How Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice changed lives with its thoughtful portrayal of mental illness


Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was my favored game of 2017. But this tale of a sword-wielding Pict warrior was also a groundbreaking portrayal of mental illness, and its influence is nevertheless becoming measured by the men and women who designed it.

Paul Fletcher, a professor of overall health neuroscience from Cambridge University, was a consultant on Ninja Theory’s game and he described its influence in a video that was shown at The International Game Summit on Mental Wellness, a initially-time occasion held lately in Toronto.

I’ve embedded Fletcher’s 22-minute speak in this post. Ninja Theory had a pretty unique sort of heroine in thoughts with Senua. They enlisted the support of Wellcome Trust, a healthcare enterprise in the United Kingdom that gave Ninja Theory a grant. Their interest was in depicting psychosis, the situation exactly where men and women see points that are not true, accurately by means of Senua’s adventure.

Above: Dream or nightmare in Hellblade.

Image Credit: Ninja Theory

When Ninja Theory’s Dominic Mathews contacted Fletcher, he was wary, as he was mindful that video games haven’t normally depicted mentally ill men and women in an correct way. (Most mentally ill men and women in games are homicidal maniacs). But it turned out that the portrayal they had in thoughts of mental illness was extra truthful.

In addition to speaking with Fletcher, Ninja Theory also sought the support of psychosis sufferers, who described what it was like to reside with points like voices in their heads.

“Indeed, for me, 1 of the most potent and eye-opening experiences of operating on Hellblade — and the ensuing public response to it — was just what a phenomenal function a game practical experience can play in representing mental distress and permitting it to be communicated to other people,” mentioned Fletcher in a conversation with TIGS organizer Mark Chandler. “So lots of men and women sent messages to the Ninja Theory group and to me commenting how they now had a physical, tangible slice of altered reality that they could share with men and women that they had been desperate to communicate with. I’d adore to devote some time to that discussion and to contemplating techniques in which some sort of experiential repository may be designed to help communications and battle isolation. Maybe this is fanciful but it could possibly supplement an on the web discussion resource (anonymous or otherwise).”

The 18-month project turned into 3 years.

The outcome was an astonishing game. In it, Senua embarks on a journey in the 8th century following Vikings raided her village and killed her adore. She hopes to redeem the soul of Dillion by going to the Norse version of hell, Hellheim, to confront the underworld goddess Hela. She is plagued by her personal inner darkness, and in the game it manifests as externally focused visions. She need to battle these phantasms to the continue her quest.

Above: Actual or madness? It is all as well true for Senua in Hellblade.

Image Credit: Ninja Theory

The representation of her mental illness is told by means of flashbacks and her conversations with a possibly imaginary companion, Fletcher mentioned. It is interwoven into the game’s atmosphere by means of a cacophony of voices in Senua’s head, some distant and some close. You in no way genuinely know no matter whether the visions she sees are true, but you absolutely understand what it is like to see points from Senua’s viewpoint.

In that way, the game creates empathy for these with psychosis. Senua was a particular person, and “not a two-dimensional shell of mental illness,” Fletcher mentioned. The game won a lot of awards, but as we discovered from Fletcher, it also changed a lot of lives, as players with mental illness who played the game or knew men and women with mental illness contacted the enterprise by the hundreds to inform the enterprise what it meant to practical experience such a realistic portrayal of the illness.

Fletcher mentioned that when the game was shown to some of the sufferers who helped generate it, the sufferers felt like their practical experience had been validated. The group even changed the ending simply because the sufferers felt like it was lacking. The game won an award from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

“There was a true sense that anything essential had been accomplished, irrespective of its industrial good results,” Fletcher.

A single of the notes that came in from the public mentioned, “Thank you, @NinjaTheory, for Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. It saved my son’s life. Right after playing it by means of, he asked to go to the hospital for support. He couldn’t take every thing he’d been dealing with &amp had a program to kill himself. The game changed his program. Thank you.”

I encourage you to watch the ending of the video, when the song starts. It is superb to see the influence that the game generated.



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