Asylum Jam is Challenging the Use of Mental Health in Horror

Jason McDonald

A “jam”, in the world of videogames, is when a group of people gather together for a competition in which they must design and build a game within a certain amount of time.  While typically seen as an “indie” event, these jams often allow game developers from all levels of the community to come out and stretch their creative wings as they tackle specific challenges or issues.

One upcoming jam that is looking to shed light on an issue is “Asylum Jam“, a 48 hour competition starting on October 11th that is challenging developers to create horror games without using mental health stereotypes as a crutch.  This means participants won’t be able to use mental health facilities as terrifying locations and that people suffering mental health issues won’t be depicted as crazed villains.

The jam was created in response to the growing negative stigma surrounding people who suffer from mental health issues.  According to their site “WHO [World Health Organization] states that mental illness or disorders affect one in four people. It is something a great deal of the world live and cope with, yet are increasingly hesitant to reveal due to negative stigmatization in media, compounded by lack of general awareness about the variance and truth of suffering from a mental illness.”

It’s easy to see where such a negative stereotype would come from.  As frequent viewers of the horror genre, how often do we see a movie take place in or around an insane asylum?  Or how often are the monstrous villains simply people who went “crazy.”  The use of mental health issues in horror games and movies is an easy way to inspire fear in people because it’s one of those unknown elements.  We fear the idea of losing our cognitive abilities and mistrust those who act outside the norms of societal standards.

However, fear of losing control of our faculties is as primordial as our fear of the darkness.  Can such a deeply subconscious attitude be rooted out simply by changing the way our media perceives them? I don’t know, but we stop fearing the darkness once we understand that there’s nothing there.  Education is the key here, but I don’t think we can depend on our media for that.  Ultimately, we must each be responsible for the views we have of our world.

However, that being said, I still applaud this game jam for not only trying to tackle an important social issue but for encouraging creative thinking.  I look forward to seeing what kind of horrors people will produce when they’re forced to challenge themselves creatively.  And, in turn, I look forward to seeing what happens when people are forced to challenge themselves philosophically.

Asylum Jam



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      1. bob101910 September 3, 2013 at 2:49 am

        Site keeps crashing when I try to comment, so I’ll have to break it down into smaller parts.

        • bob101910 September 3, 2013 at 2:51 am

          I find old asylums scary, but not because of the patients. It’s the way the patients were treated that is scary. Maybe long term stay at one can make a patient scary, but it’s not their fault, it’s the staffs’ fault.

      2. bob101910 September 3, 2013 at 2:54 am

        The site didn’t crash until the end this time yay