How should mental health be represented in games? What role does mental health play in Doki Doki Literature? Is associating mental illness with horror doing adding to the stigma?
When it comes to topics that are often not depicted in games, representing them realistically and appropriately is important and puts a lot of pressure on game developers if they decide they care. Mental health is one of these topics and in “Mind Games: Mental health in video games” by Jem Alexander, Luca Dalco of LKA.it, states that “because it’s an issue that affects so many people, it’s important to be accurate and realistic…”. It’s true, mental health comes in many forms and I don’t think many people realize just how common it is. It doesn’t help that this topic is so misunderstood in real life and at the same time being depicted in a bad light in prominent media. Proper representation is important, “not only [to] inform the ignorant, but also help sufferers by, for example, removing stigma”. It tells sufferers that they are not the only one and potentially help people around them understand them more. This article talks about what game developers can do to improve the representation of mental health illnesses better. The biggest rule of thumb was to talk about it! Talk about it often and talk about it right with the help of professionals and people who have experienced it firsthand. If you ask people who have never experienced depression before to give suggestions on its depiction in a game, then it is not very valid feedback. Dalco also states that to destroy the stigmatization of mental diseases, the magic word is ‘empathy’”. Using input from professionals and sufferers will allow the games to be realistic and have a strong impact. This “can be a good way in helping young players to be aware of the true extent and nature of the problem ” and allow for a more knowledgeable and mature discussion.
Doki Doki Literature walks a fine line, I believe, when it comes to representing mental health illnesses realistically. On one hand, we see a character who commits suicide regardless o you do and the sad truth is that it can be like that. The player is left feeling if the other answer would have saved the character. This not only helps show an accurate case of depression but a familiar feeling with people who have relationships of any sort with people who suffer from it. The protagonist is shown feeling some sort of empathy for the characters and if you get the game’s good ending, the player is thanked for helping and comforting all characters through their hard times. But on the other hand, one girl dramatically kills herself in front of you and it seems more like a horror game trope/jump scare that is not as realistic as the former example. The main antagonist of the game is using their mental health illnesses against them and to stray them away from the protagonists, makes them seem crazier hence more undesirable which to me does not sound like it is helping to remove the stigma. This game is categorized as a psychological horror and that is one trope in the game industry that has been frowned upon several times.
To further explore the topic of mental health representation in Doki Doki Literature Club, it would be important to research and learn about the developer’s, Dan Salvato, personal relationship with mental health or how he researched the topic and was able to know what was realistic or not. It is also necessary to take into consideration the opinions of those who suffered from the illnesses depicted in the game. Their opinions would validate any side of the argument more. But perhaps if those who do not experience said illnesses complain, the game may have failed in being able to create empathy and an understanding for the topic that can create meaningful discussion around it, helping to break down the stigma. If the results are mixed from both sides, then it may result in the conclusion that representing a topic in a way that everyone agrees is accurate, impactful, and progressive is nearly impossible. Then who should be listened to and what should be done next?