University of KwaZulu-Natal graduate, Ms Shannon Bennetts, created a short videogame that interprets the mental state of someone suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Bennetts graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts (honours) for her creation of the videogame that simulates an interpretation of the mental state of someone suffering from OCD. Following a traumatic breakdown the year before, Bennetts, an OCD sufferer herself, wanted to create an experience that would help others get an idea of what OCD sufferers go through mentally, and why.

‘In the game, you play as the disease itself, negatively affecting the figures around you (taking the form of expressive black lines making up a human figure and representing me in my most vulnerable mental state), and eventually being revealed to look just like me (as a representation of how sometimes it is difficult to discern which thoughts are mine, and which are caused by the disease).

‘It is essentially a very large self-portrait, and one that I hope will help people to not only understand my experience with the disease, but to better understand how OCD affects its sufferers beyond the common stereotypes,’ said Bennetts.

She has since received positive responses to her practical work, especially when it has been able to help someone understand how OCD really works. ‘It felt amazing watching the small crowd around the computer displaying my work during an exhibition. The amount of interest the work received and the flood of congratulatory comments made about something that I had spent so much time on, and which exposed such a deeply personal facet of myself, made me feel a warmth that I won’t soon forget. It made me feel like a real, professional artist.’

Bennett’s research was twofold, the videogame was part of her practical work while her theoretical component looked at the negative assumptions that were attributed to cartoons, focusing on the origins of these assumptions, the methods of their institution, and arguing for the case of modern-day examples that have transcended these assumptions.

She hopes that her research could be of use in the discussion of the potential of the animated medium beyond almost exclusively being catered towards children, as well as providing examples to those who do hold these reservations that cartoons can, and have, been able to address and express complex ideas and emotions.

‘Animation has no limits, and so the potential good that it could do as a form of storytelling, and as a form of art, is potentially limitless,’ said Bennetts.

Key findings in her research include how the negative associations attributed to cartoons can be traced back to the actions of the TV industry in the first few decades of it being introduced to television.

Actions such as creating the category of the child audience in the first place, creating low quality shows based on the assumption that kids couldn’t tell the difference, and predominantly using the medium to market toys towards children.

‘Cartoons have since become much more complex, some dealing with complex socio-political issues, some catering to older audiences exclusively, while others still aimed at younger audiences showing evidence of being much more sophisticated than their predecessors,’ she said.

Bennetts thanked her family, friends and supervisor for their support during her studies. ‘Without my family, I wouldn’t have made it to honours in the first place. Their emotional support in times of stress and the camaraderie and mutual understanding between me and my friends were vital in achieving what I have.’

Her dad Graham, noticed that Shannon had a fascination with cartoons from an early age. ‘Her perceptions extended beyond childish captivation and she always amazed us with her insights and her ability to “get” the deeper themes and humour. She has always been obsessed with perfection and this was evident through school, her Bachelor’s degree and now her honours. Her hours and hours of dedication have paid off and we, as a family, are exceptionally proud.’

Her mom Lynne, added, ‘We are extremely proud of Shannon and her achievements. She is self-motivated, driven and an inspiration to all of us.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo