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Four video games that put mental illness in the spotlight

Posted on 03-19-15 in Mental Health

Four video games that put mental illness in the spotlight

People who suffer from mental illness often suffer in silence. Fortunately, the rise of independent game development has provided creative minds with an outlet to depict these struggles and share their experiences with fellow sufferers and their families.

Here are four video games that explore mental illness:

In Elude, the player controls a boy who is wandering through a forest painted in muted greens and browns. The objective is to hop from tree branch to tree branch and ultimately reach the highest platform in the forest — a bright, otherworldly area filled with sunshine and flowers. Unfortunately, it’s not very easy to remain in this idyllic place; the player must keep climbing or else risk falling down into the dark depths below.

Elude was created by the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab as a way to promote awareness of depression. The forest at the beginning of the game represents the neutral state. In this state, the character can sing along with birds to gain the strength to jump higher and reach happiness. No matter what the player does, however, the character eventually slips down into the lowest state: depression. In the depressive state, the character is surrounded by black walls, unable to jump. The ground slowly sinks under the character’s feet. Like real depression, the only way out of the depressive state is to wait for an opportunity to start climbing up again.

  • Neverending Nightmares (obsessive-compulsive disorder)

Neverending Nightmares is a monochromatic, unpredictable and deeply unsettling horror game. The artstyle is dark and cross-stitched, resembling an Edward Gorey illustration more than any video game. Whispers and moans ebb in and out of the soundtrack. Mysterious figures hang in doorways only to disappear into the darkness when approached. The discordant chords of a music box fill the air.

In this game, the player guides a young boy named Thomas through a series of neverending nightmares, each more disturbing than the last. Although not explicitly about mental illness, the lead designer of the game, Matt Gilgenbach, admits that he was inspired by his struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The anxiety provoked by the strange sounds and frightening scenery is meant to echo his anxiety and the way OCD can make the mundane horrifying. The player is occasionally assaulted by disturbing visions meant to resemble the intrusive thoughts and unwanted images experienced by some people with OCD.

Depression Quest is more like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel than a video game. With its text-heavy interface, the game tells the story of an unnamed person in their twenties who is suffering from depression. The player is given information about the character’s friends, their significant other and their job and must keep the character afloat despite mounting symptoms and life stresses. Although the player is periodically asked to choose what the character will do next, the availability of these choices is dependent on the character’s mental state. Should the character get some work done, hang out with their friends or go to bed? The player cannot click on the first two options: the only available option is to go to bed because depression is too exhausting. Depression Quest succeeds in illustrating the illusion of choice and the thought processes inherent in this dangerous disease.

At the start of FLUCTuation, an online flash game created by DePaul University’s Play for Change lab, the player is told that they can move their character to the right, left, or up. Immediately after starting, however, the player realizes that they can only move in one direction: up.

FLUCTuation is a game designed to illustrate the frantic highs and the dark lows of bipolar disorder. Interspersed in the gameplay are quotes that capture the thoughts of a person suffering with the disorder:

“There’s nothing I can’t do.”

“It’s like executing a preordained plan for greatness.”

“I’m lost forever in the company of others. If only they would call off the search.”

After the character literally bursts through the ceiling, the player is tasked with keeping him up in the air, bouncing from glass platform to glass platform. Eventually, the character can no longer jump and the player has no choice but to fall down into a dark, underwater world where the shards of glass from the broken platforms drag them down.

The game was created as part of the For the Records project, a series of computer games and documentary films designed to promote mental health awareness. Other games in the For the Records project in include “It’s for the Best,” a game that depicts the disorganization and hopelessness that accompanies attention deficit disorder, and “Through the Darkness,” a suffocating depiction of the rituals surrounding obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Sovereign Health Group understands how valuable each patient’s experiences are to the recovery process. For further questions, please call 866-554-5504.

Written by Courtney Lopresti, Sovereign Group Writer