Asylum Jam Returns To Disrupt Horror Tropes

It's behind you! No, wait, that's a Christmas thing not Hallowe'en

Launching on Hallowe-en and running for 48 hours, the Asylum Jam is set up to seek out inventive horror games and disrupt tropes involving asylums and the stigmatisation of mental health issues.

Last year saw the inaugural Asylum Jam which attracted 385 participants and produced around 60 games. You can find those on the original website – there are things like Sea Nothing which is an undersea sim where you have to follow a tether to a diving cage and not get eaten by monstrous fish or swallowed up by the darkness.

The reasoning behind the challenge is that horror games usually derive their power from the unknown, the unexpected or the things we don’t understand. Mental health issues are one of these subjects, despite the fact that a significant number of people are affected by them (1 in 4 British adults, for example).

Claustrophobic darkness plus risk of sharks

As per last year’s introduction:

Many horror games use the negative portrayal of those who suffer from mental illness as extremely violent or sadistic, usually as the villain or antagonist, as an easy crutch to rest their story, characters and motivations on.

This year’s announcement goes into more detail on the subject:

To recap, Asylum Jam is a 48 hour game development challenge in which devs are challenged to create a horror game without negative mental health stereotypes (à la Outlast), or painting the medical profession in a negative light (à la Shattered Memories).

This is not supposed to be a jam saying ‘these are bad games’, but simply a positive way to explore outside of tired, harmful tropes and to expand on horror – which is such a big place for us to explore with the rise of VR, especially.

If you’re interested in taking part it starts at 7pm GMT on October 31st.

12 Comments

  1. Jalan says:

    Sea Nothing – seemed like nothing when all I did was hold down shift and follow the line. One red-eyed shark appeared from behind me with a school of fish and they all passed through me as I attempted in vain to punch them. I made it to the cage before my oxygen hit the red line.

  2. Jalan says:

    Without having realized it, I’d played one of these before.

    link to asylumjam.herokuapp.com

    I never could quite make it through (at the time I was encountering some bugs that impeded progress that the developer later fixed) before the heads of doom got me.

    I also see one of the fiction entries (A World Falling) is by Danny B’s girlfriend.

  3. mattevansc3 says:

    I’m definitely keeping an eye on this. I’ve been going through the process of being assessed for Asperger Syndrome which would put me on the autism spectrum and it has opened my eyes a bit more to the struggles people with mental health have.

    It is a big shame though that there aren’t many, if any, positive characters in gaming with a mental health issue. Especially seeing that your audience is likely to have a higher than average number of people with mental health issues. People with Asperger Syndrome, as a rule, enjoy hobbies with patterns, that have repetition, involve little social interaction or at least distant interaction and involve a high level of collecting items/data. That covers a lot of genres, from JRPGs, to puzzle games like Bookworm and Bejewled as well as indie games like Terraria.

    • JeepBarnett says:

      These aren’t strictly positive examples, but check out: To The Moon, Trauma, Papo & Yo, Second Sight, The Cat Lady, and Killer 7.

  4. PikaBot says:

    Shattered Memories “paint[s] the medical profession in a negative light”? I mean okay, Kaufmann is a dick, but the whole game is a successful process of SPOILERS REDACTED SPOILERS REDACTED SPOILERS REDACTED SPOILERS REDACTED and anyway what we see of him is almost certainly distorted by the character’s perspective.

    • Philomelle says:

      Yeah, pretty much this.

      Shattered Memories casts Kaufmann as a very cold but well-meaning psychiatrist, and he does bring Heather to her recovery (albeit with the player’s actions altering her perspective and thus changing the thought processes that lead to it). He’s anything but a negative portrayal of the profession.

      Hell, I could argue that he’s not exactly a negative portrayal of a doctor in the main series either because he’s only one on paper. He’s basically a mob boss masquerading as a small town doctor to have better control over the distribution network of his drug ring. The symbolism in hospitals reflects that, with nurses being portrayed as parasite-infested puppets who are forced to do his bidding.

      • PikaBot says:

        Well, I mean, he does get so pissed off at the end of the game that he throws a glass of whiskey (which, by the way, he had been drinking during the session) at the wall so hard it shatters, so he’s maybe not an ideal image of psychiatric professionalism. Still, I wouldn’t call him a negative portrayal at all.

    • GameCat says:

      I also disagree with statement that SH:SM’s Kaufmann is bad.

      BTW, it’s nice to see some love for this game here, because for me it’s the horror game with the best writting ever.
      Hell, it could be the best writting in any game.

      • PikaBot says:

        Shattered Memories is a gem, but a flawed gem. They tried a whole bunch of new things, and some of them worked. Some of them didn’t. Some of them REALLY didn’t.

        It still holds a very special place in my heart. Those chase sequences probably gave me a ‘oh god I don’t want to fucking be here’ reaction more than probably any other game I’ve played.

  5. Blackcompany says:

    Glad to see folks doing this. As a student of psychology – and more importantly, as a compassionate human – it pains me to see so many games set in asylums and such, painting everyone within those walls as psychotic killers, etc. Heck, it even bothers me to some degree in Borderlands, with all those “Psychos” running about. Fortunately the title is hard to take seriously at all, but it still bugs me a bit.

    Kudos to these devs for doing this. For shattering tropes in gaming. For fighting back against negative stereotypes and social stigmas.

  6. Anabasis says:

    I’m a bit puzzled by the direction of this event. While it’s certainly admirable to cast a critical gaze upon horror’s -that laziest of genres- treatment of mental illness, I’ve always seen the whole “asylum trope” as in part a criticism of the medical profession and mental health system’s historical abuses. It is indisputable that Outlast uses characters with fantastical mental illnesses as cheap scares, this takes place in the context of a situation in which people and an institution with a tremendous amount of power systematically abuse individuals who lack any amount of power or control over their lives. This latter aspect definitely resonates with the less than spotless history of the psychiatric profession in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is a profession which classified gay people as mentally ill until the 1970s, and such a discipline should not be beyond criticism. Of course, I could be attributing far more thoughtfulness to the makers of Outlast and similar products. “Asylums are super spooky, guys!!” could be the only thought that goes into these settings.

  7. AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

    I had an interesting idea for a game that would subvert the trope that the main character’s delusions are real and evil modern medicine is keeping them from realizing it, but even if I was confortable with any game-making software I doubt I could realize it in 48 hours. So all of you shall have nothing of it other than this comment. IT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE BEST, THOUGH.