Abstract: Mental Disorders in Video Games: Stereotypes and Savants

Accepted Abstract for the Women and Gender Research Collaboration on Exploring Gender, Mental Health, and Wellness, presented at Texas State University on March 28, 2014.

In the recent game Outlast, released August 21, 2013, the player wanders through Mount Massive Asylum, killing the mentally ill patients who attack him. The game “aims to show that the most terrifying monsters of all come from the human mind” (Steam). This premise has been used before: the game Manhunt 2 was publicly denounced by the National Alliance on Mental Illness for its “irresponsible, stereotyped portrayal of mental illness” (NAMI). Frequently in games, enemies and bosses will exhibit stereotypical and exaggerated portrayals of mental illness, creating the impression that only evil people have mental disorders.

Although this portrayal of mental illness as a disease that needs to be violently exterminated is common in horror video games, some progress has been made in other genres of video games, including role-playing games. In Dragon Age, for example, one of the characters who enchants weapons is a savant and he is treated the same way every other character is treated – there is no stigma attached to his mental disorder. While this example gives some hope that characters are able to have mental disorders without stigma, the influx of horror games continues to dominate the market and overshadow the progress being made by role-playing games. In order for mental disorders to become accepted, more progress needs to be made in the horror genre in rejecting stereotyped portrayals of “crazy” villains. In this presentation, I will illustrate both the negative and positive portrayals of mental illness in video games.

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