“Some of gaming’s greatest heroes are mentally ill, and that’s a great thing”


In gaming magazine Polygon, Liana Kerzner reviews video games that weren’t designed as “therapy,” but include primary characters who are struggling with deep psychological challenges and scenes that mimic real distortions of perception. Like powerful works of art, Kerzner suggests some of these games may be having impacts on players’ resilience and empathy for difference.

Kerzner describes how a number of games relate to these themes:

American McGee‘s Alice is a dark metaphor for grief and survivor’s guilt. This highly influential re-imagining of Wonderland focuses on overcoming madness through courage … courage of the violent kind, yes, but courage nonetheless. Alice explores the struggle against self-loathing, guilt and fear, and it makes a mentally ill young woman the heroine of a story. It externalizes the battle against mental illness and shows a young woman fighting back for control of her own mind.”

“Tim Schafer’s Psychonauts is also clearly surrealist, but it deals with very real themes of childhood abuse and phobias. The way it knits Raz’s fear of water and unstable mental health into the game’s mechanics makes them relevant to the player, and relevance is big in the fight against stigma… Relating to a person with psychological challenges because it helps you complete the game encourages empathy. You understand why it matters to that individual, even if they’re fictional, and it matters to you because you want to complete the game. Suddenly, you and the character are in it together, and that’s a powerful feeling.”

Some of gaming’s greatest heroes are mentally ill, and that’s a great thing (Polygon, September 18, 2014)


  1. Yeah, all art is sick and all artists mentally ill. I don’t want to know what they would do today to van Gogh and the likes. If psychiatrists had their way we would have no art, no music, no emotions. But we would be nice controllable zombies.

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