Videogames often get a bad reputation for glorifying war and using it as a sort of exploitation. Often they are criticized for brushing aside the horrors of war and battle for the sense that fighting is “awesome”, much like a Hollywood film. An argument could be raised that most gamers don’t care about such things in games, or that they don’t want to see it. Despite this general feeling, a few companies have been trying to show the bad side of conflict into their games. These messages include the fact that war is not all about shooting faceless bad guys, and that we should change the way we look at it, but sadly this is lost sometimes. A clear cut case of a situation such as this occurred a few weeks ago, as an anticipated Wii game called Metroid: Other M hit the store shelves.
Before the game actually hit, videos of the game’s cut-scenes began to scatter to the net much to the dismay of some gamers. Samus Aran, the games heroic female lead, was seen to be given a lot more emotion and personality than ever before in a Metroid game. Problem was, Samus has issues apparently, and this angered some fans. The main offender was a scene in which Samus is seen to become weak and unresponsive in the face of her biggest enemy, a huge creature named Ridley. I was shocked to see some of the responses that the video had garnered on Youtube, such as these:
(I have censored the curse words, but left the bad punctuation intact)
“Is it bad to have an emotional s*** who beat the living hell out ofï»¿ this thing 100s of other times, but breaks down crying this time? Yes. Very bad. They took some strong bad ass character and made them into a wimpy emotional s***. “
“[Samus is] a hardened professional bounty hunter, someone who's been portrayed as a strong, fierce woman, who's been on countless missions prior, faced much more frightening enemies, and has fought, killed and seen Ridley resurrected multiple times before this suddenly has a mental breakdown a cries in fear at the sight of an enemy she's killed so many times prior to this? F***, you're right, it's just common sense. “
This attitude has been a common vibe for the past few weeks, as many felt that the game deviated from the established characterization given to Samus. Some even went as far as to call the game sexist, as Samus was shown in a “weak way.” The problem is that in the context of the game, the developers are trying very hard to imply that Samus suffers from some variation of an anxiety disorder, such as PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is one of the many things that folks do not like talking about when it comes to warfare, which is a shame. During the Vietnam War the United States Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that 830,000 Vietnam War veterans suffered symptoms of PTSD.
This is not the first time there has been talk of PTSD in the Metroid series, as one of the canonized mangas (Japanese comic books) written to flesh out the story leading up to the first game showed a similar occurrence:
I was under the impression that the aforementioned scene and the comic pretty much solidified her status as coping with the disorder, but the negative talk online got me thinking about it. My thoughts are that folks do not understand such a disorder, and were saying things like that due to ignorance of the situation instead of sheer malice. PTSD is one of those sensitive areas many do not want to talk about, so it can be understandable.
The problem is, it was hard for ME to have an opinion on the matter because I do not suffer from a similar disorder nor do I have a close friend or immediate family member that does. My main question was, “Is Samus’s behavior in the game a true depiction of what PTSD can do to someone, or was the development team going for another angle?" I set out to actually interview some folks that know what it’s like to be in situations like this, and get their opinions. I was able to round up a war veteran coping with PTSD, as well as a mental wellness professional. Here is what they had to say:
The Interviewees are:
Darian Koehne – Former Army (rank withheld), suffers from PTSD
John M. Grohol, PsyD., founder and CEO of Psych Central.com
Q: My questions today are about PTSD, what are your experiences with the disorder?
Koehne: I suffer with the disorder on a daily basis due to the fact that I am a combat vet the served in the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I can’t even play games that depict the wars anymore. It’s too real and I find myself dazing off while really into the game. I have the same kinds of flashbacks because some the games are so real...and I know I am of sound mind, but I wake up and do security checks in the middle of night about 3 times a night. I sleep in patterns of a couple hours at a time…I really did have to watch my 6 everywhere I went.... and it’s true when you see the death like that... it sticks with you and the smallest things set off some strong emotions... and the ones closest to us vets are the ones who can tell you even more....
Dr. Grohol: I'm a mental health expert with a doctorate in clinical psychology (from Nova Southeastern University).
Q: I’d like you to watch the following video from a recent Videogame called “Metroid: Other M”.
(Clip was shown)
The context of the video is that Samus, the woman in the red and orange armor, has fought and seemingly defeated the creature (Ridley) in the video on two past occasions and assumed he was dead. Her confrontations with Ridley all stem from it killing her family when she was a small child. As we see in the video, Samus appears to be horrified to see Ridley after years of assuming he was dead, and simply freezes. What are your thoughts on the video?
Koehne: That is very much so how PTSD works.... you daze out of it for long stretches and your brain seems to freeze and do its own thing or render you basically useless...
Dr. Grohol: Mental disorders like PTSD are recognized disorders of brain and behavior that have decades worth of research and are based upon thousands of peer-reviewed studies. It is no different than having a disease like diabetes or Parkinson's.
Q: This scene has caused a row amongst the gaming community. Some feel she has PTSD, and others say that she should be able to “get over it” as she has fought him before and won. Can one simply “get over” something if it causes PTSD?
Koehne: A story answers this for my point of view. I watched a man burn to death and pulled guard on his body so we could retrieve the remains and not let the insurgents disgrace the fallen soldier by dragging his body around the streets. To this day I have a problem with barbecues which used to be one of my favorite things to do.... I still do BBQ every now and then.... but things have changed!!
Dr. Grohol: If someone experience a trauma at an early age, such as having someone kill their family, then something like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is indeed a possible reaction. One does not simply "get over" a mental disorder because these are not choices we make in the first place. Who would consciously choose to be depressed, or to have PTSD? It's an absurd argument.
Q: How realistic would a situation like the above be, or being a work of fiction, was it handled incorrectly?
Koehne: That is a great depiction of PTSD... and just to think soldiers have to deal with that in real life fights...
Dr. Grohol: Someone who was in a situation where they had something to trigger a flashback, as what appears to occur in the video, could very possibly react in a similar manner -- frozen in place, being unable to act or react for a time. Flashbacks themselves can be traumatizing, and different people will experience and react to them differently. The reaction of the character in the video was consistent with the way some people might react to meeting -- once again -- a murderer they thought they had previously killed.
Q: In closing, how do you feel about videogames beginning to handle tough problems like PTSD?
Koehne: Video games are a great way to teach the public... PTSD is very sensitive but people need to know we have alot of young soldiers coming home and families need to know how to recognize it so they can not become a victim of the PTSD but rather help support through the issue... I wish they would take on teaching the younger public that some people are disfigured from war and you shouldnt go around talking about them under you breath... THANKS FOR BRINGING SOME LIGHT TO PTSD...
Dr. Grohol: I think that video games have great potential to help shed some light onto serious concerns, like PTSD. If they can foster debate and discussion like this about a serious mental illness like PTSD, then they've done a great job in helping to educate people about these kinds of concerns.
While it’s apparent that Samus as a character most likely has PTSD, one can overlook the plight of many of our REAL servicemen and women no matter what country you reside in. Having the opinion that someone should “get over it” is not only ignorant, but pretty disrespectful to those that have fought for our countries. I hope these interviews have at least shed some light on something that a large amount of soldiers, rape victims, murder witnesses, and more have to deal with on a day to day basis. For more information on PTSD and what you can do to help gain understanding or even help with research please check out some sites like Dr. Grohol’s Psych Central website.