This post first appeared on the National Centre for Mental health website.
“Stigma will not disappear overnight. Still, we cannot allow those with mental disorder to continue to receive the levels of degradation and ridicule that have permeated far too much of human history. A far brighter future can and will emerge when knowledge replaces ignorance, […] and when contact with the realities (rather than the stereotypes) of mental disorder taps people’s empathy.”
Stephen P. Hinshaw (2007)
On September 28-30th, the halls of the Hadyn Ellis Building welcomed a host of videogame developers, mental health campaigners and neuroscientists. While some of this audience knew the place from before, videogame developers are not a usual sight at Cardiff University’s MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics, though we couldn’t have been happier that so many of them decided to join us. Together, thanks to the patronage of the Wellcome Trust and NCMH, we all worked until late hours under the banner of JAMMIND, our first Mental Health in Gaming event.
Throughout the jam we have been supported by a panel of excellent advisors and speakers, to which we are extremely thankful and want to acknowledge here. To help us launch the event we had Professor Paul Fletcher, who showed us a glimpse of the power of videogames to aid in understanding complex psychiatric conditions (I heartily recommend his talk on psychotic experiences and perception).
Afterwards we had Dr. Arianna di Florio from the NCMH front, who challenged us with evidence showing that stigma exists because it’s an easy human reaction against the unknown (see here for some research on why this could be the case). Finally, our second day welcomed an important talk by Dr. Natasha Latysheva, an experienced programmer and data scientist who illustrated us on how difficult is to successfully navigate the moving waters of the computational industry while still keeping oneself safe and healthy.
Between and after the talks, all of our JAMMIND participants put forward an extreme effort, which humbles all of us at the JAMMIND organisation committee. All the ideas developed tackled head-on the difficult concept of representing mental health (and illness) in a videogame form. As I have argued before, videogames have usually been shy about this topic, but the work put together by our talented teams show us that this does not need to be the case.
We all hope that the games created during this weekend will stand as another example of the potential of this medium to shape ideas into something both fun and beautiful.
We also hope that they will make you think about their content and why they portray it the way they do: How do they make you feel? Have you had similar experiences to what they describe? Do they make you think about those in a different light?
Please tell us and our developers!
Also, if you’re a game developer yourself, know that the source code of every JAMMIND game is released under the X11 license, so if you want to build on them or create your own version or story, please be our guest!
JAMMIND 2018 games
The Interview (joint first prize), by Chris Roper, Jessica Lacombe and Tom Chambers. Imagine yourself. One of those oh-no days where the alarm doesn’t ring. And you have an important thing to attend to, an interview for the job of your life, or at least the one which will keep you from eating another month of ramen noodles.
Now, the job interview is happening in two minutes in a distant part of town, but it should be easy to get there if you run a bit fast, shouldn’t it? Well, this game is going to show you that “easy” is in the eye of the beholder, and that, bonus, maybe that guy or gal that seems to run faster than you struggles with different things.
Picturesque (joint first prize), by Steve Sparkes, Oliver Jackson, Soma Wheelhouse, Munzir Quraishy and Jonaid Iqba. Being one of the best photographers in the world and working for National Geographic seems like a dream, even more when you’ve been paid (full expenses and everything!) to travel to a remote Canadian island in search of a long-thought-extinct Dawson’s caribou. However, finding this animal won’t be your only mission, as the island is full of a colourful species of mushroom, which makes you feel an unwelcome urge to photograph them.
Will you be able to traverse the island and find the fabled reindeer while coping with this?
Get help (second prize), by William Akins, Ardhan Fadhlurrahman, Nicholas Clifton and Anna Moon. Days can feel pretty tough where you’re a teenager. Homework piles up, friends do not answer your calls, lovers hurt you and parents just don’t understand. Is in this situation when sometimes, all those pressures combined can feel exhausting and not let you think of anything else.
When daily struggles seem too much, when you are faced by bleakness, will you be able to take a difficult decision on time? Will you be able to tell someone, “help me”?
You can read more about the game jam and either play or download the games on the JAMMIND webpage.