How Video Games Are Fighting Mental Illness

Categories: Gaming

Alice: The Madness Returns
Typically, video games fight mental illness with knives and steampunk, but there may be a better way.
There are lots of people that will tell you that video games rot the mind and encourage violent and deranged behavior. Most of these will focus on titles like the Grand Theft Auto, or on the objectification of women in mainstream games that reinforces rape culture, or simply remark that actively participating in what is often brightly colored serial murder can't be mentally healthy and might be addictive.

The jury is still out on the subject, but the bright side is that video games are starting to make in-roads as a tool for helping combat mental illness. Sometimes in very interesting and innovative ways.

The first is through awareness. The recent suicide of Robin Williams and the sometimes callous and cruel remarks from observers should be all the proof we need that depression is still poorly understood by much of the general population. To say nothing of diseases like obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.

Doris C. Rusch of DePaul University thinks video games can change that. After all, it's an art form that is unique because it forces the player to participate rather than simply watch or experience the production. She's put together several games that replicate the symptoms of severe mental illness in order to try and share those experiences with the general population through the metaphor of a game.

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There's Elude, a simple sidescroller that plays like a 2D version of Journey. In it, a young man in grey wanders a bleak world. The only way out is to continuously call out to the small white birds as you climb a seemingly endless tree. Each attempt to reach out activates a little more color and power, but it can be a long slow march through the miasma of despair.

Or if you want to know the horror of OCD you might like to try Into Darkness. It's even more simple, yet remarkably terrifying. You're forced to combat an encroaching darkness by walking consecutive circles over and over and over again. Fail, and the darkness catches you, but every step you take in the ritual covers you more and more with mud and dirt and disgust.

Games like this are small scale projects that are little more than personal projects at this point. Hopefully they can start Tripe A game studios thinking on how they might address mental illness more fully in future titles. God knows, mental illness could use the help after spending so many decades being used as an excuse to shoot bad guys in games.

Aside from awareness, games have been shown to be helpful in the course of treatment itself. In fact, we have the one and only Mario to prove the point.

This story continues on the next page.

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Jonah Menzies
Jonah Menzies

Replace "video games" with "organized religion," and the opening statement would be a much more accurate assessment.

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