Above: Senua seeks the Bridge to Hel Hym in Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. Credit: Ninja Theory.
The video game Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice won several BAFTA Games Award including Artistic Achievement, Best British Game, and Game Beyond Entertainment [sic erat scriptum]. In Senua's Sacrifice the player takes control of a character who is schizophrenic--she hears voices and it is not clear what is hallucination and what is real in the game-play. The game is set in the land of Old Norse, with copious bleak forests, decaying bridges, sheer mountain-paths, huge locked doors, horrifying screeching monsters, etc.
Professor Paul Fletcher at Cambridge University worked closely with the game's Cambridge-based developer, Ninja Theory, said: "Mental illness is usually characterised by the fact that it’s invisible. Working with Ninja Theory [on Senua's Sacrifice] has shown me something valuable: [video-]games can aspire to and achieve a remarkable exploration of state of the mind and mental suffering."
The scenes in Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice are mainly worthy only of a bad Ring Cycle. (Wagner might well have liked Hellblade.) The crucial point that the game totally misses in respect of exploring severe mental illness is that the true--authentic--horror of mental illness is that the Swamp Gate, the Bridge to Hel Hym, the Shard Trial, the Fire Monster, and the Rune Door Puzzle, encroach upon, not a Wagner-like landscape, but on the quotidian itself. For a person with schizophrenia putting the rubbish out, or a trip to Boots the Chemist, on the High Street, is the essential trial. Just negotiating ordinary daily life. The next Hellblade episode (assuming it still includes the psychotic Senua) should be set around Senua's trip to her local shops, with a visit to the doctor, and maybe on to the Post Office parcel-collection depot--that would be a far more interesting and valid approach to exploring severe mental illness in a video game.
(19 April 2018)