With the recent controversial study linking video games to violence, and the media’s usual shock-and-awe reporting on video games being (dubiously) a trigger for mass murders, one might expect this article to take some shot at the issue of video games and violence. However, I will make no such attempt although I could say much. I was once an avid gamer, and although more recently I have been forced to focus my attention solely to my schoolwork, I still have a deep respect for the hobby that gave me so much.
Over the recent summer break, I purchased a game called Witcher III, mostly to pass the time, but also because it seemed like a genuinely good game. Video games are amazing things, they take you to places that could not exist, to do things you could not possibly do, and meet people that could only be in your dreams. Most importantly, video games transform you into a person you are not, they allow you to see things from someone else’s eyes. Nothing is more valuable than being able to see something from someone else’s point of view, to experience what they experience.
In Witcher III, however, I found myself not in someone else’s shoes, but in my own. For you see in Witcher III, you play a mutant, a freak, an outcast from society. You are a witcher, a mutated human reviled by many. It may sound silly, but as someone with a mental illness I knew exactly how my character felt, I had an intimate connection, I knew what it felt like to be an outcast. When people in the game called me a freak, it was as if they were calling me a freak. It is a strange and lonely feeling to be unwanted, in a game surely, but more so in real life.
That game reminded me, severely, that stigma towards those with a mental illness is alive and well in the world. It reminded me that the world saw me as dangerous, that most of the world wouldn’t want to be neighbor to me. If this stigma were getting better, that would be one thing, but it’s not. Mental health stigma is increasing, and often it seems as if no one cares that an entire segment of our population is being cast out.
It was just a game. But the way I felt after playing it was real. It was the same way I felt when I read or heard hateful comments about people with mental illness. It’s the same way I feel right after I tell a close friend about my illness; that time between telling them and their reaction that will tell you if you’re still friends. It’s the same way I feel when I remember I have to hide my illness when at all possible, or else be known as “the crazy one”.
Unlike other forms of discrimination, racism, sexism, what have you, mental illness has no overt public face. The media and public go into a frenzy when a person of color is killed by police, yet a person undergoing a mental breakdown is killed by police every 36 hours. Where is the outrage? Where are the marches? The truth is that until we put ourselves out there (myself included), until we force the public to look at us and acknowledge us, we will get nowhere in terms of reducing stigma. We need publicity, someone, something to stand up for us. We need our MLK.