Self Harm and Cry of Fear

Posted by Mat on 26th July, 2012
I did worry about including a trigger warning but my instinct was that if you're reading an article with Self Harm in the title it's likely already a little late for that. I'm not sure if that's cool. Is it?

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.

20 Responses to “Self Harm and Cry of Fear”

  1. Seb Marsh says:

    Tell me, my good sir. What exactly do you want the developers or anyone who is involved with this custom campaign to do? Remove it? Censor it? I don’t think you quite understand Cry of Fear and it’s community. I’m pretty sure while ruMpel and Munit were developing Cry of Fear early on, they wanted to make something different and truly shocking. Judging by your immense overreaction, that served it’s purpose.

    I harm myself. I suffer from depression, I have frequent nightmares and often have suicidal thoughts. I’m a disturbed human being and I even made a map for the add-on campaign the trailer is for, knowing the content that was going to be in there. It’s people like you that stop games from evolving, when someone goes the extra mile to make something different, you freak out.

    Let me tell you something, your little rant on the ModDB page meant nothing to anyone. This blog means nothing to anyone. You being offended is absolutely meaningless. I mean I know self-harm is serious, I don’t support it, I even regret doing it myself, but honestly? This is a mod, who the gently caress gives a poopie? Man the gently caress up. If you don’t like it, just ignore it, don’t start up this kind of poopie.

    • Joshwang says:

      “If you don’t like it, just ignore it” is a terrible attitude to have. If you don’t like something you should work to change it.

      I think the problem is with the trailer using the self harm as a cheap shock tactic. If it’s fully contextualised in the game, that’s fine, but it isn’t in the trailer. There is also something to be said for Andreas’ reaction to criticism. “Go bitch somewhere else” and “always being a cuddlebug” are hardly inviting any discourse on the matter (not to mention the hateful language used). By not inviting that discourse and brushing aside criticism, Andreas is failing to provide context for the self harm and the reasons for its inclusion. If I was in his position, I would be fascinated to know why it might offend some people. “Offense” could mean anything, from mildly annoying someone all the way through to triggering a mental health issue in an individual. Authors of any kind of content have the responsibility to ensure their content does not harm people, and if that isn’t being taken into consideration, it’s extremely worrying.

      • FiskOfTheNorthernStar says:

        “Authors of any kind of content have the responsibility to ensure their content does not harm people, and if that isn’t being taken into consideration, it’s extremely worrying.”

        Well, they should have just made a glove puppet show. With flowers and candy! But then people’s dental hygene would be at stake…

  2. Seb Marsh says:

    And not only that, there was no gently caressing interview. Just your petty little comment rage.

  3. Alex Davis says:

    Look your just a stupid idiot who doesn’t know what’s good or bad. I strongly agree with seb’s comments and I even went through depression, thought of cutting myself and even made a map for the campaign the trailer was made for (but it got kicked out). But never mind that, all I want if for you to realise that this “interview” you had with ruMpel never happened, it was you raging about a perfectly good trailer with you focused on the self harm scene at the beginning. That is all I have to say. And don’t you gently caressing twist my words in something I would never say.

  4. Peter Moorhead says:

    Mat wasn’t the one arguing on the trailer you gently caresswits, I was.

  5. Satoru says:

    “you gently caresswits”
    Ho’ shhhhiiiiieeeeeetttt, someone gets furious.

  6. Martin Viidik says:

    Cry of fear is really gruesome at times, heads blown off, tortured man being decapitated with garden sheers, smashing someones face into wall so much that it bursts and a lot of themes to pedophilia.. But brief mention of self harming in a cut scene of a custom campaign what is optional.

    Simon is cutting himself because of his severe case of depression, which is the usual symptom for self harming.

    gently caresss sake.

  7. James says:

    Please correct the following sentence:

    “Andreas appears to produce the majority of the project’s work.”

    As naturally it’s extremely frustrating for me, the other lead developer, who put the same amount of time, effort, years and work into it that he did. However, my main point is that the conclusion you’ve come to regarding self-harm is a bit of an odd one, although I suppose that’s par for the course in journalism. I would say though that to an average reader (although I must admit, I’m not an average reader in that I know the facts, although I appreciate that without much information you’re going to have to make some assumptions if you write a piece like this) this article may seem a little strange.

    From what I can gather, one of your main points seems to be:

    Character is extremely mentally unstable. Character self-harms. Ergo, the message is that only the severely mentally unstable self-harm (see paragraph 4).

    I wouldn’t argue that CoF brings up important issues in a more poignant way that better written, better funded and overall better produced games or mods have, but I can at least say with complete confidence that the mod does not glorify or belittle self-harm.

    I’ve been on vacation back in my homeland for 2 weeks and haven’t spoken to any on the team in that team so I may have missed this interview you mentioned. Can you link it please?


    • Mat says:

      I’ll update the post. I respect that it’s more insulting than I intended. I meant only to say that he was top billed and had the most specific work credited to him, not to belittle your contribution.

      The interview consisted of a series of PMs through ModDB, I can’t link directly to them. Your partner should be able to show them to you or if you’d like I can send screencaps to you in the morning. Do you have an email I can forward them to?

  8. Humble says:

    Sorry, but I’ve seen games with references to pedophilia and there have been games with references to self harm and even rape before. Honestly… cool your tits. It’s fiction. Not real. And it’s certainly not going to brainwash a player into suddenly cutting themselves. If you’re going to censor a psychologigal horror game for having disturbing content, you should censor My Little Pony for having refrences to witchcraft, or even Spongebob Square Pants for possibly being gay.

  9. anonymous says:

    ugh… im a member of the cof community, but my biggest gripe with it is that they have no ability to take criticism. any type of criticism given on the forums just gets replied to with the communal hivemind called the person a nerd and telling them to get out since it’s not their game. the comments left plenty of room for discourse and correction of any misconception, but instead it became a flame war with the critiques buried, of course.

  10. Kael says:

    All I’m going to say is play the mod first before you make accusations about it.
    Yes it’s dark and depressing and the self-harming in the trailer is a bit questionable but it does show how mentally damaged the character is. It’s only suppose to serve that purpose, it’s not suppose to make cutting yourself fun or any of that bullpoopie but it’s just to represent how damaged this character is.

  11. hogsy says:

    Taking in the fact that Rumpel went as far as uploading images of his own self-harm using a very similar method to Simon’s is what really makes it all the more disgusting to me. It’s like he feels the need to gain pity from people for what he’s doing. He had such bad comments about the photo then took it down, then he uploads a shot of Simon doing the same thing and surprise people were posting comments about it, and then he does it again completely ignoring what everyone said about it. His character Simon seems to mirror Rumpel way too much and his mod isn’t just “a mod” but seems to be based around Rumpel’s own “pain”… Which just makes it rather disgusting to think about really for me personally.
    He also seems so ignorant to what everyone has to say about it and seems to only wish to hear the positives about everything (which is not a practice developers should follow).

    • anonymous says:

      It seems he’s one of these types to takes any criticism of his work as a personal insult, and unfortunately for the guys who made the criticism, he took it upon himself to make his backlash personal.

      Really we should have more pity than hatred for the guy, he’s clearly not even close to balanced psychologically.

  12. Well. It’s obvious that the whole post makes no sense at all. First of all, you are taking advantage of the popularity of the mod to get views, which is a detestable strategy, the mod is about a disturbed and depressed mind, Self harm if often used by people dealing with those issues. What kind of representation you would like to see? The plot of the game is not self harm, why don’t you also talk about how much Grand Theft Auto endorses homicides? our about nudity in The Witcher 2? You see?, what you’re doing is nothing but to get attention of something that is irreal. A game is a game, reality is reality. gently caress Off.

    • hogsy says:

      Do not bother comparing Grand Theft Auto to something like this its tone was entirely different compared to this. And nudity is a completely different subject altogether which I personally see no issue with as it’s part of life…

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