(Via Disability Studies, Temple U):

Penny L. Richards, scholar with UCLA's Center for the Study of Women and historian of disability and special education (among other things) asks about the game Raving Rabbids: TV Party (emphasis and bold in the original):

Crazy, wacky, raving, and rabid too… which all apparently mean screaming with wide open mouths and unfocused eyes, causing havoc, chaos, destruction? "Get ready for you and all your friends to go insane." Lovely.

While we don't consciously associate words like "crazy" or "insane" with actual mental illnesses (or criminal law), that's because we use them so often in this casual yet disparaging way. I know I didn't consciously connect mental illness with the Rabbids until Richards pointed it out, despite seeing ads and game boxes featuring them for a couple of years. They become shorthand for everything from "violent" to "creepy" to "silly," as they are here. Associating silliness with mental illness is nothing new—remember the Animaniacs cartoon?.

Why are Rayman's lepine enemies "rabid"? Why not "goofy" or "mischievous"? Around this time last year, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Mike Fitzpatrick spoke out against Rockstar's game Manhunt 2, citing its "irresponsible, stereotyped portrayal of people with mental illnesses." While "crazy" bunnies in an E-rated game may seem far removed from "crazy" killers in a game made for adults, they're really two sides of the same coin. Both associate being "crazy" with chaotic malice toward those who aren't mentally ill. What the folks at Ubisoft and Rockstar have done—possibly unconsciously—is frame mental illness as something that harms so-called "normal" people (and rabbits).

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk

Tera Kirk grew up in a small Nebraska town called Papillion. Although she has a nonverbal learning disability that affects her visual-spatial skills (among other things), she's always loved video games. Her first game system was a Commodore Vic-20, which her mom bought at a garage sale for $20. With this little computer Tera learned to write Mad Libs in BASIC, to play chess and to steal gold from Fort Knox.

But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).

Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.
Tera Kirk

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2 Comments on "The “Raving Rabbids” and mental illness"

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Tera Kirk

[quote=Brandon Erickson]I feel like criticizing Raving Rabbids is pushing the whole political correct thing a little too far.[/quote]

I don’t think the Raving Rabbids are a conscious attempt to portray mental illness in any way (not even in a bad way). But they are part of a stereotyped idea of “crazy = malevolent silliness” that has something in common with the idea of “crazy = killer.”

I don’t if the Rabbids are responsible for any prejudices against and fears of people with psychiatric labels. But those prejudices and fears are responsible for the Rabbids being named and marketed as they are.

Brandon Erickson

As a mental health professional who works with people suffering from chronic and severe mental illness, I agree that it’s important not to disparage this population by carelessly throwing around these terms.
That being said, I feel like criticizing Raving Rabbids is pushing the whole political correct thing a little too far. But hey, I think it’s okay for people to disagree on these things.