Friday, May 23, 2014

How Super Smash Bros. Reveals Your Hidden Mental Illnesses

Not only is Nintendo’s landmark mascot brawler an enjoyable multiplayer experience…it’s a also a handy guide to diagnosing your friends’ undiscovered psychiatric conditions.


Released in spring 1999, “Super Smash Bros.” is not only one of the most beloved Nintendo 64 games of all-time, but indeed the origin point of one of the most popular franchises in video gaming history. While fighting games starring mascot characters was really nothing at all new (years earlier, Sega had released both “Sonic the Fighters” and “Fighters Megamix”), the Nintendo love-in was an instant success, a skillful combination of self referential humor and simplistic (yet highly addictive) multi-tiered combat. While many gamers state that the secret to the game’s popularity is its accessible nature and crossover novelty, I believe there’s a secondary reason as to why the N64 title was such a hit with the masses: namely, the fact that it was a secret diagnostic tool that allowed players to get a glimpse inside the veiled psyches of their best buds.

There’s this thing called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (commonly referred to as the DSM), which is published by the American Psychological Association (APA). The most recent edition, the DSM-5, was published last year. As the title implies, it’s basically the bible of modern psychiatry, containing a list of virtually every mental disorder under the sun, and the (mostly) stringent criteria one most meet in order to be diagnosed with a particular condition.

Upon flipping through the DSM-5, it became apparent to me that all 12 playable characters in “Super Smash Bros.” had certain characteristics that could feasibly qualify said characters for particular mental health diagnoses. As such, I quickly drew up a flowchart linking the characters with corresponding DSM-5 certified mental disorders; take a look below at your (and your friends’) preferred SSB avatar -- colloquially referred to as "mains" in common gamer lingo --  and let the questioning of your respective sanities commence…

If your favorite character is Captain Falcon, then your hidden mental illness is:
Narcissistic Personality Disorder

According to the APA, Narcissistic Personality Disorder involves expectations of constant positive reinforcement and recognition as a superior specimen, alongside an infatuation with personal power and ability (whether or not said person actually possesses the kind of power and ability he or she thinks they do.)

Now, per the game “F-Zero: GP Legend,” the namesake “Captain Falcon” is a title bestowed upon the best racer in the universe -- a moniker, it is perhaps worth mentioning, that the character canonically known as “Captain Falcon” in Nintendo media practically bestowed upon himself. In “F-Zero: GX,” Captain Falcon has become something of an Axl Rose-ish recluse, a character whose immense popularity has more or less resulted in his complete self-imposed exile from normal society. As “F-Zero X” informs us, Mr. Falcon lives in a grandiloquent island paradise, where he’s able to race on extravagant tracks without being bothered by others.

Under APA labels, Captain Falcon could be seen as displaying symptoms of both elitist narcissism -- characterized by a perceived status-backed privilege and illusions of grandeur -- and fanatic narcissism, which is characterized by feelings of omnipotence  and diminished self-esteem. “When unable to gain recognition or support from others,” the world’s most reliable source of information tells us, “they take on the role of a heroic or worshiped person with a grandiose mission.”

In Super Smash Bros., both the aesthetics and fighting style of Captain Falcon lend much credence to the Narcissistic Personality Disorder diagnosis. From Falcon’s specialized stage (complete with its daunting racecar obstacles) to the character’s flashy wardrobe to his megalomaniacal battle cry of “Falcon Punch,” it appears as if the F-Zero protagonist indeed fosters quite the ego.

If your favorite character is Donkey Kong, then your hidden mental illness is: 
Impulse Control Disorder

Per the APA, impulse control disorders (ICDs) cover a wide array of behaviors, from excessive gambling to pyromania to intermittent explosiveness disorder. As a general rule of thumb, however, all of the ICDs are classified under five umbrella behavioral tendencies: an impulse trigger, emerging tension, pleasure derived from acting upon said impulse trigger, palpable relief stemming from fulfilling urge, and ultimately, self-directed guilt.

As a character, Donkey Kong certainly displays symptoms of some kind of ICD. From his barrel-tossing debut to his numerous ground-pounding exploits in “Donkey Kong Country,” the character certainly has characteristics in line with the APA diagnosis criteria for impulse control disorder.

In Super Smash Bros., Donkey Kong was a character with two primary attacks. The first one was a “wind-up” charged shot, which definitely covers the five umbrella tendencies listed above. As soon as DK winds up (the impulse trigger), he literally radiates tension as the avatar begins glowing ominously. Upon release of the button, the game player unleashes a super-powerful attack, which said gamer typically finds extremely satisfying…although he or she may also feel secondary guilt, as it leaves the avatar open for attacks from the flank.

Kong’s other attack lines up rather nicely with the APA criteria as well: the character’s dreaded “power bomb attack,” in which he grabs a character, lifts him over his shoulders, and chunks them across the stage. Notably, gamers quickly uncovered that Kong can instantly kill an adversary by clutching an opponent and jumping off a cliff in an act of homicide-suicide; a maneuver that fits in with the designated definition of impulsivity -- “failure to resist a temptation, urge or impulse that may harm oneself or others” -- almost to perfection.

If your favorite character is Fox McCloud, then your hidden mental illness is: 
Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder

We’re cheating a bit here, as post-traumatic embitterment disorder (PTED) isn’t officially recognized as a mental disorder by the APA. However, there is a groundswell of support emerging from some psychiatrists, who believe the PTSD-like syndrome is prevalent enough to warrant full recognition from the American Psychological Association, and since it has its own Wikipedia page, that’s pretty much as good as official, anyway.

Per some German dude named Michael Linden, PTED can be described as complex, pervasive feeling of both anger and helplessness, in which the usually treatment-resistant “sufferers” typically desire some sense of revenge against agents that have wronged them. In some ways, PTED can be described as an obsession with “righting” a prior injustice -- a morally-backed thirst for vengeance, if you will.

With that in mind, Fox McCloud’s entire backstory can be considered PTED-borne, as he became a mercenary following the “death” of his father at the hands of the primary antagonist in the first “Star Fox” game. In “Star Fox 64” -- essentially a remake of the SNES original --Fox McCloud is even praised by his father’s ghost after the game’s final battle, indicating something of an internal validation of the character’s own PTED.

In “Smash Bros.,” Fox is a fleet footed character, whose primary attacks are ranged laser blaster shots. Swift yet silent, the avatar blazes across the screen, with a single-minded mission: not only does the character’s canonical history give a lot of credence to the PTED theory, even Fox’s fighting style seems to acknowledge it.

An adorable battle between Pokemon favorites, or a metaphorical war of body dysmorphic disorders?

If your favorite character is Jigglypuff, then your hidden mental illness is: 
Somatic Symptom Disorder

Jigglypuff is a “Pokemon”-spawned fighter whose gimmick, so to speak, is the ability to lull others into a momentary slumber. When Jigglypuff’s adversaries are temporarily dazed, he (it is a he, I am assuming) is able to dish out a couple of free shots, without fear of a counterattack.

Clearly, Jigglypuff's ability to hypnotize others wouldn't be considered an officially APA-recognized condition, but since somatic symptom disorder (SSD) is, perhaps we can use that as an analytical framework. SSD, simply put, is when an individual claims to experience physical pains or setbacks that haven't been diagnosed (or explained) by medical professionals. Very frequently, this is associated with hypochondria, but the newfangled APA term also entails aspects of several other disorders, including conversion disorder (the actual loss of physical ability due to worrying), and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) -- in short, an obsession with perceived body defects.

As one of the smallest characters in the game, Jigglypuff is also perhaps the most indistinguishable character in the first "Super Smash Bros." title (even Kirby, as we well soon see, had the ability to absorb the traits of other.) Obviously, one with BDD may be drawn towards a character so literally undeveloped, as a way of masking his or her own body image shortcomings. Subconsciously, a player with SSD symptoms may have a slight preference for a character who can put others into a somatic state, and those with sever conversion disorders would almost certainly have a liking for a combatant whom has the ability to project actual physical ailments on opponents -- we're talking classical Freudian transference here, basically.

If your favorite character is Kirby, then your hidden mental illness is:
Depersonalization Disorder

The character Kirby -- who debuted in a Game Boy title in the mid 1990s -- has made appearances in numerous video games, appearing on pretty much every console the Big N has released since (the Virtua Boy, notwithstanding.) As nothing more than a mute pink blob -- with hardly any other personality traits or even a relatable back story -- the character remains one of Nintendo's most intriguingly un-intriguing characters; indeed, the only time the character seems to have a solid "form" is when he literally sucks the personality out of his foes, and imitates their behaviors.

While the definition of what is and what isn't Depersonalization Disorder has fluctuated wildly over the years, the central anchor point the APA uses to meter the condition is persistent feelings of "being unreal." As a a dissociative disorder, those with Depersonalization Disorder tend to feel as if they constantly leave their "own" bodies; the following Wikipedia passage seems to describe not only the character of Kirby to a tee, but in many ways, his fighting technique in "Super Smash Bros.":

"Common descriptions of symptoms from sufferers include feeling disconnected from one's physicality or body, feeling detached from one's own thoughts or emotions and a sense of feeling if one is dreaming or in a dreamlike state. In some cases, a person may feel an inability to accept their reflection as their own, or they may even have out-of-body-experiences."

If your favorite character is Link, then your hidden mental illness is:
Social Anxiety Disorder

Despite being on of the most iconic video game characters of all time, the "Legend of Zelda" protagonist remains a virtually unquotable  figure -- although appearing in dozens and dozens of titles over the last quarter century, Link's vocabulary remains fixed at simple grunts, shrieks and yelps.

Far from being the strong, silent type, it appears as if Link's inability to engage in proper interpersonal communication stems from a severe case of social anxiety disorder. "[The disorder] is about more than just shyness and can be considerably disabling," the DSM-5 tells us. "The person, for example, may be so uncomfortable carrying on a conversation that he is unable to talk to others, particularly someone he doesn’t know."

Interestingly enough, the precursor to social anxiety disorder, social phobia, was formerly considered just a children's disorder in past iterations of the APA manual. As Link's age seems to fluctuate from game to game -- and, in some titles, within the same cartridge -- it's more than obvious that Link's social anxiety stems from some kind of troubling childhood experience, most likely a severe lack of communication with his parents. Indeed, Link manages to nail virtually every symptom of childhood-borne S.A.D., including prolonged bouts of tantrums, periods of physical immobility, intentional shying away from others, extreme clinging (in this case, towards certain inanimate objects) and, most telling, the inability to speak in social situations. These idiosyncratic characteristics are all present in the first Smash Bros. game -- perhaps a player's leaning towards the elfin hero may stem from a subconscious understanding of said characters social anxiety behaviors?

Luigi's glazed-over eyes are a clear indication of childhood maltreatment if there ever was one.

If your favorite character is Luigi, then your hidden mental illness is:
Relational Disorder

Since Mario is the literal poster boy for Nintendo, I suppose we can all understand Luigi's sibling rivalry grievances. However, a DSM-5 update to the definition of "relational disorder" gives us an entirely new framework to analyze the disjunction between the Mario brothers, and with this model in mind, Luigi's antipathy may indeed be a sign of something much more complex and troubling.

The current APA definition of "relational disorder"is a rather interesting one, as the disorder is perceived as a relationship-centered disorder instead of an individual one. The classical example would be that of a mother who gives special attention to one child, yet not his or her sibling -- a very, very likely scenario regarding Luigi's upbringing, which may indeed serve as the bedrock of his own relational disorder with his brother.

As a "hidden" character in "Super Smash Bros.," Luigi isn't even selectable until after a set list of player accomplishments -- which may or may not have been accomplished via the use of Mario as a selected character -- occur. With a fighting style comparable to his brother, Luigi can be seen as an "imitator" of sorts -- by selecting Luigi as an avatar, could it be that the actual controller holder is attempting to sublimate his or her feelings of intense sibling disdain through the game itself? 

If your favorite character is Mario, then your hidden mental illness is:
Reactive Attachment Disorder

Depending on who you ask, the omnipresent Mario can be considered a Renaissance Man apt at a litany of sundry activities -- practicing medicine, golfing, dancing, even filming motocross events -- or perhaps even the virtualization of the Nietzschean ubermensch, a cult of personality "above all others," so to speak. When evaluating Mario as a character, however, he tends to suffer from a bizarre inconsistency as social being: sometimes, he's posited as a being very much of the world, and at other times, he seems to be posited as an external presence, completely immune to the social norms and folkways of his respective environment -- i.e., the norms and folkways about NOT indiscriminately killing all living things on a left to right homicide spree

As such, the most likely clinical disorder Mario experiences -- and by proxy, his "Super Smash Bros." avatar -- is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), a childhood disorder "characterized by markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate ways of relating socially in most contexts." The DSM-V breaks up RAD into two different categories, both of which Mario appears to suffer from: the classical "inhibited" form of reactive attachment disorder and social engagement disorder -- the "disinhibited" form of RAD, effectively

Whether he's launching turtle shells from moving vehicles, sucker punching Goombas or -- as especially the case in "Super Smash Bros." -- chunking fiery death at adversaries, I would say it's safe to describe Mario's typical behavior as a "persistent failure to initiate or respond to most social interactions in a developmentally appropriate way." Indeed, Mario's simultaneous "indiscriminate sociability" -- which may explain why he's calling "Pac-Man" death matches and officiating Mike Tyson bouts, -- is almost a pitch perfect description of social engagement disorder behavior. 

If your favorite character is Ness, then your hidden mental illness is:
Derealization Syndrome

When discussing Kirby earlier, we touched upon the similar depersonalization disorder, but when addressing Ness explicitly as a character, I believe it is well worth taking a look at the individual nuances of derealization syndrome -- a similar yet separate condition outlined in the ICD-10.

As a disassociative condition, derealization syndrome is most likely attributed to a confluence of factors, including neurological conditions, which may or may not include occipital or temporal lobe damage. Syndrome symptoms -- which impacts the way a person experiences reality, making the world around them feel "unreal" -- is most commonly reported by those who have experienced sudden traumas. 

What makes derealization syndrome such a fitting condition for Ness, the main character in the hyper-surreal SNES cult classic "Earthbound," is that both the character and the game Ness is most closely associated with stems from the real-life trauma experienced by the game's creator, Shigesato Itoi. As a child, he ambled into the wrong movie theater once and witnessed a graphic murder scene in a mystery film; the scarring event was echoed in the the climactic boss battle of "Earthbound," which consisted of a metaphysical dual between a young boy and what many have described as an "aborted alien embryo." Even creepier is that Itoh himself considered the scene a combination of "atrocity and eroticism," having completely ad-libbed the monster's dialogue from what could only be his long-dormant, and severely frayed, vestiges of childhood innocence. Needless to say, if one of your pals opts for Ness in your next game of "Smash Bros.," perhaps "most memorable childhood experiences" should remain a verboten topic of discussion throughout the contest.

In a game rife with pills, psychotropic drugs and phallic symbols galore, perhaps its only fitting that the final adversary in "Super Smash Bros." appears to be the disembodied hand of modern psychiatry itself. 

If your favorite character is Pikachu, then your hidden mental illness is:
Avoidant Personality Disorder


The undersized Pokemon character is clearly dwarfed by the rest of the "Super Smash Bros." cast. Indeed, the teensy Pikachu would indeed be the poster boy for fighting game frailty, was it not for his lightning fast reflexes and lightning fast...well, lightning. As a fighter that best works at a range, Pikachu seems to be an avatar best suited for those who share a disdain for up-close melee combat -- which, in the grand arena known as sociopsychology, is more or less a figurative stand-in for socialization in general.

The DSM-5 criteria for Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvDP) describes the condition as a state of persistent social inhibition, marked by inadequate feelings, an extreme fear of negative evaluation and -- perhaps most fitting regarding Pikachu as an SSB character -- a tendency to avoid social interaction (which, once again, is represented by physical combat in the Nintendo 64 metaphorical space.)

Of course, it's difficult to describe Pikachu -- as a canon character outside of the SSB realm -- as a figure that's both hypersensitive to criticism and fostering emotional distancing tendencies. However, the general behaviors of the character within the SSB arena definitely mirror those of individuals displaying strong AvPD symptoms; possibly, those who opt for the character as their "main" my indeed be selecting the character for subconscious reasons. 

If your favorite character is Samus, then your hidden mental illness is:
Schizotypal Personality Disorder


Samus Aran, the star of Nintendo's "Metroid" series, is a Sigourney Weaver-inspired ass kicker whose personality is marked primarily by profound silence and the remorseless rocket launchering of alien enemies. In "Super Smash Bros.," Samus is a character who, alike Pikachu, is best suited for ranged combat -- her charged laser beam shot, in particular, is a super powerful, high speed attack best utilized at extreme distances from adversaries.

In DSM terms, Samus' fighting style (as well as her canon, main series behavior) displays several similarities with the textbook definition of schizotypal personality disorder (SPD). Those with the milder form of SPD tend to favor social isolation, have difficulties maintaining close relationships and may be hesitant to respond when engaged by others -- all behaviors that suit Samus to a proverbial T. Furthermore, individuals with SPD are also known to dress in unusual attire -- something Samus' orange, red and green uniform would certainly qualify as. 

Beyond the APA criteria, Samus' schizotypal behavior is further "validated" by the World Health Organization, who list constricted affect -- that is, emotional frigidity -- and social withdrawal tendencies (perhaps into a ball, maybe?) in its DSM-analog, the ICD-10. And the proverbial icing on the cake? Theodore Milton's "timorous schizotypal" subtype seems to perfectly summarize Samus, as both character, fighting game avatar and possible player proxy: "Warily apprehensive, watchful, suspicious, guarded, shrinking, deadens excess sensitivity; alienated from self and others; intentionally blocks, reverses, or disqualifies own thoughts."

If your favorite character is Yoshi, then your hidden mental illness is:
Pica

Of all the "Super Smash Bros." characters, Yoshi is probably the easiest to diagnose, but it wasn't until last year that the APA declared Pica -- that is, the desire to ingest non-food items -- as a stand-alone psychiatric disorder.

Basically, the DSM-5 describes Pica as the "persistent eating of non-nutritive substances for a period of at least one month," in particular, non-nutritive substances that are "not culturally sanctioned." Well, anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Yoshi character can see why this is so fitting: indeed, Yoshi's entire shtick revolves around digesting things that are clearly not food in the traditional sense -- such as living combatants -- and then excreting them in egg form.

Of course, just because one of your friends seems to share a bond of sorts with the character doesn't necessarily mean he or she is an individual who likes to eat inanimate objects, per se. That said, if random household objects do tend to simply vanish after lengthy "Super Smash Bros." bouts at your homestead? There's a very strong chance said objects may be found within the digestive tract of whoever picked Yoshi, perhaps...

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