Asylum Jam Challenges Developers to Create Horror Games That Do Not Stigmatize the Mentally Ill

Modern television shows, movies, and even video games tend to use mental illness in a negative way when it comes to the horror genre. This portrayal of those who suffer from mental illnesses as potential, uncontrollable monsters inspired this article on Kotaku ("Nobody Wins When Horror Games Stigmatize Mental Illness") urging game developers to help reduce the stigma of mental illness by not using those with problems as vehicles for uncontrollable violence.

This article in turn helped inspire the Asylum Jam, a game developer jam that challenges participants with creating a horror-themed game that does not offer negative depictions of mental illness. From the Asylum Jam's web site:

"You should not use asylums, psychiatric institutes, medical professionals or violent/antipathic/'insane' patients as settings or triggers," the rules state. "This jam is to show that you can still create a great horror experience without using inaccurate stereotypes of those who suffer from mental illness, or the institutions that support them in diagnosis and recovery."

The 48-hour game jam will run from Oct. 11 – 13.

You can find some interim information on the event at

Source: Polygon

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. 0
    GrimCW says:

    So using the term is the problem, or the actual mental insanity of the characters? Or both?

    calling someone a WORD shouldn't matter unless its backed by something (In the case of most of the BL phsyco's they were clearly mental after being in the dessert to long and often tortured).

    To much emphasis is put on word play these days, and that needs to stop IMO. A word is a word, it has no meaning except what we allow it to have. And by ingraining children and others into believing that it has only one meaning, and that its pure filth is a terrible way to take society down another notch over something menial while far greater concerns should be addressed (such as the actual underlying issue of mental health and violence).

    I agree, a jam bringing things to light is a good idea. As long as they aren't themselves stigmatizing a simplified reasoning/base. Much like how the whole "Derpy" thing from MLP got carried away. Derp is a term used for when someone does/says something stupid. Rarely, and usually only, used by morons as a derogatory term towards another. Gotta figure it comes awfully close to the old phrase "UH-DUH!!", or "UH DOI!" also said as "DURHUR HUR!" and later flowing into the modern derp. But I'm not seeing the predecessors getting slandered as a derogatory terms for Mental Illness.

    The editors at various dictionaries also need to get head from rectal fissure removal surgery and stat. As they aren't helping these cases by mis-defining many modern slang words.

    But yeah, i was thinking the same tbh. More action oriented games like BL, MH2, Batman Arkham thisandthat and the like have mental illness referenced. NOT horror games.  Though I did see a new one on STEAM greenlight that looks really good. A Horror title called "Outlast" i think. It actually does use the asylum angle, but its another that stigmatizes the DOCTORS not the patients.

    Most horror games rely on viruses (resident evil), mutants (penumbra), or the player itself (amnesia) to push its fear factors. 

    Whoever set up this thing, or wrote the original piece didn't research that very well. They even directly referenced Manhunt 2, despite its a thing for horror games, and MH2 is an action/stealth game.


  2. 0
    Samster says:

    I often think it's worse in action games – the likes of Borderlands, for example, which gleefully goes about calling its villains 'psychos' (I like Borderlands, but that is the kind of irreverent treatment of mental illness that the jam seems to be set against).

    Any jam encouraging people to think more carefully about a commonly oversimplified and negatively represented subject is good in my books, though.

  3. 0
    MechaTama31 says:

    Not only that, but even setting aside the whole violence stereotype, mental illness is inherently horrifying.  The idea that your own mind could be broken in a way that is invisible to you, that your perception of what is real and what isn't could be mistaken, just the idea of damaging your very "self", which seems to reside in the mind if anywhere…  How could a horror writer possibly ignore a treasure trove of material like that?

  4. 0
    DorthLous says:

    And, finally, to top it off, while mental illness ~= violence, there are definitively some subsets that do. In fact, if you consider violence as an abhorrent condition (which is far from being claimed, but it could definitively be argued), then all voluntary violence == mental illness.

  5. 0
    ChrowX says:

    I sort of figured that it was abundantly clear that the mental health business and the whole idea of the psychiatric ward was inherently terrifying because of the notion that you might get locked up against your will with professionals telling you every day that you are insane, despite your desperate pleas.

    The horror doesn't come from "ewww crazy people!" it comes from the idea of being trapped against your will, with all these authority figures abusing and mistreating you, telling you that you're crazy when you're not, with no way out, because the system is so corrupt and people will only listen to the doctors.

    That's the classic horror.  Human beings mistreated by authority figures, held against their will in unsanitary, dehumanizing, oppressive conditions. What makes it worse is that some sanitariums, insane asylums, and psychiatric wards do have a long, long history of terrible human rights violations. A century ago, people could be locked away against their will for just about anything that someone else deemed bothersome. "The Female Condition" used to be an applicable reason for throwing your wife in a padded cell and that was treated as a legitimate illness.

    It's not some mean way of stigmatizing the mentally ill.. It's just sort of a commonly held fear.

  6. 0
    GrimCW says:

    Shhh you might make them realize that MOST (not all) horror genre games already don't use these stereotypes.

    In most they just have the player seemingly out of their mind, or going so…

    At least of those that i've seen. The only one off the top of my head that hit on the patients as its key was Manhunt 2… pretty sure that wasn't a horror game though.

    Aside from MINOR references (like the nurses in Silent Hill) I'm drawing mostly blanks on anything that did "stigmatize" mental illness that wasn't anything more than some hyper zealout trying to stigmatize games by saying it causes or enhances mental illness

    Maybe its a common thing in movies.. but not games.

  7. 0
    Hevach says:

    Stigmatizing the mental healthcare system, which for much of its history was a truly horrifying thing, is not the same as stigmatizing mental illness. This system for decades performed procedures on ill patients that amount to torture, and for many years a frontal or temporal lobotomy was the go-to solution for mental illnesses, even with the potential side effect of reducing patients to little more than animals. This is why so many horror stories revolving around them A. are loose period pieces and B. cast the heads of the facility as the villains and the "monsters" they create as victims.

  8. 0
    Neeneko says:

    If enough developers are interested in the topic, why not?

    While we tend to kinda shove it under the rug, it is unsual that at least some of the staff at any particular studio have been touched by mental illness, either their own or people connected to them.

Leave a Reply