Playing with the Narrative of Mental Illness: Communication Beyond Serious Empathy games 

BiD 52 (June 2024)
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This essay focuses on the implicit narrative of mental illness communicated through the cultural rhetoric of serious games and empathy games. Games about mental illness are seen to promote a change in behavior and foster greater understanding by breaking down the boundary between the neuro-non-normative avatar and players. However, rather than cultivating empathy, these games reinforce notions of mental illness as the unknowable Other. Using Infinite Fall’s Night in the Woods (2017), this essay demonstrates how the use of non-serious elements, changes to the narrative premise, and limited insight into the avatar’s mind create a new communicative situation. Oscillating between sameness and difference, the game shows mental illness as a normal part of life, of growing up and getting to know yourself and the people around you.
Melanie Kreitler
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen

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