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Interview: NAMI Executive Director Mike Fitzpatrick

by Eric Wright (2007-11-18)

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a non-profit, American organization that advocates for the rights and wellness of people affected by mental illness. Founded in 1979, NAMI has over 200,000 members. Members include people living with mental illness, the family and friends of those affected by mental illness, other allies and educators. NAMI has offices in all 50 United States, as well as an office in Puerto Rico.

The Wiire had a chance to speak with Mike Fitzpatrick, NAMI's executive director, last week. Mr. Fitzpatrick has asked Rockstar Games, the development studio behind Manhunt 2, to recall or further modify the game, "due to its irresponsible, stereotyped portrayal of mental illness."

Manhunt 2 players control Daniel Lamb and Leo Kasper, two escapees from the fictional Diximor Aslyum for the Criminally Insane. During the game, Lamb and Kasper murder aslyum staff in an attempt to recover from amnesia. NAMI maintains that the portrayal of the mentally ill as murderous is inaccurate. "The overall contribution of mental illnesses to violence in society is exceptionally small. In fact, people living with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence," Fitzpatrick said.

Manhunt 2's development cycle was widely reported within the games industry. Originally slated to be released on July 10, 2007, Manhunt 2 received an "Adults Only" (AO) rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Representatives from Sony and Nintendo both released statements saying that the playback of AO-rated content was not permitted on their company's respective consoles.

A modified version of Manhunt 2, where some scenes had been removed (and the Wii game's interactive execution sequences blurred by a psychedelic lens filter), was released in America on Halloween 2007 with an M for "Mature" rating. The game, currently available for the PlayStation 2, PlaySation Portable, and Wii consoles, is still forbidden in many regions of the world - including the United Kingdom, where the British Board of Film Classification has cited Manhunt 2's "unremitting bleakness" and "casual sadism."

Its response to Manhunt 2 is not the first time that NAMI has challenged the media to be more sensitive when portraying issues related to health and well-being. Mr. Fitzpatrick told me about an article from the July 10, 2002 edition of the Trentonian (Trenton, N.J.) newspaper that reported on a fire at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. The article headline was "Roasted Nuts."

What follows is a portion of the interview with Mr. Fitzpatrick. We discussed Manhunt 2, the media's portrayal of issues relating to mental illness, video games' potential as a medium for reflecting social issues, and more.

Next: Horror films, haunted houses, and teddy bears in strait jackets.

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