I’m starting out on a little experiment that was born out of interest in how videogames present mental illness. There are a few out there varying in depictions from anywhere to implied craziness (the G-Rated Crazy that is represented by strange eye movements and/or uncontrollable laughing, usually for comedic effect) to the darker stuff of post-traumatic stress disorder, being relentlessly haunted, and dissociative identity disorders. Mostly videogames seem to represent mental illness as a consequence to a terrible and dramatic trauma the character has experienced — usually through no fault of their own — that is both understandable and easy to empathise with. It’s less about chemical imbalances or the struggle with one’s self-doubt and low self-esteem and more about “You’d be like this too if you’d seen what I’ve seen”.
An argument for this is purely for dramatic effect, it’s much more compelling to experience graphic flashbacks of a tortured soul battling inner demons that parallel the struggle going on within the game than it is to see Steve having a thrilling battle with getting out of bed that morning. It’s not an entirely untouched niche, however. A few indie games have been experimenting with themes of depression, just a quick look at some games that came out of this year’s Global Game Jam can attest to that, including a game called “Frayed” exploring mental illness, perception, and love. A non-jam “Serious Game” called “Elude” aims to raise awareness about depression (specifically for sufferer’s loved ones) by taking the player through a series of mood states, following their ‘passion’ objects that act as power ups to rise above obstacles in their path. Only by following your passion can you rise to the tree tops to ‘happiness’. (As much as I baulk and the idea of happiness and depression being binary states, or happiness even being an achievable goal, I get what they’re trying to do here, metaphorically it works).
Games truly exploring the inner-struggle with depression, cripplingly-low self-esteem or worthlessness are few and far between, especially when compared to other artistic mediums. Understandably so, with many considering games belonging squarely to the “for fun” category. Depression isn’t as ripe for illustrative media portrayal as some other mental illnesses, and it’s harder to take refuge in audacity with such an illness. But regardless of why that’s so, I wanted to have a little look at a game I’m quite familiar with and where depression might fit into the complex world of The Sims, in particular The Sims3.
I’m not an academic, and never will be. I’m not an expert in depression nor do I currently suffer from it. I just thought this could be quite interesting. I’m not trying to achieve anything other than sating my curiosity about what would happen if I didn’t grind my way to the lifetime aspiration of my Sim. I intend to let the Sims use their free will as much as possible, only intervening to prevent death or when they get so exasperated they can no longer function. My aim isn’t to actively create depression in my Sims but merely to see what happens if they get stuck in a rut. I plan on making two Sims, identical in every way except gender. Firstly to watch how the game depicts people who are not living up to their dream aspirations, and secondly to see how that differs between the sexes in the game. It’s not a perfect experiment, there’s variables up the wazoo (to the point where I probably shouldn’t call it an experiment as that implies a controlled environment), but for a little peek into how these particular little balls of artificial intelligence deal with not fulfilling their lifetime’s desires, I think it’s worth a looksee. So here’s where I’ll be writing all about my adventure through the mind’s dark places in the parameters of The Sims3. If you’d like to come along with me, keep an eye on http://siminterrupted.grassisleena.com/.
If you have anything to share along the way, feel free to comment or if you’d like to do it privately, throw an email towards firstname.lastname@example.org.