Stigmatizing Mental Illness in Video Game Marketing: A Letter

An e-mail I just sent:

From: Albert C Thrower
Date: Sat, Mar 30, 2013 at 7:03 PM
Subject: Outlast Marketing

Dear Red Barrells Games and Triple Point PR,

I just watched the video from PAX East 2013 in which you show off your upcoming game Outlast. I think it looks pretty great, but I want you to seriously consider how the language you use in your marketing perpetuates dangerous stigmas about folks suffering from mental illness. I'm not against having a horror game set in an asylum, but the message Mr. Morin keeps pushing is "It's scary because they're crazy people!", and that is a really harmful message. There are a whole bunch of folks in this world who suffer from severe mental illness, and the repetition of messages that erroneously equate mental illness with unpredictable violence only compounds the difficulties they face navigating society.

I'm sure you all have friends or family members that suffer from some mental illness. Let's realize these are actual people we're talking about, who are trying to make it through life the best they can in spite of the huge disadvantages biology has dealt them. We have to cut them a break where we can.

Again, I'm fine with a horror game where the antagonists are asylum patients. Just like I'm fine with a game where the antagonists are all men, or women, or white folks or black folks or Québécois or whatever. Within the context of a story that sort of thing can make sense and be compelling. But outside of that context, to make statements that suppose we should be scared of mentally ill folks perpetuates unfounded and harmful stigmas. Mr. Morin did this in the Kotaku video, and I ask you to please strongly reconsider how you word your marketing speech. Mentally ill folks are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

Some relevant facts:…

All the best,

Can't wait to play the game,

Albert Thrower

Stephen Totilo did his own part to perpetuate the stigma in his writeup of the article: "[Thwacke!] helped Red Barrels learn more about crazy people and the history of asylums—hopefully to make this game all the scarier." I'm not saying Totilo has something against mentally ill folks, I'm just saying we should all be more careful about how the messages we put out there (especially someone with a wide audience like Totilo) can and do affect other people's lives.


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