Gaming is becoming one of the biggest areas of human activity on the planet – bigger than movie-making, newspapers and most other media. Its power to shape the way we view things is clearly huge and likely to increase with Virtual Reality.
Some weeks ago, a group released a new Escape from the Asylum game. They ran into a furore of criticism – they were playing to stereotypes of mental illness, with patients tied to chairs. This is nothing like mental healthcare is now with croquet on the lawn followed by tea and sandwiches. See Livid of Leeds below.
In fact, mental healthcare is probably a lot worse than it ever was. Patients are routinely shipped hundreds of miles away from home. Mental health, as the rest of heathcare, has become a tick box exercise rather than one in which anyone engages with anyone.
We now detain three times more people than we did forty years ago. Children are pumped full of psychotropic drugs in a way that would never have happened even twenty years ago. Many of us who have never been on section or detained in hospital get risk assessments carried out on us not realizing we don’t have to accept this happening. The risk assessments aim at pinpointing risks to the local healthcare organization rather than risks to our freedom or the safety of the public.
An increasing number of other hearings and assessments happen off-stage that we may not be aware of, all of which builds a file against us. Its rather like the files the Stasi used to compile on East Germans before the Wall came down.
But the most pernicious of all is that The System appears to have an complete inability to appreciate when the treatments it gives become the problem that it then tries to treat by adding in more drugs and if need be detaining us in order to do so. The level of alienation between us and the services can be profound.
These topics were covered in a series of posts on Medical Kidnapping a year ago.
May be what’s needed is a good game to get the word out and get people engaged. We at RxISK would be happy to mark the card of any gamer interested to build something.
There is not nothing here that should be seen as stigmatizing of mental health – the problems are increasingly encroaching on all of healthcare.
The Oregon Trail
There are tons of games that could be set within healthcare. One that seems like it has possibilities would be a medical version of Oregon Trail. Anyone old enough to have had one of the first Apple computers will remember the Oregon Trail. This rather than anything else might have been the making of Apple – Microsoft had nothing like it.
The idea was to get your family across the American Mid-West in a covered wagon, avoiding rattle-snakes, Indians, flooded rivers and others hazards on the way. You could accumulate credits for tricky times etc.
Well a comparable game now might see you try to get you and your family to 100. While there are occasional good medical Indians who might help at tricky spots on the journey, for the most part you will face medical rattle-snakes whose bite is now probably the leading cause of death and disability in the world.
You would have to work out what to do if some X-Ray revealed some bone thinning in one of your party. Does she start getting more active, steering clear of pills, or do you put her in the wagon and encourage her to take the biphosphonates.
The key to making any game is to have the data on who dies from what at which age. We have all this worked up and are just waiting for someone who wants to make a fortune to come along.
Livid of Leeds
Well, life is never dull in mental health world. Another day, another fresh PR disaster, this time for Escape Game Leeds, who launched their “Asylum” game and found themselves facing a huge backlash.
The game is set in an old psychiatric asylum, which the company says is fictional, but in Leeds it has hit far too close to home. The old High Royds Hospital, about 10 miles out of the city, is still fresh in the collective memory of the mental health community around here because of historic abuse allegations and having been used by Jimmy Savile as a place to find victims to abuse who would a) not complain and b) not be believed if they did. There are many people here who survived High Royds, and for them, the old asylum system is no joke and certainly not a form of gruesome entertainment for morbidly curious young adults. “People bound to a chair, locked in straight[sic] jackets, fitted with mouth traps” as it says on the company’s website — well for people who survived the horrors of the old mental health regime, that may well have been their reality. In whose world exactly does this classify as a fun leisure activity?
Survivors and professionals alike have also criticised the game for stigmatising mental health, stating that it risks painting mental health patients as “tormented and dangerous individuals”, as Claire Woodham, governor for Leeds and York Partnership Foundation Trust, said when speaking to the BBC earlier this week. As a mental health survivor myself, I found the game quite insulting and was quite shocked that someone would even come up with this idea, given the increasing awareness around mental health and stigma. More worrying still is that The Great Escape Game’s primary audience is young adults, so what kind of messages are we giving young people about mental health and people who suffer with it? That people with mental health issues are scary and unpredictable and that it’s fine to use their suffering as entertainment?
Apparently, this surprised the company and they really didn’t seem to see the problem. They refused to engage with people, including professionals, who contacted them on social media, giving only the instruction to email the marketing manager. To date, the company’s director, Hannah Duraid, who has won multiple awards for the Great Escape Game franchise, has not made any statements, instead choosing to leave the communications to more junior members of staff, fielding the marketing and business development managers instead, indicating that the company sees this as a marketing issue rather than one of fundamental values. The director’s silence on this speaks volumes about how much the company cares, and their apologies have thus far amounted to “we’re sorry if anyone was offended” rather than genuinely looking to understand and repair the harm done. Escape Game Leeds’s official statement seemed to be more worried about the distress caused to staff because of the Twitter comments than to people with mental health issues who have felt alienated, stigmatised, and targeted because of this insensitive, ill-considered ‘game’. Perhaps if the company had fielded a properly experienced staff member to deal with this issue rather than allowing junior staff to “turn negative tweets into a light-hearted conversation” as is the company’s social media policy, they wouldn’t have received such a strong response to their utter tone-deafness.
The good news is that at least they have agreed to attend a meeting today, hosted by Leeds City Council CEO Tom Riordan and attended by local charities and survivors. There are signs that the company is starting to comprehend the seriousness of this, with a company rep stating “I can see how stuff like this can create a negative stigma towards mental health”. They have said they will consult with mental health charities (although I wonder why they didn’t do this first) but they are at the moment still sticking by their decision not to cancel any bookings. The cynic in me says this is more about not wanting to lose money than actually genuinely wanting to engage with the issues.
My message to the company’s reps attending today is listen; don’t be defensive, understand that businesses do not exist in a vacuum and this has caused harm to vulnerable members of the community. The community might be angry right now, but if the response is genuine and heartfelt, forgiveness will follow — nobody wants to create a pariah out of this creative young entrepreneur’s business. This could be an opportunity to learn and grow and even for the company to demonstrate leadership through humility. Admit you got this wrong, pull the game, donate any profits made so far to mental health charities, and move forward. There are plenty of things to create games out of without co-opting the suffering of people with mental health problems for profit. This is no longer something the community will accept; make no mistake, we will make our voices heard, we are no longer afraid to speak out and advocate for ourselves and each other.
The old days of the ‘insane asylum’ are gone — let’s keep it that way.