About Me

My photo
Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Pass the Prozac: Mental Health in the Gaming World, Part 1

Hello, hello!

A note before we get underway: I will be referring to and linking to descriptions of various disorders. If you identify with these symptoms and experiences, you may want to consult a specialist. I am not a diagnostician or psychiatrist, and you probably aren't either, so don't diagnose yourself based on a few links on the internet. 

So, this post has been a long time coming. So long, in fact, that I got the idea from working on the Psychonauts review a while back. Yeah, I know. That was a while ago.

Why pick it up again, then? Partly it was that the idea refused to die. I really like fictionalized depictions of madness--before I got into Lovecraft, there was Shakespeare, and before him, Diana Wynne Jones actually covered it pretty well in her series, too. And video games love using artistic renderings of madness.

Then I saw this. And though it's well-intentioned, I don't think the writer understands mental health issues as well as they think they do. The comments section betrays a lot of the same misunderstandings, though it's not as bad as, say, Youtube. How dare I say that, though? On what basis can I claim to have a good understanding of mental health--in the real world, not just in fiction?

Source. Not shown: an accurate representation of actual retrograde amnesia or the horrible face-melty monster. You're welcome.

How about some background? 

Before I let myself become a writer, I thought I had to be a child psychiatrist or psychologist. I like kids, after all, and I like helping people; it seemed like a good use of my skills, curiosity, and intellect. Then I actually completed my degree in Addictions Counselling. That included not only lab experiences with undergoing forced counselling and forcibly counselling other students--the emotional equivalent of The Hunger Games--but practical classes in neuroscience and a lot of time working with the DSM-IV. I hated the degree by the end of it, but I stuck it out to the finish line.

In "the real world", I've also worked with two government organizations that provide funding to people with disabilities--including front-line service that involved a lot of patient interaction. They were both great experiences, though I have to admit I'm glad I get to work on editing instead. I wasn't working as a counsellor in either position--my degree ruined that for me--but I was interacting with patients and families regularly.

Then there's the real life stuff. Close friends, family members, my partner--all of them have struggled with mental health issues of various kinds. And hell, so have I. I've learned that sanity and mental health--actual health--are a matter of taking things day by day sometimes, of figuring out how triggers work and how to avoid situations with certain kinds of stressors. Sometimes just waking up is a victory.

So, without getting into serious specifics--I know what mental health encompasses pretty well. But what does that have to do with the depiction of insanity in video games and art?

Is the insanity we see in art realistic? 

This isn't as straightforward as it sounds. The answer is "no, but yes."

There are elements of Lovecraftian or Shakespearean madness that reflect the experience of a psychotic breakdown or psychotic episode (as in cases of schizophrenia). The hallucinations, both visual and auditory; the paranoia and fears of persecution; the "word salad" that results when the brain and tongue are at war. Sometimes these visions and hallucinations are vicious and aggressive, and sometimes they're actually more benign--mostly outside the West, in countries with better social support systems and more communal values. Here, the high levels of isolation and rather vicious social dynamics tend to make people feel very isolated, and the metaphorical demons in their heads are very aggressive. It's not much of a stretch to say these things are probably linked.

However, "insanity" often encompasses a lot of things. Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the megalomaniac's mainstay; Antisocial Personality Disorder, and other, less 'by the book' forms of aggression and psychotic behavior are all referred to as "insanity". If a character is "crazy", they'll do anything. Interestingly, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms are also used as motivation. Horribly mangled versions of Disassociative Identity Disorder  are also popular choices to represent "insanity".

Source. Yeah, I know. Watermark. But it's a great picture.

Does a mental health disorder make someone violent and evil? 

Short answer: no. While some illnesses can contribute to violent behavior, it seems like life trauma has a much bigger impact on violence as a response to hallucinations or perceived aggression from others. However, the jury is still out on this; we are trying to understand what causes violence as a response or defense mechanism.

However, just having a mental health issue is not going to mean someone is "crazy". Between 10 and 20% of Canadians and Americans will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives, the most common being depression and/or anxiety. Phobias are also extremely common. This means that mental health issues are actually normal parts of the human experience. We don't necessarily cope with them very well, and we tend to pathologize them and isolate people who have them--but they're far from uncommon.

So, does a mental health issue make someone violent? Occasionally, yes. Evil? Absolutely not. Hurting people can make them hurt other people, though. In fact, abuse of various kinds can basically induce mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, as well as PTSD. The thing is, abusers often have mental health issues and a history of pain themselves, so it's complex. In any case, painting people as monsters won't solve the problem, and certainly won't cure people. In fact, most mental health issues can't be cured, only treated, but some of them are easier to live with than others.

So...what about gaming? Does all of this misinformation have a negative affect on gamers, or is it relatively innocent? Next time: we get back on topic and talk about this in the context of gaming!

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

No comments:

Post a Comment

As always, be excellent unto others, and don't be a dick.