This is part of a community collaboration set by https://backlogcrusader.blog/
The General Idea
We are focusing on video games that, with any combination of their design elements, say something significant about humanity. For instance, the one(s) you choose might portray interesting philosophies, ethics, or social commentary worth in depth, academic discussion. How does the narrative of a certain title make it a timeless classic? How did a specific game accurately reflect the cultural zeitgeist of the era? And so
The games that I have chosen for this project help to bring awareness to an ever present issue in current society, mental health. Some of these games help to shed light on what certain conditions look like and how it effects people. Other games are designed to help the player come to terms with their own pre-existing conditions.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Psychosis is defined as having difficulties determining what is real and what is just a manifestation of your brain. Symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, hearing voices, incoherent speech, and false beliefs. These are all present in the protagonist of this game, Senua.
This psychosis is brought on by trauma, in the form of Senua losing a loved one. The basis of the story in this game is her trying to bring him back by traveling to Hel, the Celtics version of Hell. Through her journey we see first hand her symptoms; in the form of voices, visual hallucinations that chase after her, shapes and patterns emerging on walls, and Senua inflicting self-harm to appease the voices in her head. These voices are a mix between helpful, and downright harmful and destructive towards Senua.
The developers of this game worked closely with mental health professionals to present an accurate portrayal of this illness. It is said that all of the hallucinations you encounter in the game are all 100% accurate, and could happen to any individual who sadly suffers from this condition. The developers prioritized having all of the symptoms be as accurate as possible to help shed light on this issue affecting thousands of people across the world.
However, Senua, being a victim of this tragic illness. She is not defined by it in this game. Rather, she is trying to make sense of it and work through it. Often times in games woman play the damsel in distress and require assistance. They turned this stigma upside down and has Senua deal with everything on her own, which makes her an inspiring protagonist. The voice actor for her even won an award for her portrayal, Melina Juergens.
Life is Strange
Bullying is something that almost everyone has come in contact with. Whether it be in movies, online, or in life. Life is Strange deals with themes of bullying, depression, and suicide.
There is one such character in this game that represents all three of these issues, Kate Marsh. Kate Marsh is a victim of bullying in this game, cyber and public. After a viral video of her at a party reveals her kissing various guys gets leaked, everyone starts to bully and make fun of her. Except for Max, the protagonist. It is later revealed that she was drugged during this video. Before this happened Kate was a very kind and friendly person, as well as heavily religious. After the leak, however, she turned very introverted, low, and not her self. All symptoms of depression.
In a section of the game you go to Kate’s dorm room to check up on her. Her room shows almost every sign of depression. She covered her mirror to avoid looking at her reflection, blinds are drawn, the room is a mess, and her violin is covered in dust. Meanwhile, she is at her desk crying. Her computer has an email from her parents saying that they watched the video of her. Being very religious, her parents send back that she has shamed her family. Nothing is going right for her.
The last scene of this chapter has Kate on the roof of the school about to jump. You then have to convince her not too. Throughout the game, you can support her and follow her story. And during this scene, if you choose the correct dialogue options, you can save her life. But if you aren’t following her story at all, and pick the wrong choices, she will fall to her death. This a good example of noticing the signs of suicide in a person. In the game, there are instances with Kate that hint at it. If you notice them you might be able to save her at that moment; if not then you need to convince her not to jump. This is the only game I know that deals with suicide to this extent.
This story arc with Kate reflects real life. That teachers in schools across the world don’t do enough to help their students. Kate goes to the teachers, but they all say that she’s doing this for attention. And after her death, they start to be aware of mental health at the school. It shouldn’t take a students death for teachers to start caring about their students.
The Developers of the game acknowledged that this game may affect people, so they provided an online resource at the end of the chapter for people to use if they are feeling suicidal. After all, they made this chapter to bring awareness to suicide and depression.
If you are looking for a game that will help you cope with anxiety and depression, then you need to play Celeste. The developer of Celeste had this in mind while making this game. Growing up with anxiety and depression, the developer wanted to make a game that accurately showed what it’s like to live with these conditions. Instead of consulting mental health professionals, he used his own personal experiences with the illness’s as a reference for the game.
The game itself is not about beating anxiety and depression. It is about coming to terms and understanding it. First off Celeste is the mountain that Madeline, the protagonist, is climbing in the game. And when she gets to the top its suppose to symbolize her recognizing her illness and embracing it.
Madeline’s symptoms manifest in the form of a mirrored version of herself, but dark and twisted. This version accompanies her up the mountain, while spewing hateful comments and demeaning her; Similar to self-hatred and overthinking, often symptoms of depression and anxiety. To contrast this the loading screens have words of encouragement to empower on your journey.
The developer also added a mini-game that reflects his own self. During a scene, Madeline is on a ski lift with her new friend, Theo. This scene involves Madeline having a panic attack. Theo acknowledges it and teaches her a breathing technique. This technique involves syncing your breathing with a feather that is lifting and falling. The developer said he has been using this technique for most of his life and wanted to share it in his game.
Celeste teaches the player that having a mental illness is not the end of the world and that you can still achieve great things with them, even climbing a mountain while defeating a shadowy version of yourself.
Night in the Woods
“What you are going through, it exists” is something everyone with a mental illness should hear. When most people finally talk about their problems they get dismissed as “Its all in your head”. And this leads to worsening conditions because they start to believe them, but they shouldn’t. The problems you face with mental illness are very real, and don’t let anyone else say otherwise. Night in the Woods main goal is to normalize mental health, sadly it still has a stigma around
The protagonist, Mae, suffers from depression, anxiety, and an undiagnosed disassociation disorder labeled as anger issues. Mae recently just dropped out of college. The story revolves around taking care of her mental well being. Each character you meet in the game also comes with their own set of problems, this adds to the effect that mental illness’ are prevalent and you are not alone.
Mae is relatable to almost everyone who suffers from anxiety. A scene in the game that has Mae standing in front of a mirror comes to mind. This scene has Mae giving herself a mini pep talk before a party. She ends up overthinking and putting herself down. She nitpicks every part of her; flaws, notched ear, and big eyes. This can resonate with anyone who suffers from anxiety, after all putting yourself down is one of the many symptoms of it. The scene could also be looked at as encouraging to oneself. If you can believe Mae that Mae will do alright at this party, why can’t you believe in yourself?
Later on in the game her symptoms of depression start to manifest. At one point Mae says that she has become numb and that “Something broke in my head”. This is showing an example of depression and how it affects all people differently.
Overall, Night in the Woods is designed with the player in mind. The themes that the game puts you through are meant to make you think about your own mental well being, and if you’re on the fence, to seek help. The story itself, with easily relatable characters, should resonate with anyone just entering, or graduating, post-secondary school. This game alone should be talked about more when it comes to mental health.
Here is a link to mental health resources if you if you are ever feeling down or suicidal
National Eating Disorder Information Centre
Canadian Mental Health Association
Mood Disorders Society of Canada
2 thoughts on “Lets talk about… Significant games that represent mental health”
This is a fantastic writeup! I’ve played them all except Hellblade. I think Life is Strange might actually be the strongest narrative pick here. Its themes remind me a lot of Speak, which a lot of high school curriculums include for very similar themes to those that you outlined. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speak_(Anderson_novel)
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Thank you so much! 😁 I’ll look definitely look into the novel. Life is strange is the only game on the list I actually played 😬 the rest I just exstensibly researched. But I do plan on playing them.