Despite how often horror games lean on harmful tropes of asylums and madmen, actual mental health issues don’t get much attention in the genre. Some creators are looking to change that — developers like Kaitlin Tremblay, Ninja Theory, and now Super Sexy Software (SSS), the polish studio working on The Shattering.
The Shattering will tell the story of John, a man coping with depression, bipolar disorder and psychosis — but the intent is not that John is somehow frightening for his issues, it’s that he’s relatable. Waypoint spoke to the developers at SSS about how they’re consulting with professionals to make John someone people with mental health issues can empathize with as they explore the horrors of his own unwelcome memories.
“We started with project with the idea of consulting with a mental health professional,” the studio’s Marta Szymańska tells me. “Firstly, like most projects, we did a lot of reading, getting into it, understanding the subject, and we figured that there are some issues that we weren’t sure if we could handle correctly. This game is scientifically based but is nevertheless going to be a game; but we visited the doctor who helped us create John as if he was real. We were also encouraged to focus on how people act, how people talk, how you should talk to them, how to interact with them, how to suggest things, how to suggest direction—and that all helped us to build the game.”
The Shattering looks at the shattering mind, what the protagonist doesn’t want to remember,” Szymańska continues. “And why doesn’t he want to remember? Because he’s been through traumatic events. So, what happened in his life? We put everything together and focused on mental illness because everyone today could have it, and I think that’s the horror aspect of this game: if you have depression, if you feel sad, you know emotions yourself. If you can see it through and understand John, in such a way, I think that’ll push players towards eventually acknowledging those emotions. Mental Illness fits here naturally, somehow.”
Be sure to check out the full article, which also gets into the challenge of developing a horror game about mental health issues that doesn’t fall into lazy, harmful stereotypes. It’ll be some time before we know whether the team at SSS succeeds at that goal — The Shattering is currently scheduled for a 2018 release.