games and comics—all media, for so long—it’s just eventually come to this point where we expect to see these things.”
The game jam isn’t about saying games that riff on mental illness are bad, but that they could explore a wider range of depictions.
“Neverending Nightmares” is a recent example of a game attempting to do just that. The title, which was recently just funded on Kickstarter, is inspired by games like “Silent Hill 2” and “Amnesia,” but is mostly based on developer Matt Gilgenbach’s personal struggles with actual mental issues.
Gilgenbach hopes to “make a difference in peoples’ lives. I can show them that they are not suffering alone! I can tell them that things can get better.”
All of the games are set to be available through the game’s website as of this Sunday. The jam featured over 200 developers from around the world, so there’s plenty to choose from. You can check them out for yourself and see if they make any difference in how you think about mental illness and the way society portrays it.