This entry is going to remove some of the obscurity behind the entity known as Andras the Obscure. I’m sharing this because well, for one, it’s been on my mind a lot recently, and for another, I feel that, potentially, someone may benefit from knowing that they aren’t the only ones out there going through such an experience.
One of the most substantial challenges that I face in my life is dealing with my mental health. Mental health has always been a taboo subject, and in general a lot of pre-determined opinions about mental health have been negative, both in my family and community, much less the nation. As such, a lot of bad decisions, rash actions, and abused substances have led to a horrid spiral of real suffering over the decades for many people as a result.
I’ve had a lot of struggles with my mental health, and retrospection has allowed me to understand that now. The underlying constant anxiety and depression that I’ve had with me all of my life fed into my anger management issues (because, as a male, it’s socially expected to express negative emotions on the canvas of life through the limited palette of anger alone). A fair number of my regrets in life stem from my poorly-handled anger at life’s whims, leading to a whole lot of angst, self-hatred, and some bouts of self-harm. A fair number of my experiences have personally verified Yoda’s teachings that fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and that hate leads to suffering and the Dark Side. As much as I wanted to be Luke Skywalker as a kid, I’ve realized now that I’ve always been Anakin Skywalker, for what that means.
And to be honest, the fact that I’m here now doesn’t mean that I’ve reached the end of my journey and stumbled across the “lived happily ever after” endgame. I’m still struggling with many of these issues, though therapy and medication are now present to help me tackle my mental health just as medication and exercise help me with my physical health. I know that this is a chronic illness, and I’ve accepted that.
Oddly enough, gaming has both helped me and hindered me in dealing with my mental health. Now I’m not making some damn foolish claim that I couldn’t separate fantasy from reality like a character from that slanderous Mazes and Monsters work. Rather, my limited social skills and anxiety was exacerbated by dealing with the regular drama that is human beings, from having to deal with cliques forming within a group of friends to still feeling ostracized despite having friends, to even having anger management issues because of ego clashes with others. Ultimately, I’d say all of that stress and drama wasn’t worth it, and that I should’ve not let it get to me as much as I did.
I’m bringing all of this up because madness is an element that isn’t really addressed well in many sorts of media, gaming included. Mental health issues have often been treated as a sort of failing of character for an individual, even though others who make that assessment most likely are themselves enduring or coping with mental health issues themselves. In the past, the general spectrum of mental health goes from toughing it out to committal into an institution, with maybe on occasion the overindulgence of substances being recognized as a sort of coping midway point. Anger management issues like mine have been compared to berserker rages, especially by myself. To be fair, the depiction in games mirrored the viewpoint held in life, as flawed and harmful as it is.
For the most part, the gaming industry has recognized the reinforcement of stigmas in its products, and has worked to step away from that in some form or fashion. One of the challenging elements to deal with is “supernatural madness” as often noted in the works dealing with the Cthulhu mythos and similar concepts. In that sense, it’s refined itself as being a sort of biological “divide by zero” conundrum for our minds, crashing all of our systems. Or, in some instances, our awareness and senses are now made aware of this long-present and dreadful element that was invisible to us before now, and still remains invisible to many others. The behavior that the majority witnesses from the now-aware individual may be interpreted as “madness.” It’s like an individual suddenly gaining the ability to see the entire spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, and watching them avoid areas heavy with ionizing radiation that, to our limited senses, seem perfectly fine.
Our media, including our entertainment, reflects the zeitgeist of those creators and audiences. What was acceptable fare in 1920 may not be acceptable, or could even be deemed offensive or myopic, in 2020. This is just as true regarding role-playing games. We’ve had almost fifty years of role-playing games in the spirit of Dungeons & Dragons, and what was made reflects the views and tastes of the times.
I’m objectively talking about the concept of “madness,” and not a clash of viewpoints and beliefs that lead people to label others as “mad.” The real challenge to including it in a game is to depict it but not stigmatize the suffering individual(s) afflicted with it. Furthermore, another key challenge is to distinguish it from real world mental illnesses, especially if there’s a plot point where the afflicted can be permanently “cured” of the affliction. In these circumstances, avoiding disease-based terminology and using curse-based terminology may be better, because the condition can be corrected or eliminated, while mental illness can be treated, though it may still be with the individual(s) for life.
Totally copying behaviors and symptoms of real life mental illnesses wouldn’t be wise for a supernatural affliction of the mind. Also, things like mood swings and the like shouldn’t be reduced by attitudes or comments: as someone near and dear once told me, it’s like equating a single skipped lunch to famine-induced starvation. There is a choice and opportunity to have this supernatural madness manifest in new, different ways. It could be a new form of phobia, especially of something that isn’t encountered in this world. It could be a fear of fear itself, literally. Or perhaps the afflicted individual may obsess about obsession. An instance where a particular element is intensively mirrored by the cursed individual.
Then again, what if some elements typically associated with mental health conditions are actually coming from an exterior source? Perhaps an individual is malignly charmed to sense an illusory reality, and that individual alone. Their actions and behavior to outside observers would be “mad.” Then again, classic elements such as “hearing voices” could actually be spirits, fiends, or actual literal monsters covertly communicating with the individual only. In a fantastic fictional setting, this is all too possible. And even in a moden-day setting like sci-fi or superpowers, there are paranormal abilities that can.
Simply put, there’s ways to avoid perpetuating the stigma of mental illness in game, as well as in other media. The goal is to not denigrate real-world people and real-world experiences. It’s bad enough to have to deal with all of this in some form or fashion in reality, so there’s no reason to include it in our entertainment.