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Video games and mental health

Many video games not only accurately and sensitively show aspects of mental illness, but even offer help to people with mental health disorders.

For gamer Eugênio Lloyd, this representation is very important.

“Those games make me feel that I’m seen,” he said. “When a game has a reclusive, depressive, quiet character, with very peculiar tastes to the point that he can’t make friends because he has no subject in common with anyone … It’s someone yelling from somewhere on the globe that I exist.”

Video games have changed a lot over the years. Story-based games have become very common, and many reflect current issues which people are experiencing in their lives. Whether the main theme, or being present in a secondary way, mental disorders have been portrayed frequently in games.

According to Lloyd, his new favorite game Omori tells a story about a depressive boy living with grief and guilt, but does it in the perfect way.

Omori is the kind of game that can save your life,” he explained. “Choosing the narrative approach to be inside the protagonist Sunny’s mind makes all the difference. When you are a reclusive and depressed person, the world happens inside your mind. When Omori brings you into the character’s imaginary world, you are where the action takes place.”

Omori is one of many games that deals with this kind of subject. Life is Strange, released in 2015, featues a couple of characters with mental disorders. Each character deals with their mental heath challenges in a different way.

Life is Strange is a favourite game of psychiatry resident Gabriel Fontes.  He said it shows why it is so hard to realize that someone you know – or even the player – has a mental disorder.

“Outsiders don’t see the size of the problem,” he said. “If a family member sees that you’ve lost a lot of weight out of the blue, they may get worried and convince you to seek medical help. On the other hand, a family member may notice that you’ve been sadder recently and think it’s none of their business.”

Although there is still a lot of resistance to seeking help and understanding that mental health is as important as physical health, psychologist Bárbara de Abreu believes that this is changing.

“I think this resistance has decreased a lot in the last ten or five years,” de Abreu said. “I’ve noticed that many people realize mental health is just as important as physical health. I see that resistance exists because it is something that is barely observable. It’s different from an injury that everyone sees where it is. And it varies a lot from person to person.”

The way video games deal with mental health can be accurate and show a lot of research from the creator. In Final Fantasy XV, the character Prompto puts on a happy and carefree face to hide his fear of rejection. Shane,a character from Stardew Valley, uses alcohol to mask his depression. The main characters from Omori show different ways to deal with loss: some shut themselves in their rooms, some turn the sadness into anger, some force themselves to pretend everything is fine.

For gamers dealing with any mental disorder, representations are very important.

“A simple thing like having the game’s mascot keychain or listening to the soundtrack on the way to work puts me in safety, like a reminder that I carry all the good that a certain game brings with me,” Lloyd said.

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