In an interview with Game Informer, Ninja Theory's Tameem Antoniades discussed how Reddit led the team behind Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice to tackle the delicate nature of protagonist Senua's psychosis. According to GI's accompanying write-up of the interview, "The studio regularly met with people who experience a variety of psychoses, including auditory and visual hallucinations, to ensure that the in-game representation was as accurate as possible. Ninja Theory also consulted with Paul Fletcher, a neuroscience professor in Cambridge's Clare College to learn more about psychosis from a medical perspective." Ninja Theory also partnered with the non-profit organization, Wellcome Trust, to create the game.
In Hellblade, Senua, the game's eponymous hero, is embarking on a personal journey through her own personal hell. That individual underworld is made up of Senua's psychotic manifestations of her own reality and mind. Which is a damn fascinating premise to make a game around.
Fletcher seemed to agree, given his remarks that "There was a slightly cautious element because of course a game with a character with hallucinations isn't necessarily going to be a terribly sensitive representation of mental illness. But I was also very intrigued."
He also seemed to think that the Hellblade team headed by Antoniades was more interested in the story than just "ticking a box" to make sure that it was a faithful representation of psychosis. "I've done scientific advisory work with people before, and sometimes what you get are people who want to make sure that they're ticking the box and getting it right – not saying anything wrong," he said. "I felt that there was a lot more to this than that."
While mental health is a rather controversial topic in many respects and I do wish we saw it represented in games without being such a mechanical aspect, I am pleased to hear that Ninja Theory went out of their way to make sure Hellblade was accurate, and that they seem to have taken the subject seriously. Which is fantastic, because having neuroatypical protagonists not only makes sense (how could none of the thousands of FPS protagonists not suffer from some PTSD? honestly) but it also helps with representation. Having characters who reflect different aspects of reality – women, LGBTQ, characters of color, and now ones dealing with mental health disorders – is an incredibly important part of making games in 2017.
And while Senua is not the first game character to have a non-neurotypical diagnosis, Hellblade is the first AAA game to put mental health at it's heart. And it's all thanks to Reddit.
As someone who has both studied abnormal psychological conditions and also suffered from having a brain that doesn't conform to what we generally accept as "normal" mental health, I'll personally attest that this is an incredible step for representation and acceptance. Granted, my studying was limited to a few college classes and an article about phobias, so I'm nowhere near an expert, but I do feel comfortable giving my stamp of approval to this for being inclusive.
And given Ninja Theory's past games, I'm certain this won't just be a notable game because of it's treatment of Senua, but also because it's going to be awesome.
You can check out Game Informer's full coverage of the story here, but the interview is below. Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is slated for release sometime this year for