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Mind Games: Multiple Personalities in Videogames

Andy Hughes | 18 Oct 2012 09:00
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To mention Killer7 in the same article as an actual psychological disorder seems woefully inappropriate. Yet the killers are all limited in different ways. Each has only one real weapon: Kaede is stuck with her sniper scope and automatic pistol. Kevin is good with throwing knives but useless against large groups of enemies. The burly luchador Mask de Smith is armed with twin grenade launchers but is imprecise and cumbersome. As opposed to the more typical FPS hero, who can switch from a rifle to a rocket launcher with ease, these characters are all fragments of one protagonist. They are not an army. In the world of their genre they barely add up to the capabilities of one person.

We may not gain any real understanding of Dissociative Identity Disorder from playing games like this, but we are encouraged to understand.

The goal of most DID treatment is unification, meaning the incorporation of all of the patient's extant identities into a whole. The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation has specific guidelines on their website that detail the treatment process. Usually, there are three "phases": establishing safety, confronting the patient's memories, and merging identities together. The guidelines describe it this way: "Integrating traumatic memories refers to bringing together aspects of traumatic experience that have been previously dissociated from one another ... Integration also means that the patient achieves an adult cognitive awareness of his or her role and that of others in the events."

The climactic mission of Killer7 takes the group to a school and former training ground for young government assassins. Here the smooth, white-suited "cleaner" persona, Garcian, who normally handles all of the group's business arrangements and revives fallen Smiths, discovers that he is in fact the host, and that he killed all of the others, including Harman, years ago when he had a different name. This involves a series of flashbacks showing each of the group getting murdered, traumas Garcian has suppressed and is now revisiting. In a chilling moment, the game forces the player to control each of the Killer 7 as a series of grinning, invulnerable shadowy enemies leap off of the stage in the school gym and destroy them one by one. None of the squad's attacks are any good. The player is helpless, forced to watch as each character is overtaken and dissipates into the air.

Stripped of all his defenses, Garcian must climb to the rooftop of the building alone in order to face his target, who is not a mangled grotesque, but a young, confused boy with a third eye, which he shoots off. Dropping to his knees, covered in blood, Garcian finally opens the long metal briefcase he's always carrying and discovers all of his team's weapons inside. He is the core persona, the one who did all the work: the briefcase works as a neat little symbol for the multitudes he once contained. He has rejoined with all of his previous parts and is left as one individual, combining the others into a coherent whole. As with Alice, the ultimate goal is assimilation, and the journey leads back to himself.

Needless to say, Killer7 does not intend to provide a realistic portrait of DID (it doesn't even intend to provide a realistic portrait of the human anatomy). "Multifoliate Personae Phenomenon" is not real and might not even be a disorder. Deadly Premonition makes no claims to medical accuracy. But these games do dramatize identity and consciousness from the perspective of the mentally ill and (however accidentally) mimic clinical approaches to such conditions. We may not gain any real understanding of DID from playing games like this, but we are encouraged to understand. We are asked to consider what life with multiple personalities might be like. That's an important distinction, though it may not seem like it: It's the difference between empathy and a cheap thrill.

Andy Hughes is a blogger, gamer, pontificator, expounder, and general poor person hailing from Boston Massachusetts. He is co-editor of the hip new gaming blog Item Crisis and can be reached at [email protected].

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