It’s a sad reality that in today’s world, more and more people are being diagnosed with mental illnesses. The WHO reports that at least 300 million people are affected by depression, one of the most common mental illnesses worldwide at any given time. We can spend hours debating what’s causing this decay in mental health, but that’s not why we’re here. In all its forms, art is meant to express life. Whether it’s a painting, a film, a book or a video game, these mediums portray life as the creators see it. So when the creators are suffering from these illnesses, we get a glimpse of life through their eyes.
Originally, this article was meant to be a top 5 article listing the best games dealing with mental health. However, during my search I quickly realised that making a top 5 of these is impossible. There are simply too few games dealing with mental health for me to ever be able to name the ‘best’ of them. After hours of searching, disregarding any games deemed ‘Psychological horror’ – as many of these exaggerate or misrepresent the illness they depicted – I ended up with about three: Anxiety Attacks, Depression Quest and Actual Sunlight.
Of these three, I have played two, having yet to delve into Actual Sunlight. But the experiences these games offered seemed fairly close to reality. They have their inconsistencies, but they were close enough to get a glimpse. If you don’t understand how helpless depression makes a person or how terrifying a panic attack is, these games would give you a basic understanding. Not to mention an appreciation for the people that deal with them.
So I’m wondering, why is it that when roughly 1 in 23 people in the world are suffering, we have so little games depicting depression? Why do we not have more games depicting schizophrenia in a realistic setting rather than using it for shock value in a horror game?
I’ve always believed two things. The first is that video games are an incredibly powerful tool to deliver experiences. The second is that in order to truly understand something, it’s best to experience it. Using that logic, video games are the perfect tool to show people what mental illness feels like.
One of the most exhaustive things I dealt with when I was suffering from depression was explaining what that meant to people. I got a lot of “But why can’t you just perk up?” questions. No matter how much I explained that I was physically incapable of “perking up”, it never sunk in. The idea that you can’t just soak in the tub for 20 minutes and relax was a foreign concept. And I understand that line of thinking. However, if I’d had the chance to sit someone down to play Anxiety Attacks or similar back then, it would have been so much easier.
I’ve seen games teach many things to many people. I’ve even seen people learn economics from the auction house on WoW! When I was in school, most of my knowledge of Roman civilisation was from Rome: Total War. And I don’t even need to explain how many people know about specific model guns thanks to CS:GO. Video games are an amazing learning tool! So why aren’t we using them to spread awareness of mental health?
One of the strongest tools we have to fight mental health issues is awareness. We need people to be able to recognise the signs of illness. We need to be able to help people understand so that people coping with these illnesses have an easier time. Now, I know this is sounding a little preachy, and I apologise. But mental health is a subject pretty close to home for me. And what I’m hoping is that if there are any budding devs out there reading, consider this a good project. If you’ve suffered from mental illness, you can think of creating a game as therapeutic. The more games we have on the topic, the better!
That said, what do you think, readers? Do you know any games dealing with mental health that I missed? Think this would be a good project for game devs? Or maybe you think I’m blowing smoke and wanna tell me off? Go on ahead to the comments below or on our Facebook. I’d really love to hear what you have to say.