This is one of the most taboo subjects in video games. And it’s regrettable!

In the world of video games, we talk about everything or almost everything! There are still some subjects that remain deeply taboo. This is particularly the case with suicide. On the occasion of National Suicide Prevention Day, we question the limited treatment of the subject in the gaming industry and explain why it is necessary for this to change, following the example of other media. If you are in distress and/or have suicidal thoughts, or if you want to help someone in distress, you can contact the national suicide prevention number, 3114. The number is reachable 24/7, free of charge, and throughout France.

There are a number of reasons for this, starting with religious reasons. If you have followed history classes, you know that religion has long played a dominant role in society, whether in France or elsewhere. However, for most religions, suicide is a reprehensible act, a sin. There were times when suicide victims were denied certain things, even beyond death. French rules were cruel towards people who committed suicide, as the character of Usbek in Montesquieu’s novel “Persian Letters” (1721) revolted against: “The laws in Europe are furious against those who kill themselves: they are made to die a second time; they are disgracefully dragged through the streets; they are noted with infamy; their property is confiscated.”

Even more recently, we have talked about this effect with works such as “13 Reasons Why.” But this effect has been nuanced over the years.

Today, psychologists and other healthcare professionals are trying to mend the damage as best they can. Speaking of suicide may not cause suicide. People don’t want to die, they just want to stop suffering. A reaching hand can make a difference. In contrast, we can oppose another phenomenon: the Papageno effect. If we choose the right words and don’t glamorize the situation, speaking out is more than beneficial. For example, the musician Stromae, by expressing his distress on the TF1 television journal on January 9, 2022, did not lead to an increase in suicides, but to an increase in calls to 3114, the French national suicide prevention hotline (a 13% increase). It is therefore necessary to lift the taboo, and recent works such as the film “Et doucement rallumer les ├ętoiles” contribute to this.

Playing with suicide, really possible? In truth, there are a number of video games that address suicide. But often, the subject is limited to a mechanic or a storyline, without a deeper meaning. For example, the game “Doki Doki Literature Club Plus!” completely changes its tone when one of its characters commits suicide. But one does not need to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to realize that this is not a relevant or helpful representation. But at the limit, that is almost better than what will follow.

Because yes, there are games that have made suicide a central theme in their storyline, but not necessarily for the better. This is particularly the case with “Jessika,” a FMV game in which we investigate the suicide of a young woman using the video journal she left behind. But to make it surprising – and disturbing – the title has sacrificed the potential it had on paper regarding its representation of suicide. Another title that clearly missed the target is “The Suicide of Rachel Foster.”

However, when representation is done well, it has a real beneficial effect. Especially in terms of mental health. Not surprisingly, “Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice” has even been shown to reduce the stigma of people suffering from mental disorders. There is therefore a real issue of representation, and video games can, in their own way, become part of this virtuous mechanism. And some, like “Wait! Life is Beautiful!” openly seek to show that another solution is possible.

Representing in order to better understand. However, to be authentic and relevant on such a complex subject, there are certainly things to know, stereotypes to avoid, and reasons to understand. But this work is by no means insurmountable, as the various games previously mentioned have shown. Therefore, the world of video games would benefit from producing more works of this kind in order to contribute to the cultural effort of prevention and understanding around suicide, both to address the before and after. And if a giant like Netflix can succeed in releasing a series that allows, among other things, to open new discussions on the subject and push some to seek help or help others (with all the nuance that this implies, of course), the big names in the video game industry should be able to do the same.

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