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Video Game for Psychosis Patients
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice seeks to do more than entertain.
The fantasy video game serves a greater purpose of helping players understand, and even experience, the symptoms and challenges of psychosis.
For those who work in healthcare, it’s worth the time to experience the game in an effort to better understand those you’ll come in contact with. Or, if you’re not a gamer, ask someone you know to play the game while you watch.
In either case, the game will broaden your understanding of psychosis and perhaps even create compassion for those who live with the condition.
Reaction to psychosis
Psychosis often causes such erratic behavior in patients that it’s alarming to the people who encounter it. The first time I encountered a patient with psychosis, I was visibly shaken by it, and decided to keep my distant from the patient.
Our sense of self-preservation convinces us to avoid situations that could land us in harm’s way. It’s normal to want to push people with psychosis away because they can be unpredictable and volatile.
After that first exposure to psychosis, I researched to find depictions of the condition in media. The only movies I could find were 12 Monkeys and The Shining, which both exaggerate the symptoms to such an extent that it’s impossible to feel empathy for the characters.
The movie Shutter Island only caused me to worry more about future experiences with psychosis.
When I stumbled onto Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, I was completely unprepared for the feelings of empathy I had for the game’s main character.
Created with the help of psychosis expert Paul Fletcher, the game’s storyline follows Senua, a Celtic warrior whose lover is killed and offered to the Norse gods as a sacrifice. Senua, determined to lay him to rest, sets out in search of his soul.
Triggered by the extreme trauma of her lover’s death, she endures intense symptoms of psychosis, like hearing voices and experiencing hallucinations. Players experience the same voices and delusions that Senua does, and they share her flashbacks as well.
The game portrays the wide range of voices that Senua hears: those that are helpful as well as the destructive ones.
It is this aspect of the game that makes it so realistic because players hear voices from all around them questioning Senua’s decisions. They also experience the same torment she does as she moves through the game.
“Because of her experiences, Senua has lost touch with the reality of those around her. That’s really the formal definition of psychosis,” Fletcher said. “We are coming to realize that there’s a continuum (of psychosis), and all of us are prone to becoming separate from reality,” Fletcher said. Hopefully, this game will help to demonstrate that.”
To further improve understanding of the condition, the creators donated all the game’s proceeds from World Mental Health Day to the organization Rethink Mental Illness. RMI campaigns to change people’s perspective on the condition and to provide assistance to patients who suffer from psychosis.
The game’s creators worked closely with actual patients to present the psychotic episodes as authentically as possible.
I found myself thinking how difficult it must be to operate in that amount of noise and chaos, and I was surprised by my empathy for her. I wanted to complete the whole game so I could help the character escape from her circumstances.
The game’s violence limits it to mature audiences, and it’s best experienced with headphones or surround sound so you can understand the prevalence’s of the voices Senua hears.
The game was entertaining and eye-opening, although not the best game I’ve ever played.
For those in the healthcare industry who will certainly encounter psychotic patients in the future, the game provides a brief, but authentic, opportunity to understand the symptoms and their impact on sufferers.