Tuesday, 9 December 2014
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest has a lot to answer for when it comes to popular understanding of the asylum as an institution, and to mental illness as enacted within its walls. Ken Kesey's novel is profoundly political, and surprisingly conservative, in a way that is surprising to a new reader who may only know of it through the force of cultural osmosis. Jack Nicholson's is the face of the confined man who needs freedom and Louise Fletcher's that of the oppressive system that denies it, but the novel underlines these characters with a weight of significance that is present if underexplored in the film.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a misogynist text. It is also filled with essentialist racism, although this is more of-it's-time and passive than the misogyny, which is an active thread. That may not seem at first to have a direct bearing on how it relates to and presents the asylum inmate, but it runs through the representations within. Its misogyny is a key tenet of the counter-culture movement that it espouses and to a certain extent the mad are, within the text, objectified and turned into expositional arguments rather than people - a common experience for any mentally ill person in fiction.
Kesey's argument is derived from Szasz's The Myth of Mental Illness, as well as Goffman's work on institutions. This in and of itself might not be a problem - the two combined tend towards a view that says asylum inmates are structured in society to be asylum inmates by the very fact that they are in an asylum. That moving from the outside to the inside recasts one's life so that it is seen in terms that justify that movement. McMurphy is the avatar of that idea - it becomes immaterial whether or not he is mad before he enters, and his actions, which in other contexts would be seen as sane are considered mad because of and to justify his current location.
But there is more to it than this. Kesey is, very openly, more interested in story than in truth. The narrator states it outright, and the novel continually distorts the lives of its protagonists into a way that fits the martyr narrative even when it doesn't fit their established characterisation. The final act in particular is damning of mental health professionals in a very callous way (by someone who worked in the profession and seems to have to a certain extent projected his own apathy and disgust for the patients onto the rest of the characters), which has an affect on how people view those workers in the real world.
This is where the misogyny comes in as well. Almost every main character is in the asylum due to the actions of a woman. Specifically, it is due to the actions of a woman who is allowed to have power over a man. Kesey's main statement is that mental illness doesn't exist, but that it is a function of a man's relinquishing of power to a woman. Ratched is specifically shown to be the way she is because she isn't married (another, sympathetic female nurse, who is married, makes the observation). Women are objects either of oppression, or of sex, and the good woman, as in the counter-cultural ideology Kesey was espousing, is one who offers sex freely and without contract to the liberated man - allowing him to be himself fully.
So, the asylum becomes sexualised and the madman (and it is a man here) becomes enthralled by rather than a master of sex.
One of the real shames of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is that, where the story allows the inmates to breathe and to be themselves it becomes liberating and incredibly humane. The depersonalisation of institutions is a real and a terrible thing and, for example, the fishing trip is an absolutely exhilarating read as you feel the power of treating objectified individuals as people once again. It's just a shame that Kesey immediately objectifies them once again as they return to the asylum and he forces them into position for the final part of McMurphy's narrative. The truth, as Kesey sees it, even if it didn't happen. The film version, which is the most well-known, smuggles these ideas into the consciousness of the viewers, keeping the structures that were informed by this set of intentions without showing the working.
The asylum, as befits a home for the mad, has always, like the mad, had a life that is not always its own. It is a political and theoretical battleground, an object with which to score points as much as a machine for housing dysfunction. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is like a case study and an exemplar for this tendency. It is not about the mad and their lives, it is about how a place of madness distorts the landscape (politically, mythologically, theoretically, geographically etc.) and allows for vested interests to make for themselves a place of power.
This distortion is in line with representations of asylums across the spectrum. They become places where 'the veil is thin', so to speak, often allowing for demons, or generally malign psychic phenomena, to break through and make a home for themselves. (Demonic power and female power are so closely linked in religious patriarchy as it is.) Sometimes it is the passions of the mad; the explosion of constrained female sexual energy that manifests as poltergeist, the gravetic horror of male sexual depredation drawing interlopers to the cusp of that abyss. Sometimes it is the experimentation of the wardens; making playthings of madness until it becomes an affliction that can be used to punish, rather than an illness that should be cared for.
The asylum often defaults to a place of horror in the popular imagination, even the images from One Flew Over are wrapped into horror tropes when recycled into other media. The very real horrors of institutionalisation, and of the personal experiences that lead to it being an option that makes even any sort of sense for a person, are compounded by media representations. Images and concepts of horror become normalised in the rhetoric of madness so that a complicated, layered image such as this one, which shows a disused hospital room that has been re-purposed into a b-movie set, can be shared as and believed uncritically to represent 'an abandoned mental hospital', despite the truth being more fascinating. A common misconception of what it is to be mad, of what it means to be the kind of person who would belong in an asylum, is that concepts of fiction and reality blend into one another and become indistinguishable. And yet, our concept of the asylum itself is one that has become indistinguishable from the fiction that surrounds it.
The asylum itself becomes, then, a magical space: transforming both those inside and those outside of it; distorting the light that shines through it. The modern psych ward contains within it the Victorian insane asylum. The image is the thing itself; a superimposition illusion, both ladies and vase, duck and rabbit, Bedlam and Broadmoor. The asylum is a place that fascinates us but to which we wish we will never go, which is how it can be all these things at once.
This magical nature is in line with Kesey's use as well, in that the asylum is both itself and a political tool. It is a place where truth can be re-written into Truth, which is to say the fictional concept of what should be rather than the mundane concept of what is. In part two of this essay I will look into that concept further. Into the idea of asylums as magical spaces and the way that they mirror some other types of magical space such as the hotel and the private sanatorium.
This post has been funded by Patreon.
Monday, 3 November 2014
This project has fallen by the wayside recently with various other responsibilities and plans taking precedence, but I don't want to abandon it because I think that there is good work that I can do here. I don't intend to abandon it, but I have set up a Patreon to help fund the costs associated with it (in terms of research materials, books and games that I might not otherwise have played) and to help with pushing it up in my list of priorities. I don't expect people to pledge very much, and I won't be paywalling anything I write but if you did want to show support it would certainly help with getting this blog moving again. More information can be found over at my Patreon page.
Thanks for reading, and let me know any comments you might have about this decision.
Thursday, 12 June 2014
The weirdest thing is how nothing changes. Even when you kill a boss the world just gets emptier. The rush of a major victory, a completed project, is swiftly swallowed by the continuation of life's grinding work and daily battles. Worse, it can never be revisited, either for the joy of a challenge or to test oneself again if the battle is felt to have been unfairly won.
I talked before about how I play role-playing games when depressed to experience the feeling of change; to know that change is both possible and meaningful even in some abstract sense. Dark Souls denies this bodily. There are changes happening within the world as you play - small subplots that play out around you and helpful souls who can be gathered around the Firelink Shrine, but it is thin and these people all seem as tired and despondent as you. They know that their actions too can only destroy, that they exist in a world centred on your own self destructive impulses and that all that they can do is watch and help and leave you to it. Their attempts to do more are what left them hurt, trapped and afraid, lost somewhere in the maze of your psychodrama; their release yours alone to grant them.
I'm on citalopram right now, which means that my lows are of a different quality to those I might have unmedicated. I am also in a low, or have been for the last week or so. Taken together this means that my motivation and concentration is completely shot, but at least I'm not having to deal with self-loathing and intrusive thoughts in any great respect. In this situation a good mechanical grind of a game is exactly what I need which is probably why I've been playing Dark Souls every night this week whilst for the month before it was much more on and off. But it is difficult to tell if the emotional distance of the game is inherent or a product of my medication.
I think that it is inherent to the game. The weirdest thing is how nothing changes. Even as you accrue rare weapons and pick up pre-placed item-drops the world just gets emptier. A corpse you looted reverts from a glowing beacon of promise to a dull reminder that what you got was probably not what you wanted anyway.
|Hollow and hardy.|
I have been playing the game primarily internally. I found myself rereading Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman and will probably reread Robert Rankin's Sprout Mask Replica trilogy too as a supplement to my internal life with the game. I think I look more interesting, more embodied in myself, when I am hollow than when I am human. But there is nothing in the text to support this, beyond the mechanic of struggle. Humanity is a face, a front. It is something that must be maintained against all odds, that can be lost with a single mistake and is ultimately worthless for anything other than material gain. I find it better to embrace hollowness, to be at one with the world and not fight it. To allow my mistakes, the lows which I know that I will always have, to be themselves rather than the thing that destroys my careful house of cards, my constructed 'normal' life, my façade of sanity. "Because the best shield is to accept the pain, Then what can really destroy me?".
|A pretence at being real.|
For all of this, I don't really know anything about myself, or rather my character, in this world. It is strange, pertinent maybe, that I am referring to my character as myself as this is something I usually never do with RPGs. With RPGs I play characters and I make decisions based on what they would do, not me. I started with this in mind whilst on the Dark Souls character select screen but the brutal lack of choice coupled with the continuity of experience implied by the death mechanic has eroded any distance between my own and my character's point of view. We are contiguous in what we see and what we feel. We explore this world together and at the same pace - she is not a distinct being, able to benefit in her final form from my knowledge as a player and my manipulation of her timestream through judicious save states and cancelled futures. Where I fail she fails, and where she picks herself up again I must do the same.
And of course, the weirdest thing is how nothing changes. The same enemies patrol in the same patterns as ever. The joy of a new face, of a different experience is subjugated, it is singular and can be used up and when it is the world just gets emptier. The world gets wider, and one day it will be an experience that is completed, its limit reached in both time and space, but at its core is loss.
In this way, it is like life.
(I would like to point to the article by Line Hollis in issue 1 of the Arcade Review as a brilliant piece of writing that explores some similar themes.)
Monday, 2 June 2014
I am basically using this blog as an excuse to motivate myself to do things that, although I enjoy, are very easy for me to put off doing in the face of the opportunity of staring at a wall and experiencing the existential dread of the nihilation of nothing and feeling really sad about everything. Also making sure that I don't only read Horus Heresy novels whilst eating crisps in front of BBC4 quiz shows.
Having said that, I have still been writing. The Ontological Geek has just posted the first of what should be an ongoing, if irregular, series on the links between tabletop and video games, with a particular focus on Dungeons & Dragons. I'm also working on another exciting piece that I will hopefully be able to talk about more in a few weeks' time.
Friday, 4 April 2014
Although I did mention some of the ideas that follow in my post on the physical aspects of suffering from what are usually classified as (solely) mental illnesses that was a very personal post and so here I want to look at things from a slightly more general position. I'm also going to expand my remit slightly to include emotional and psychological aspects of all stripes, not just madness, because as this is an exploratory post rather than a response to any one game or issue I think it is worth remembering that mental illness is just a subset of mental experience; that it is not a state to be held apart from sanity but that they are both facets of the same human experience.
|I can't find an image credit for this, despite searching,|
so holler if it's yours.
At its best, enacting emotionally charged events through a controller or input device (and this has certainly been made a much easier link to forge with the advent of analogue-as-standard console peripherals) which has become an embodied part of the player-as-player can ensure both player and game are infused with that emotion. The joy I get when executing perfect combos in Bayonetta, or clearing the first level of DKC2 via muscle memory alone is the same embodied joy I got dodging tackles when I used to play rugby as a teen. Similarly, there's a bit near the end of Season 1 of The Walking Dead where you dig a grave, and the game forces you to do it with agonising repetition and through a semi-analogue control scheme it's spent ten hours or so teaching you and it made me feel truly wretched in exactly the way it should have done. The future, for me, is in the integration of these different modes of mastery and control to provide appropriate registers of feeling and engagement throughout a game's passage. The recent Tomb Raider game I think provides a great example of this, with emotionally charged moments given a more analogue input scheme compared to the somewhat more traditional, and hugely enjoyable, nature of the rest of the game.
There are other ways in which games have made the nature and the fact of the controller more apparent to the player. I have not played but have heard repeatedly of the meta-textual nature of Metal Gear Solid games, although they seem to be focusing more on commentating about the fact of the game rather than engaging the player on an emotional level. A standard trope in platform games of a certain vintage is an attack which temporarily reverses the controls, but again this is a challenge to the skills and integration of the player-controller more than it is a rejection of that symbiosis. A couple of the sanity effects in Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem hinge on showing in-game actions being taken without input from the player as a form of horror, but I always found the telegraphed nature of sanity loss as well as the schlocky nature of the effects meant they were never particularly effective.
The idea of loss of control over the game is an interesting one, as it breaks the trust that is intrinsic to the player-controller interface. It also speaks to the fear of madness as a fear of loss of control over one's mind and body, or the rewiring of mechanisms of being that were taken for granted. A game which does things that the player doesn't want would have to work hard to keep the player playing, however. We don't go mad suddenly on the whole, as most popular representations would have you believe, but by degrees and in self-reinforcing feedback loops. If only a game could somehow convince us, by hiding the gauges and the knowledge of the causes of failure and by introducing the slips of control imperceptibly at first, that we were at fault for missing that jump or that combo. Then it might better model the creeping dread, the gradual anxiety and the replacement of healthy habits with maladjusted ones that typifies the experience of losing control to a mental illness. Of course, that game might be indistinguishable from a merely terribly designed and badly tested game; I may have just suggested Big Rigs Racing as the Ur-madness simulator.
This, finally, brings me right back to what could well be considered the least advanced of input methods, yet which I think has the best chance of lying successfully to the player. The keyboard and mouse set up used for playing interactive fiction and point and click adventure games is both simple to learn, in that you need to if you want to use any computer at all, and yet provides scope for a much larger range of interaction. These games are also, as they rely less on realism and more on literary techniques of constrained viewpoints, better able to lie to players about what is and isn't happening. Adam Cadre's 9:05 being a beautiful and short case in point. Cadre's Photopia also highlights the ability of a game like this to effectively play itself at points in order to make emotional and psychological impacts, which is possible mainly because of the turn based nature of interactive fiction - even though you are being guided you don't feel like you are being taken through a cutscene.
Interactive fiction is still a learned form of interface, however, so a lot of the tricks that might work on the input level still require a knowledge of what to expect in the first place. This is mitigated somewhat in games like Jon Ingold's Fail Safe or Introversion's Uplink, which work to highlight the computer they are being played upon (and so simultaneously the person doing the playing) as an object within the game world rather than a portal into it, bringing the game-player interface closer to the surface. This urge can also be seen in the FMV games of the 90s which trace their lineage to graphical adventure games as well as more modern engines like Twine. Twine and the like at least initially borrow from the aesthetic and experience of navigating a web browser which is itself a learned skill so integral to modern work and leisure that many people have, as with me and the SNES, forgotten quite how learned it is.
The question then that was posed by Blogs of the Round Table is one of the future of input schemes. I'm not sure I've covered everything that I could, but I think that the future of using inputs to connect and link players emotionally and psychologically with the games that they play is one in which existing methods are mined for their strengths rather than replaced completely. Where we remember the physical joy of dance mats and plastic guitars and light guns over a promised future of mime and thought control. Where stories are told with the tools that tell them best, not just the newest tools in the box.
Monday, 24 March 2014
|Madness as anything undesirable.|
"... we’re using our headsets to abuse the characters rather than each other. In this case, we’re undertaking missions for Patricia Tannis, whom we hate because her mental instability caused her to betray us in the previous game. She deals out our next task with a typically psychotic comment, and the mission description itself – which doesn’t come from her – reads:
How did an insane introvert with Asperger’s manage to survive in Sanctuary?
My body reacts like I’ve seen a horrible accident too far away to intervene."
Friday, 7 March 2014
Of course, it gets more complicated than that, so I'm going to delineate a little bit my own position and some of the issues around it. But, if you are in any doubt remember that you're talking about people so your default position should be one of respect and compassion. (That goes for all issues of representation and terminology, actually, not just when talking about health issues.)
If you follow me on twitter you may have noticed that in my profile I call myself a 'depressed games blogger', in stark contravention of my advice above. This is partly because it's my space and I can do what I want within it. Part of what I use my twitter account for is to talk about my depression and my games blogging about being depressed so it is a relevant introduction to what you might find in my feed. Bios like that are always invented personalities, highlighting what the (auto)biographer considers relevant and informing the reader as to the implied author for a given body of work. The definition-first convention that has appeared in many social media profiles is also, I think, part of that process of negotiating the constructed nature of people's online personalities. This is not to say that these constructs are false or artificial either, just that they are in effect an edited highlights package for a particular (implied) audience. By bullet-pointing self-definitions you can unobtrusively set out what sort of person you intend to be within a given online space, in lieu of the visual and social cues that might be available to you in an offline space.
There are for example a number of other mini-bios for myself floating around out there and in the majority of those I don't mention depression because it isn't relevant to what I use those spaces to talk about. Which leads into another important point about self-definition in distributed and discrete spaces; just because you see someone use a term (or allow a term to be used) to describe themselves in one context it doesn't automatically make the term relevant in all contexts.
Mental Health terminology should not be used pejoratively. That really ought to go without saying, but unfortunately it still needs repeating. Terms like 'psycho' and 'schizo' are stigmatising and inaccurate, while even the correct terms, for example schizophrenic, need to be handled with care. This is especially important considering the tendency for people to use those terms within a moral framework; i.e. when discussing criminality and evil or unpleasant acts. Having a mental illness is not a reliable explanation for these acts and as such mental illness diagnoses should not be used as synonyms for them. Similarly, saying someone did something that you dislike because they are 'insane' is damaging because it suggests that the insane are inherently dislikable, whilst simultaneously normalising your own preferences under the banner of 'sanity'.
On the other hand, I'm not sure I agree with the (extreme) position in mental health advocacy and discourse that would like to excise words like 'mad' and 'crazy' from the language completely. That should be at least partly clear from the title of this blog, as well as from the way I talk about those concepts. There are two main reasons for my view on this. The first is that I think the concept of, especially, madness is one that goes beyond the concept of mental health and that to lose it would be to inescapably fall into the diagnostic trap I have talked about elsewhere in this blog. It's not that the diagnosis and categorisation of mental states is a bad way of talking about these concepts, on the contrary, it is just that it should not be the only way. The second reason is more personal, in that I like the explanatory power of the terms; I am sometimes crazy, and I have had days that, objectively, have felt insane.
There is a fine line between stigma and description here, but I think that in this particular case it is a place for negotiation rather than proscription, but I cannot speak for everyone.Recently, Zoya Street asked the following question on twitter:
Is "sociopath" an ableist slur?I think that the responses that he got are instructive and it is worth clicking through to the tweet to see the entire discussion. You can see as well how my gut response changed as the nature of the context in which the word was being used came out. I also think that the term sociopath, similar to the term psychopath which I discussed in a previous post, is a slightly different case to the diagnostic labels I mentioned a few paragraphs ago anyway. As I understand it it is, even more so than most psychiatric labels, a cultural construction for talking about certain types of behaviour and is less likely to be used in a clinical setting than popular culture would have you believe. I still don't think it's healthy to label someone a sociopath just because you don't agree with them or they don't care about you, but it can be useful when you need to talk about emotional response, and there remains a useful fictive power in the idea.
— Zoyə Street (@rupazero) December 10, 2013
Given that this is my position, I'm not always going to get things right, although I do think carefully about my usage of various terms in my writing. As this is a space where I write both descriptively and polemically I sometimes use constructions that cut close to the bone for emotional or political effect rather than comfort. Provided that the space is one where that sort of use can be reasonably expected, and the clear intent is to challenge rather than uphold stigmatising or offensive power structures then I would argue that this kind of use is legitimate. Again, however, it should not be considered a licence to throw around insults in any given situation or to describe real people in ways that they would not want to be described.
Except, in a blog that deals with fictions and artworks a lot of the time we are not going to be discussing real people, and that again changes the outlook somewhat. For a creator of fictional people the advice remains the same: they should be a person before they are a diagnosis. But when dealing with pre-existing characters, although you may try your best to view them as a person, sometimes they are clearly written only as a diagnosis. In this case, especially if you are focusing on the textual aspects of the character then you may find that you have no choice but to engage with them as the diagnosis. This is, in my opinion, fine as long as you remain aware that you are dealing with a fictional character and that if they are written that one-dimensionally then what they might be able to tell you about real people with the same condition is almost certainly very limited. And if you love that character and want them to be more than they are then my advice: kill that author, get metatextual and start writing fanfiction, even if it's just in your head.
Sunday, 19 January 2014
I have an essay in the latest issue of gaming and history e-zine Memory Insufficient. This month's theme is the history of ecology in games and there are two other essays, both really strong and interesting pieces, alongside mine which look at the flaws in the concept of natural balance and at visions of post-apocalyptic futures and how they relate to climate disaster. I've written a quite post-modern piece about the Gaia hypothesis (sort of), which is in a very different register to most of what I write for this blog. If you have an interest in games and like how I write then hopefully you will also like that piece so please do check it out.
On the other hand, if you read my piece in Memory Insufficient and ended up here via the bio then hello, nice to see you, and please note that this blog is nowhere near as post-modern or structurally complex as that essay. You can find out more in the links above, but the short version is that I write about representations of mental health issues in gaming and talk about my own experiences of depression and how they relate to my experiences playing games. I did write a somewhat post-modern blog for a while called Things I Failed to Do which is generally quite bad but has a few nice entries in it.
Also, if you like post-modern, heavily structurally significant essays on pop culture though I would recommend reading Philip Sandifer's blog, or for specifically game related work his long-abandoned Nintendo Project. Sandifer has definitely been an influence for me; not only do I really enjoy his writing I am indebted to it for demonstrating how to do the encoding-meaning-in-structure technique well and for generally getting me keyed in to the idea of blogging to a structure as a way of keeping writing as I was coming to the natural end of my small press comics phase.
Friday, 17 January 2014
It did get me to thinking about doing a similar exercise with games, although I have neither the time, resources nor the expertise to do a review of that scope. Again, as with most media, games have a real problem of labelling individuals as psychopathic when they actually aren't and so a great many members of our subject pool would be automatically disqualified. Even then there should be enough to make a survey, although I imagine that they would come mainly from the less-narratively heavy end of the spectrum than most people would expect.
Psychopathy is a funny old disorder in that it is beloved of melodrama and yet the more lurid the invocation the less likely it is to be accurate. Writers like the concept as an explanation for evil acts and yet by definition it has no moralistic explanatory power. In some ways it's fine if you want a villain to commit random violent acts to establish them as a psychopath (although it isn't really) as in many ways the term psychopath is one we use to get an intellectual handle on people who commit random violent acts (although this has been expanded). The problem arises when that label becomes established as a synonym for a certain kind of villain and then writers seeking greater sophistication but lacking the psychological awareness attempt to get into the mind of the character. I am absolutely all for better-rounded villains, but essentially as you provide (emotional) motivation you degrade the integrity of your original diagnosis: as one of the key aspects of psychopathy is invulnerability you cannot retain the right to call your villain a psychopath even as you make them vulnerable.
I'm talking a lot about villains here, but I'm doing so because Leistedt and Linkowski do so too. It is almost a given in their paper that it is always the villains who display psychopathic behaviour. Partly I think this is to do with the general sense in which psychopathy has become a moralistic concept; its essential amorality being consistently read as immorality, and partly it is as they say that psychopathy lends villains danger and intrigue. I also think it is a function of genre expectations, in that when for instance an action film protagonist acts in ways that might in other contexts be considered as psychopathic we don't consider it to be so because they are acting in-genre and we recognise that and so parse their behaviour accordingly. In many of his films James Bond is almost certainly a psychopath, for example, and although this is sometimes made explicit and sometime lampshaded it is usually excused in a way that the psychopathy of the villains he meets is not. Meanwhile numerous films and heroes are based on the Bond model without even that complexity and with the assumption instead that their heroes are just acting heroically.
What does this mean for video games though? It would be easy to shrug and to say that a great many video game protagonists are psychopathic and that by extension they engage players in episodes of psychopathy; and a great many people do say this. It’s all there: the violence, the lack of empathy, the erratic and impulsive behaviour and the emotional invulnerability; I never once saw Mario shed a tear over the first goomba let alone the thousandth. These particular extracts from Liestedt and Linkowski particularly struck a cord with me, especially if you consider the perfect no-deaths playthrough of any particular game to be the canonical version of the events depicted.
"In these slasher films, psychopathic characters are generally unrealistic, accumulating many traits and characteristics, such as sadism, intelligence, and the ability to predict the plan that the future victims will use to escape."
"Psychopaths in films generally possess a number of standard characteristics that are not necessarily as common among real-life psychopaths, ... The traditional “Hollywood psychopath,” generally found before 2000, is likely to exhibit some or all of the following traits ... (ii) a somewhat vain, stylish, almost “cat-like” demeanor; ... (iv) a calm, calculating and always-in-control attitude; and (v) unrealistic, exceptional skill at killing people, especially with blades or household objects (sometimes overpowering multiple assailants with superior armament). These traits, especially in combination, are generally not present in real psychopaths."
So yes, we could say that video games make us inhabit the lives and minds of psychopaths and blunt our capacity to feel in the process but I think that that would be both grossly unfair, to players, game characters and psychopaths alike. the key sentence in those extracts is the last. As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago this is more a question of genre; these characters are not psychopaths within the rules of the world that they live in. To say 'why aren't video game characters more like real humans?' is to miss the point that they fundamentally aren't real humans but are artistic representations of humans instead. The reason I don't feel it as jarringly out of character for Lara Croft to kill hundreds of grunts but feel sad about her dead mate is the same reason I don't feel it is jarringly out of character for Arnie to kill hundreds of grunts in Commando but feel sad about his dead mate. The art, unless you're in a movement like Dogme 95 where verisimilitude is paramount, is in negotiating between abstractions and representations to create something that feels true rather than merely is true. And sometimes that involves building a jigsaw puzzle of different registers and genre tropes to create a bigger and more vibrant picture that maybe has to gloss over some of the details.
The other problem I have with that analysis is that it is particularly teenage in it’s level of insight, especially as it usually comes alongside an assumption that most players are passive consumers in this situation allowing their minds to be dangerously warped by desensitising media. I say teenage because it's sort of this idea that you are the only one who can see the truth and who was affected a certain way by a certain piece of work. It ignores the internal life of others who may not have the inclination or the vocabulary to express themselves, assuming that if feelings or responses are not being talked about then they must not exist.
Video games are getting technically more competent and so are looking at broadening the emotional register of their characters in-game, but to assume that that is happening in parallel with a broadening of emotional register in players is demonstrably false because human emotional evolution is not tied to graphical processing capabilities; I was having emotional responses to games, and questioning the thoughtlessly violent nature of their protagonists, 20 years ago and I am no-one special. I don't mean to say that there aren't plenty of people wilfully missing the point or interacting with a given work purely on the surface level at any given time, myself included. But, my default position is to assume that the way any given person feels about a work of art is much more complicated than the way that they talk about it.
Psychology and in particular anthropology have historically suffered from a version of this fallacy which has left a legacy of popular belief in the emotional simplicity of both sub-cultures within and external cultures to the western education system from which they draw their explanatory framework. Which actually, neatly, brings us full circle to the initial problem with labelling people psychopaths: which is that it can easily fall prey to the same instinct to ignore internal lives and pathologise solely on the basis of external actions. Which is not to say that the concept of the psychopath is without use or validity, but that it's usage in media is certainly fraught with problems.
Liestedt and Linkowski (2013) Psychopathy and the Cinema: Fact or Fiction? Link