An astute Slashdot contributor has called attention to US patent no. 6,935,954, which issued August 30, 2005. The patent, owned by Nintendo, is titled 'Sanity system for video game"? a game system whereby a game character's sanity level is affected by different occurrences. Game play is affected (for example, by the character not responding to the player's commands, by the character having hallucinations, etc.) as the character's sanity level decreases. In-game effects include (and we're not making this up) "enormous roar that emits from a tiny rodent (mouse or rat)" and "faint maniacal laughter (that gets louder and louder as the character draws deeper into insanity)".
The character's sanity is affected by encountering 'a game creature or a gruesome situation"?, and the effect of each such encounter depends on factors such as whether the character is prepared for the encounter or whether the character is rested. Luckily, sanity can also be improved (in the game, at least) by locating 'mind aids"?.
We are all used to games which track a character's physical health, so tracking mental health isn't too big a stretch. The patent acknowledges this fact, but goes on to explain that 'when circumstances beyond imagination are encountered, the brain must attempt to deal with the improbable and impossible as reality"?. We can't argue with that. And we'll just have to wait and see whether this in-game insanity is good or bad for players' mental health.
Wait . . . is that faint maniacal laughter I hear? Excuse me while I go look for a mind aid.