Ninja Theory’s “Hellblade” Tackles Mental Illness, New Development Style

This morning Ninja Theory, the developers behind hit games such as Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and DmC: Devil May Cry, has released a new trailer for their upcoming game Hellblade which shows real-time, in-game footage.

Hellblade, which is coming to PlayStation 4 and PC in 2016, follows a Celtic warrior named Senua who journeys into hell. The most captivating part of this reveal is that this hell is nothing ordinary as it is instead a manifestation of her mental illness which she battles from within. Ninja Theory’s Dominic Matthews states about the game;

Senua experiences psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions, as well as suffering from anxiety and depression. As a player you will witness Senua’s living nightmare through her own eyes.

From George Orwell’s 1984, to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, the best fantasy breaks down barriers and lets us see the world without prejudice. This is what we want to do with Hellblade. To see the world through Senua’s eyes, and in doing so, address a subject that is still considered taboo.

Hellblade is being developed independently by a team of 15 people through what they call “independent AAA”. This means that they can develop the game freely without restrictions while still providing AAA production quality, a new model which I have yet to see the likes of. This style of development has given the team the freedom to openly create a game that delves into such subjects as severe mental illness without restrictions. Matthews assures us that “[i]t is a subject that we are handling with all the respect it deserves, ensuring that our portrayal of Senua’s condition is both accurate and sensitive.”

In order to accomplish this the team at Ninja Theory is working closely with a professor of Health Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge as well as consulting directly with people who have experience with mental health difficulties. Matthews also states proudly that Hellblade is being supported by Wellcome Trust, a global charity which “aims to build a greater public understanding of science and in particular health.”

[Source: PlayStation Blog]

For more real-time updates and news about Hellblade, check out the links below:

Hellblade.com ~ Ninja Theory on Facebook ~ @NinjaTheory

My Takeaway…

Hellblade

After watching the trailer and reading the story behind Hellblade, as well as learning about what the team at Ninja Theory is doing to create this game with sensitivity and accuracy, I must say I am 100%, wholeheartedly impressed. I myself struggle with mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression, and seeing a development team take such great steps to address this subject and bring it to light really hits close to home. Given that I was already interested in the game from the teaser shown at last years Gamescom, it is exciting to see more about Hellblade.

I think that a game like this is so very important as it not only provides a relatable experience for those of us who suffer from similar difficulties, but also acts as a way to show those without mental illness what it can feel like to suffer through those difficulties in an interactive and artistic way. While it may be difficult for some of those who struggle with mental illness to play a game that seems so raw and hard-hitting, which is completely understandable, I think that it’s about time that this subject was touched upon in a more stand out way in video games.

Being able to develop this game with the freedom to explore the subject matter properly means that not only will this game breach these issues with tact and sensitivity, but will also have the substance to handle them properly without tired mechanics, cheap exploits or cliches. I’m really interested in Ninja Theory’s development style, independent AAA, as I think that is super progressive and can lead to further projects being done in similar ways. This in turn will lead to what I have been truly wanting from the game industry above all else: new characters, new subjects, new settings, new gameplay mechanics and tons of diversity!

I also find the fact that Senua is a female Celtic warrior to be unique and deeply intriguing. I have yet to see a game star someone of that heritage and taking place in that particular culture, so it’s new and interesting for me. It’s very cool to see them not only take on the task of covering the subject of mental illness but also showcase a character unlike any other in a place that is so uncommon. The game looks absolutely gorgeous as well with it’s use of deep colors, complex textures and other artistic qualities. Overall, I’m really looking forward to Hellblade and wish the Ninja Theory the best of luck!

7 thoughts on “Ninja Theory’s “Hellblade” Tackles Mental Illness, New Development Style

  1. I can’t wait! I myself suffer from anxanxiety and somewhat regular panic attacks.
    It is amazing that they’re taking the step forward and creating a game like this 🙂

    Like

    • Agreed, with video games taking a plunge into deeper narratives I think it’s important to address mental illnesses as they are not only common, but debilitating for many and highly stigmatized by society. It’s time to break down those walls!

      Like

  2. Kelly,
    Another wonderfully written, engaging piece you have written here. I have mad respect for Ninja Theory attempting to take on the elephant in the room known as mental illness. It’s so prevalent in our society…always has been, but not many people want to address it or find solutions. Like your article said, unfortunately, for most people, it’s still a taboo topic. But it is one that can no longer go unaddressed…it can no longer be swept under the rug. Too many people are affected by mental illness. Too many lives are being lost daily because of mental illnesses…all because most of the population doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes or make anyone feel uncomfortable.

    Hellblade seems amazing. The few pictures that are public really speak to me, showing pain, isolation, a want to be understood, strength…and individuality. I have always believed some of the most…compelling games/videos/books/movies come from the view inside someone else’s mind. The mind is such an amazing instrument, and what it’s capable of creating the most beneficial solutions or the most devastating experiments. I am so glad that this game focuses on a young female as well. This game can also be added to my own list of “Games to Play in 2016.” aka, my future Christmas list. I just really hope that Ninja Theory does it justice. And I look forward to the future discussions that it spawns.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I agree that the societal stigmas placed on mental illness are not only harmful but also make life much harder for those who suffer from things like schizophrenia, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, etc. More stories like this, ones that take a closer, more accurate look into mental illness can be a game changer (no pun intended). Plus, the game does seem super amazing. All in all, this is a great thing for the world of gaming!

      Liked by 1 person

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