I found these two articles on Twitter, they talk about how mental health status effects are conceptualized in RPGs. I for one am a big fan of Homebrew RPGs and fiddling with stats and gameplay mechanics. I am also a big fan of the Cosmic Horror genre. Lovecraftian horror is a huge inspiration for me. However, Lovecraft was a product of his time and I think his literature as well as rpg settings like “Call of Cthulhu” use some pretty problematic gameplay mechanics as to how mental health is represented.
In Call of Cthulhu per example, you are a “normal” character with a number of sanity points. When encountered with horrors beyond your comprehension you lose said sanity points. After a certain point the character experiences a “Bout of Madness” in which you roll a d10 and you might have your character become violent, manic, paranoid or hysterical (Darkest Dungeon drew from this to make a similar mechanic). There’s a lot to unpack here about why mental health is represented with this sort of mechanic.
I usually play with my friends who have no background in mental health and some of them held certain biases towards the mentally ill. I am the designated DM, and I usually bring themes of mental health into my one-shots (I don’t a have a group committed enough to have an actual campaign) and RPG has become a fun way to sneak conversation about mental illness with my friends without being preachy. I am very grateful for that experience. Usually now my friends opt to make characters that are complex and show signs of mental illness and I collaborate with them to create interesting character arcs of recovery (ironically in a Cosmic Horror setting)
What do you think? What types of rpg settings or rulesets can we produce to incorporate themes of mental health into our gaming experience without resorting to damaging stereotypes?