The latter game's developer, Red Barrels, declined to contribute to this article, but I did find this archived BeefJack article, by Jamie Donnelly (no relation) also from 2013, interesting. When quizzed about its decision to stage its then upcoming game in its Mount Massive Asylum setting, the developer appears to send mixed signals. Donnelly questions the distinction between the well-documented horror of archaic practices—Outlast, for one, is inspired by the MKUltra project—and the residents themselves, to which Red Barrels suggests: "We fear what we don't understand and asylums are full of people with disturbing behaviors."The developer then adds: "By saying our asylum is for the criminally insane, I think players will understand they'll be dealing first and foremost with criminals who have psychiatric disorders. It's because they're criminals they should be feared. And by making a connection between our story and the MKUltra project, we hope to make more people aware of the terrible things some patients had to endure."As Donnelly rightly points out, these statements are at odds with one another and in my view epitomize the confused message the horror genre too often sends. Having played Outlast since, the setting coupled with its volatile patients does nothing to alleviate the false stereotype that mental illness is something to be feared. Of course Outlast isn't alone: there's an unfortunately illustrious portfolio of asylum-set horror games, and even the ones which elicit deeper meaning, like Silent Hill 2, are centered around violence.
"There's an unfortunately illustrious portfolio of asylum-set horror games."
"It's easy to make games about happy people, or people who've failed for some reason but now return to greatness, you know?" says Deck13's Michael Hoss—said German company is currently working on The Surge, and are the publishers for The Shattering. "Doing something that requires they think outside of the box - doing something new is quite tricky. Why not talk about taboos? Because that's what they are, in the end, even in society nowadays."
"Horror video games can exist without reverting to lazy stereotypes; but likewise, the horror genre can still acknowledge mental illness without falling for careless tropes."