Videogames and Mental Health MLA Convention 2014

full name / name of organization: 
Toby Smethurst
contact email: 

Videogames and Mental Health

15-minute presentations are invited for a special session at the Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention, Chicago IL., 9-12 January 2014.

The last decade has seen the release of a number of "serious" videogames which attempt to explore issues related to mental health. Games about trauma (Trauma, Spec Ops: The Line), depression (Actual Sunlight, Depression Quest, Inner Vision), Tourette's Syndrome (Tourette's Quest), madness (Lone Survivor, Silent Hill), and mourning or melancholia (Dear Esther, Braid) have become increasingly visible as games continue to grow into a complex, diverse, and influential medium. Approaches to issues of mental health and games have tended to focus either on the perils of game addiction and the deleterious effects of playing violent videogames, or on games as a therapeutic tool for the mentally ill. Few attempts have been made to analyze how games represent mental illness through the complex interplay of game mechanics and narrative strategies, or to understand what the ethical and rhetorical consequences of such representations might be for the player. The goal of this panel is to explore this topic by bringing games and game studies into dialogue with ideas drawn from disciplines such as trauma studies, literary studies, film studies, and cultural theory, all of which have developed a variety of ways of examining issues of mental health in narrative texts.

Papers are sought which address representations of mental health in videogames from one or more of the following perspectives:
 How can videogames convey the experience of mental illness to the player through a combination of game mechanics and narrative?
 What are the rhetorical and ethical consequences of playing as a character with mental health issues? How do we relate to such characters?
 How might games explore mental health issues in ways which differ from more "traditional" narrative forms such as films, novels, biographies, etc.?
 How do interactivity and immersion in the game world affect the way mental health issues are portrayed?
 What can games teach us about how it feels to be mentally ill, and how do they achieve this?

Please send a one-page proposal and a brief CV to Toby Smethurst ( by 20 March 2013.

This session has not yet been approved for the convention. An organized session proposal will be submitted to the MLA Program Committee by 1 April 2013. Further information on the MLA's policies and procedures is available at Please note that panellists must be members of the MLA by 7 April 2013.