As Neverending Nightmares makes its PS4 and Vita debut, The Daily Dot has a great story on depression in video games. Colette Bennett explores the way depression is portrayed, and how Neverending Nightmares’ visceral, horrifying approach creates different experiences for those who see their own experiences in it and those who do not.
Neverending Nightmares may play like a horror game for those who have never suffered crippling depression, but for those who have, it will ring true immediately. Darkness swamps Thomas’s footsteps, and he can barely run a few paces without being overtaken by his asthma. He frequently dreams of self-harm, helpless in the grip of cycling nightmares that loop into themselves.
“We designed the game to be deliberately frustrating,” Gilgenbach said, citing horror classics such as the Silent Hill series as influences. “We wanted the player to feel helpless. Games can be powerful, not just fun.”
In an interview with GameChurch, Neverending Nightmares creator Matt Gilgenbach spoke about how creating the game helped him work through some of his own thoughts on depression:
It has definitely been therapeutic for me, because I feel like I am able to sort of open up my head and let some of the negative, horrible thoughts out. Making them tangible causes them to lose their mystique and power–their grasp over me. So it does feel really great to expressing my feelings and help those who are suffering from depression.
I do hope that Neverending Nightmares allows other people to connect with me on an emotional level. While it is not autobiographical, I don’t live in 1906 and carry a candle around, the emotions and even some of the imagery are very true to my experience. So I hope that I can connect with people and my experience will resonate with them and help them through their struggles or at least help them better understand mental illness.
Neverending Nightmares isn’t an easy game to play. It isn’t just frustrating–it’s also filled with disturbing imagery and themes of self-harm and suicide. But these are also the things that make it so relatable to some players. Depictions and talk of depression tend to be sanitized, sweeping away the morass of darkness that can haunt us in the worst moments. Sometimes a horror game feels like a perfect fit.