Challenging harmful stereotypes: Lucy Morris on why she
created Asylum Jam
Following on from my blog entry ‘The Asylum Jam Challenge’ back
in May, I was excited to reach out to the founder of Asylum Jam:
artist and game designer Lucy Morris.
Despite her busy schedule teaching the Bachelor of Creative
Technologies programme at the prestigious Media Design School in
Auckland, New Zealand, Lucy very kindly agreed to an interview so
we could learn a little more about her and the Asylum Jam
Donald: What is the last game you really enjoyed?
Lucy: I actually just finished playing Life is
Strange from start to finish, and absolutely loved it. Not only is
it a finely woven narrative experience, but it also tackles a lot
of 'taboo' issues attributed to growing pains or young adult life
that many games don't touch or consider (i.e. sexuality, drug use,
bullying, depression). ...and of course, all that is aside from
fantastic art and audio direction.
Life is Strange, a critically-acclaimed
adventure game, praised for its coverage of ‘taboo’ subjects.
D: What do you think is the next big thing in
L: I think it would be naive not to recognise
virtual and augmented reality are the next step for games in
general. We're already one of (if not the most) interactive mediums
available, and having that extra layer of immersion in virtual
reality is going to present a lot of great opportunities and
challenges. VR and AR also spell great things for serious games and
wellbeing - the latest fad of Pokémon Go's AR app and how that has
impacted people's attitude towards exercise has already been
discussed widely in media.
D: Are there any games you have seen that come
to mind as being particularly egregious with regards to mental
L: I'm loathe to point fingers at any one title
or studio because treating mental health with respect and
mindfulness is a responsibility that falls across our entire
industry, and no one game, book or movie is singularly to blame -
rather it is the global normalisation of perpetuating harmful
stereotypes. As for games that are particularly egregious, the
worst representations are usually found in the horror genre and
incorporate stereotypes that people who are mentally unwell are
uncontrollably violent, antipathic, sadistic or twisted.
The ‘Moira Asylum’ from Thief 4. The Thief
series has made much use of the abandoned medical asylum trope.
D: Asylum Jam is a fantastic idea, where does
it originate from?
L: Thank you! Asylum Jam came about in 2013
after reading a very well written article by Ian Mahar, a
neuroscience PhD candidate, addressing the state of mental illness
representation in games and the stigma that comes with it. I wanted
to find a constructive, positive way to explore games outside of
these stereotypes, and a game jam - an event intrinsically designed
to end up with an interactive artefact - seemed perfect. The jam
isn't about censorship or the policing of content, but rather
challenging ourselves creatively as developers and in turn, our
industry, to explore games outside of tired and harmful
stereotypes. As I'm originally from New Zealand - a country where
mental health is a particular issue for our society - it seemed
like a natural step to take to try and create some positive
discourse not only around the industry I'm part of but an ongoing
issue in my own local sphere. Working to remove stigma from mental
illness is a cause I'm particularly passionate about as well, as I
have experienced multiple personal losses from it, and feel that we
should be creating a more welcoming, accepting climate with less
D: From previous Jams, what games have you
L: Two of my favourites would have to be One
After Another by Elisha Ramos for Asylum Jam 2014, and Tourist by
Owlcave for Asylum Jam 2015. Two very different games, but creative
interpretations of the horror genre.
One After Another, one of the games produced
for Asylum Jam 2014 by Elisha Ramos.
D: What has the response been like to Asylum
L: Over the years it has run, the response has
been almost entirely positive, which is fantastic. Since 2015, we
started developing a closer relationship with the YouTuber
community as well, since horror games are often popular fodder for
'Let's Play' videos, and that experience was really great. We had
almost 50 YouTubers partner with Asylum Jam in 2015, and we're
hoping to expand that relationship come the next iteration. A lot
of participants are returning year after year to take part as well,
which is heartening. It only seems to be growing bigger, and I
would like to think it is a positive force for change or
D: What other projects are you currently up
L: The majority of my time these days is spent doing the magical
trinity of teaching (preparation, classes and marking) as I'm a
tertiary lecturer in game design - but I do have a few of my own
development projects on the side for when that fabled 'free time'
arises. I also continue to do a lot of community building in my
local and international games industries.
Tourist, a game produced during Asylum Jam 2015
D: Will there be an Asylum Jam 2016?
L: Definitely! Not only does the jam have a
positive message, but it's also become a fun annual event for those
of us who both love developing horror games and challenging
ourselves. We'll be back in 2016, bigger and better than ever.
D: I much appreciate you taking the time to
describe a little bit more about Asylum Jam and I sincerely hope
the next one is even bigger and better, I certainly will be waiting
with bated breath!
You can find out more about Lucy Morris and her broad range of
activities within the game developer community at her website.
Authored by Donald Servant
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