Let's Talk About Self-Harm in Video Games
Violent entertainment is nothing new to humankind, but depictions of self-harm in video games can be especially shocking—even more so, perhaps, if you struggle with self-harm yourself.
Should Video Games Depict Self-Harm at All?
The obvious first question for many folks is simply why. Why include self-harm in video games—or any of our entertainment media?
First, let's acknowledge the obvious. Not all video games, or developers, take enough care with the sensitive topics they cover. Some include self-injury for the same reasons they include over-the-top violence or other mature content—for the shock value. Such cases are distasteful—and worse, often perpetuate worn-out stereotypes and stigmas. Sometimes it's malicious, sometimes it's not; I think many cases are simply a result of inadequate research and a lack of personal experience.
But video games can also be a powerful means of sparking empathy—they allow us to walk in other people's shoes in a way no other medium can. They allow us to safely experience things that would otherwise be dangerous or overwhelming. They allow us to practice coping with things that we might not be able to face yet in real-life.
So no, I wouldn't want to see a simulator game for self-harm, or anything else that might romanticize self-injury. But I could definitely see a place in the world for, say, a game that helps players learn the difference between helpful and harmful responses to a loved one's self-injury. And even in games that aren't explicitly educational, I think there's a place for exploring stories that involve self-harm—provided the topic is handled with the care and respect necessary to portray it responsibly. The emotional depth with which such stories can be told in video games can be a real asset—in the right hands.
Being Triggered by Video Games with Self-Harm
For me, it's been a long time since I hurt myself. Even so, while I'm not likely to relapse from seeing a depiction of self-harm, it's not an easy thing for me to watch, either. (In fact, it's still not easy to write about it either, even after all this practice.)
No matter where you are in your recovery journey, it's natural and completely understandable to feel triggered by images, sounds, or videos related to self-harm. If this is the case, the most important thing you can do for yourself is to keep an eye out for relevant trigger warnings, especially for games with a "Mature" content rating.
If, in spite of your vigilance, you accidentally come across a triggering scene in a game anyway, do yourself a favor: quit. It's a game. You don't have to keep playing if you don't want to—more importantly, you shouldn't keep playing if it's going to be detrimental to your mental health. Take a break, at the very least, and implement some good self-care as soon as possible to mitigate the effects of the trigger. Try:
- Venting your feelings through artistic expression, such as journaling or art therapy
- Calling a friend, family member, or therapist to talk through your feelings
- Breathing exercises, meditation, or urge surfing techniques to calm down and regulate your emotions
If this game had no warning about this content whatsoever, consider contacting the developer (once you're in a better mental state) and asking them to please include one in future releases.
Dear Developers: If Your Video Game Has Self-Harm...
If you, or someone you know, is working on making a video game with self-harm in it (or any fiction medium, really), please take some time to consider how this delicate mental health topic is being depicted.
- Does this depiction make self-harm seem like an effective coping mechanism?
- What purpose am I serving by including self-harm in this narrative?
- Does this depiction in any way romanticize self-harm or people who self-injure?
- Does this depiction in any way minimize self-harm or belittle people who self-injure?
- Have I done sufficient research to depict this moment authentically and respectfully?
- Have I included a thorough list of content or trigger warnings somewhere that is easily accessible to players?
Asking questions like these before releasing a game can make all the difference to players who may be sensitive to certain content. Speaking from experience—there are certain things I would much rather be aware of in advance of playing a game, spoilers or no spoilers.
Kim Berkley (2022, June 23). Let's Talk About Self-Harm in Video Games, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, July 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/speakingoutaboutselfinjury/2022/6/lets-talk-about-self-harm-in-video-games