Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice has been embraced by some players as an effective and affecting portrayal of mental health issues, and criticized by others for oversimplifying those same issues.
In a recent article in Psychiatric Times, Sharon Packer, MD, a practicing psychiatrist, and gaming scholar Shawn Edrei, PhD, take a look at Hellblade with an eye to its implications for psychiatry. It’s a fascinating read, as it breaks down the value of the game –and gaming — for an audience who may not be well-versed in the medium.
Dr. Packer and Dr. Edrei explain how Hellblade portray’s protaganist Senua’s mental health issues, detailing her voice hearing from both a technical and narrative perspective. Then they look at Ninja Theory’s efforts to portray the subject matter accurately and respectfully:
The third innovation becomes apparent during the game’s initial credits, as the first name listed is not Antoniades’ or a producer’s, but rather Paul Fletcher, a professor of Health Neuroscience from the University of Cambridge. The feature provides more details on Professor Fletcher’s role as Mental Health Advisor and elaborates on Antoniades’ determination in addressing the subject of mental illness from the rare position of factual accuracy rather than dramatic license. Indeed, the game goes so far as to differentiate the symptoms of Senua’s mental state: she has heard voices since early childhood, while the later-onset visual hallucinations that plague her in the present may be the by-product of another psychotic break or PTSD-type flashbacks from any of several traumatic events (including Dillion’s murder), sensory deprivation during her solitary journey or complicated bereavement or more. Psychiatrists will reflexively speculate about the differential diagnosis of new-onset visual hallucinosis, which could result from any number of medical etiologies, or may simply be an allusion to Celtic myth. The ambiguity adds to the game’s appeal.
Head on over to Psychiatric Times for the rest of this fascinating overview.