What Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice receives incorrect about mental illness


Would you give up the stunning global which you and simplest you could see to be rid of your nightmares?” asks Dillion.

 Senua Sacrifice

Dillion is the sole factor of protagonist Senua’s quest into Hel, the man that Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice sets up as the individual familiar with her better than all people ever has or could. Her mild in darkness. And right here, he’s invalidating not handiest her mental contamination but her desire to seek well-being. It’s a part of the nicely-intentioned neurotypical sentiment that permeates this game, invalidating the reports of humans with mental contamination even because it seeks to promote expertise.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice starts with a warning display screen approximately its “representations of psychosis.” It cautions players who have had similar reports to take care when playing and gives a website (hellbladehelp.Info) with touch statistics for helplines. This warning comes with a showy point out of the professionals and individuals consulted in the sport’s making. The whole factor is written in a skeletal, serious, and severe typeface, posed against a black history. The first minute of Senua’s Sacrifice is an ordinary mixture of sincerity, preciousness, and confusion. It’s Grimdark 2.0, the well-which means grimdark with a variety and inclusion initiative.

But it left me conserving a bag complete with questions. I couldn’t inform if I turned into being pandered to, postured at, or just being used. I didn’t realize who this game changed into. Perhaps I should have listened to the warning and begged Sony for a refund, bringing up “I’m critically mentally unwell, and the game says I likely shouldn’t play.” I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that cynicism crept thru me like Senua’s black rot. Despite all of it, I have never desired to be proved wrong via a sport more than I ever have with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.


Ninja Theory

The illustration of intellectual illness in video games is fraught, regularly irresponsible, and essentially non-existent outdoor indie builders. Reviewers (albeit without a stated record of psychotic intellectual infection) have praised Hellblade’s sensitivity and insightfulness. Even pals with intellectual illness stated the game resonated with them — that this changed into the “AAA Depression Quest” the video games enterprise has been looking forward to.


In all equity, that is the first example I realize of a recreation studio contacted intellectual fitness experts and those residing with mental infection for its sport approximately mental contamination. It’s also now not set in a haunted sanitarium, and the stench of Howard Phillips Lovecraft is nowhere in sight. It was with Ninja Theory’s willingness to “do the paintings” in thoughts (and the shortage of an obvious Sanity Meter) that I began up Hellblade — eager to embark on a journey thru psychosis with a tortured however continual Pictish lady.


The research suggests in the sport. While playing, I saw the gamut of symptomatology classically related to psychosis. I turned into alternately guided, taunted, and upbraided via auditory hallucinations (which the game calls “the Others” and are credited as “Furies”). Senua hallucinates glowing runes, with colorings and mild, which can be both amplified or dimmed. Her head darts furtively again and forth, scanning for the risk that hushed, faraway voices and perhaps imagined movements may portend. Fire spontaneously erupts from buildings as Senua’s focus shifts among this reality and any other. Hyper-vigilance, auditory and visual hallucinations, flashbacks, agitation, intrusive thoughts, delusions — all the classic hallmarks of psychosis are brought to undergo in Hellblade.

I’d come to study manifestations of the trauma Senua experienced quickly earlier than the sport started. This precise psychotic episode is fueled with the aid of triggering activities: the slaughter of her village and boyfriend, Dillion, and the stories that a mentally sick mystic, Druth, has told her about the Norsemen. Truth can, from time to time, act as a guide. However, his number one reason is to inject Norse mythology into the sport. I made my manner via a superbly crafted, decrepit Viking landscape of wooden villages, sacrificed corpses, and smoky black Viking demons. I was largely determined to ignore those moments because they had little relating to Senua’s present realities.

Ninja Theory

Her realities are greater outwardly supplied via Hellblade’s puzzles, which involve using a factor of her mental contamination to “see matters differently.” They’re approximately locating connections and patterns where none actually exist. It’s an innovative psychological method called pareidolia, and it’s something we all interact in. It’s believed that human beings with psychosis are more adept at this sort of creative technique and involuntarily interact with it extra regularly.

Perhaps that’s genuine. I spent hours suffering from remedying environmental matching puzzles in this recreation, seeing the particular rune’s shape everywhere I grew to become, and to match it up flawlessly simplest for the game to conclude it wasn’t the precise form I wished. My companion (who is additionally mentally unwell) would factor out others I’d overlooked, constantly to the same terrible result. Were we making connections that definitely didn’t exist? Or was this a planned act by the designers? We’ll possibly in no way recognize. The game doesn’t address what the puzzles remember fraudulent semiotic connections. If it’s a deliberate try and mimic the pareidolic capabilities of a person with psychosis for a neurotypical target audience, it’s no longer communicated. Like with the various puzzles in Hellblade, it felt like I became being intentionally undermined — that my own intellectual contamination became being explained to me via a green outsider. Having to include Senua’s fact, as Ninja Theory’s puzzles demanded, supposed having to give up my lived stories as a mentally ill person to occupy a perspective that felt inauthentic.

 mental illness

The 2d sector I went to after defeating the hearth god turned into the house of Valravn, a trickster deity whose location is a forested labyrinth of lifeless ends that aren’t truly dead ends. The puzzles right here involve attending to vantage points and realigning Senua’s perception of the distance to discover the passageways that have been there all alongside. I stopped and questioned approximately how, usually, in my very own lifestyle, my mental illness has aided me. No intrusive idea has ever stored me from harm or given me direction. Visual hallucinations have handiest been frightening or mundane. Flashbacks have never offered profound insight. Perhaps my hyper-vigilance has stored me from hazard; it’s also made me lash out at perceived however unrealized threats. I’m no longer even dissociating through the system of writing this newsletter (that would have, as a minimum, removed me from the anxieties of writing). I’m positive my mental illness has in no way benefitted me or society (a declared Ninja Theory co-founder Tameem Antoniades muses on at the quit of a documentary function included in Hellblade). I’m now not a few mystical aberrations assisting the world progress; I’m only a lady seeking to stay as great I can.

According to the aforementioned documentary, Hellblade turned into at first conceived as an honest heroic journey game in a global crafted from illusions. And it was here that I commenced to fully recognize just how this game invalidates the reports of humans with mental infection at nearly every turn. Senua’s adventure is an ordinary hero’s quest. A young warrior is thrust right into a truth she doesn’t understand and accepts the call to movement. She ventures into the underworld, followed by a sage and other helpers, and reconciles with her father by killing him. Embracing her new destiny and self, she’s geared up to go back to the fabric world. This takes region all within the span of a day. Even as allegory, this isn’t how intellectual contamination works. Thrusting real mental illness symptomatology right into a sport that didn’t begin with it in mind feels cheesy.

Hellblade’s hero, Senua, travels down a river

Ninja Theory

Playing thru Hellblade changed into torturous. I’d manage elements of chapters earlier than having to desert it for a walk around the block. Many reviewers, even praising the game, have used words like “stressful” and “stressful” to describe it. For me, a sport like Dark Souls is traumatic and annoying. Hellblade is something specific entirely. I screamed and shouted. I went thru a sequence of signs and symptoms (dissociation, derealization, panic assaults, acute hypervigilance, unshakable emotions of dread). I even lengthy-threaded on Twitter … Lots. I nearly quit the sport every different bankruptcy. I watched as the black rot crept up Senua’s arm as I died time and again, getting hung up on horrific geometry. All of which brings me to what changed into, to begin with, the maximum debatable issue of this recreation for many reviewers — death, or as an alternative, permadeath.

Senua falls in warfare in opposition to a limitless horde of spooky Vikings in an early set-piece moment. It’s unavoidable. The game desires you to die so it can introduce the idea of permadeath. Senua will die in her quest, again and again. Those deaths simplest do one component: spread the darkness eating away at Senua. Eventually, that darkness will grow from her hand to her head, and they may be lost all the time. Many human beings with mental illness conflict with feelings of demise, fearing that their subsequent bad revel in will cease them, even launching into suicidal ideation and moves. In Hellblade, this is a bad metaphor, treated poorly.


It’s additionally a flat-out lie. There isn’t any permadeath. You’ll see the black rot move slowly up Senua’s arm. However, it resets each time. It’s a planned pass through Ninja Theory to artificially boom tension, to elevate the stakes in a game already in love with its psychological horrors. Manipulations are commonplace in media. But this feels incorrect.

Part of that feeling comes from how deliberate the lie is. Characters in the sport mention the rot. However, the outcomes of permadeath that accompany the rot are defined thru a non-diegetic splash of text from the developer. An outside authority injects the lie with the agency over not simplest Senua, however the participant. It’s a manipulation that’s handiest motive is psychological destabilization. Even though I can see the nicely-that means intentions at the back of this trick, it’s an exceptionally thoughtless trespass in a sport about the debilitating outcomes of abuse and mental infection.

In some methods, I sense for Ninja Theory. Attempting to assemble a sensitive lesson plan for a neurotypical audience about mental contamination is hard. A much less cynical version of me desires to applaud the development crew for seeking to make a compelling, didactic sport. Their depiction of mental infection’s auditory and visual components is solid in many ways, even supposing impressionism. Hellblade comes close to showing how trauma can affect and incite episodes of extreme mental contamination. Still, I can’t assist in my most genial of moods; however, I sense like this hurts extra than it could probably assist.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice photograph 1024

Ninja Theory

Mental illness doesn’t exist in a vacuum. An individual’s mental illness is inextricable from their social context. While the builders remember that mental infection is interpreted differently primarily based on social context, they fail to illustrate one’s stories inside society. The closest we get to seeing Senua exist with different people is in flashbacks to conversations with Dillion or the trauma of her father’s considerable abuse. She never has to visit the shop for milk. She’s not struggling with dropping her task because she had a flashback to a meeting. Paramedics and cops never destroy her door because she didn’t solve telephone calls from her buddies and own family for a week. We never go with Senua to the Social Security administration workplaces as she’s denied support due to the fact they’ve deemed her now not disabled enough. Senua’s village is wiped out earlier than our quest starts of evolved. The ending well-known shows she never is going everywhere.

It’s because of this loss of social context that Hellblade communicates (perhaps by accident) the dangerous concept that mental contamination “is all in her head.” It presumes a global in which people with intellectual infection exist utterly divorced from their societies. This wasn’t authentic within the 9th century, and it honestly isn’t real now. People with mental contamination need to live amongst other humans. That’s a massive part of what makes a living with the intellectual infection warfare. To cast off that context for narrative and gameplay motives undercuts any preference from the builders to be touchy or didactic.


There’s a saying in the autistic network: “If you’ve met one character with autism, then you definately’ve met one man or woman with autism.” This could also be stated of mental contamination. Despite 60-plus years of attempted codification using the American Psychiatric Association, no two reports are alike, even inside unmarried diagnoses or symptom units. While Hellblade tries to discover its depiction of mental contamination fully inside Senua, she isn’t someone. Senua’s a gamified symptom set; a collection of harvested delusions becomes set pieces. A backstory sketched out solely using her dating to her dad and mom, a magical Captain Jack Sparrow, and a thoughtless boyfriend. She’s a case in which “getting it proper” took precedence over making it actual.

We want video games with a broader enchantment that have sensitive, nuanced handling of intellectual illness. We need games that present humans dwelling with mental contamination as real and legitimate humans. But we additionally want the one’s games to address intellectual illness as it’s miles, no longer as allegory. Hellblade isn’t going to make talking approximately mental illness less “taboo.” This sort of sport isn’t going to assist destigmatize mental contamination or developing the commonly disregarded truth that intellectual illness is more various and complex than experiencing delusions and hallucinations.

Ninja Theory’s choice to gather feedback from humans with mental illness and mental fitness specialists changed into proper. There are still questions I’d like to ask the developer. What, in its opinion, has Hellblade finished for humans dwelling on psychosis and different intellectual infection? Does it sense that Hellblade has contributed to enhancing the best of existence, of broader information of these conditions? Or has it really illustrated signs society is already friends with psychosis?

We need games that aren’t just illustrative of acknowledged (and often wrong) ideas; they do more than try to get it right and stumble. We want games for mentally sick humans. We want games that don’t go away us thinking if our identities have been used against us or for the leisure of others. We need games that, although they’re not mainly for us, treat us as humans. We need these diverse characters (and the marginalized humans they represent) to be handled with appreciation and love as completely found out individuals. We want video games that seek to apprehend and not just simulate. As my enjoy with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice illustrates, worrying extra approximately nailing the technical specifics may be just as invalidating as no longer being concerned in any respect.