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 it.

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 Asylum Jam.

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 misinform.

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

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