Cry of Fear is a horror themed Half Life 1 total conversion mod that’s available now through Desura. It’s most notable for winning ModDB’s “Upcoming Mod of the Year” award in 2011 and an update is scheduled for early August.
In a recent trailer the developers saw fit to include a character that is graphically (though in laughably low resolution) shown self-harming.
Self Harm isn’t a theme that’s often broached in games; it’s even difficult to summon an example to mind. We can debate the appropriateness of this content forever if we wanted. We could talk about how horror titles serve at their core to include material that we find disturbing and that, by causing any kind of discussion about the matter, developers Team Psykskallar are technically producing a successful product.
What we can’t debate is that by connecting self harm directly to overwhelming psychological instability in such a brazen way this game reinforces misconceptions about self harm that reduce it to only the pastime of the truly mentally ill, potentially causing it to be hidden by those that practice it and leaving the trauma that causes it untreated.
Those dealing with stress that would bring about self harm aren’t necessarily suffering from an inescapable madness. The NHS website notes that it can come about as a reaction to things as manageable as a lack of self esteem. Because of our societal stigma about mental health, victims of self abuse would rather not come forward and be judged. It’s unacceptable to produce this content and be blasé about the contribution that’s made to the discourse about self harm via its existence.
It’s perhaps hyperbole, but as long as we continue to produce material that shames practitioners of self harm, we’re increasing the likelihood of it becoming untreated and fatal.
Lead Developer Andreas “ruMpel” Rönnberg doesn’t seem to share this view. In an interview we conducted he shared that this was a reaction to fan art that had been created which showed the main character, Simon, harming himself. He believed that an appropriate fan-service would be to show it happening within the game. The developers had always considered Simon to be depressed and the character model had always featured scars, so this was a natural extension.
I asked whether he believed the trailer drew a connection between self harm and exceptional mental health issues. He replied: “that’s the point… to show that Simons mental health is extremely broken.”
According to the team’s contact page, the pair of James “Minuit” Marchant and Andreas produce the majority of the project’s work. Andreas also takes it upon himself to manage comments that are produced in related trailers or artwork. A commenter on the recent trailer noted that a certain message that held dissenting opinion was deleted. Andreas has replied, lovingly, with the excuse that it wasn’t due to a complaint but because “[user]‘s always trying to be a faggot”.
In the same post he would go on to suggest that users should “go bitch somewhere else then if you think this is offensive”
In a later addition, ruMpel has stated that:
“I do not care if people find it offensive. I really don’t.
You see, I’m not making the game to lick your ass, I’m doing it because I want to share something unique, and not some shit you’ve already seen.”
I asked Andreas if he respected the argument that self harm isn’t necessarily a marker for the kind of immense psychological distress shown in the game and whether he felt Cry of Fear might add to the stigma. He told me:
I respect people who are doing it, and I understand why they’re doing it. I don’t support it, and I think it’s wrong to do it, but I’m not blaming anyone. I only wanted to build more on Simons personality, that’s all. If people gets offended by it, I don’t care. It’s up to everyone themselves what they feel and like about Cry of Fear. For me, it’s only a deep and dark mod.
If you’re interested in supporting a charity that attempts to help dispel any victimisation toward those with mental health issues, you can try visiting Mind, or for more information on Self Harm try the National Self Harm Network
Andres may consider Cry of Fear to be just a deep and dark mod, but self harm remains an ongoing struggle and a terrible reality that deserves a better representation than seen here.