Hellblade takes on mental health and psychosis

Developer teams up with experts to ensure subject is ‘sensitively and accurately’ handled


The use of games as educational tools isn’t a new one, but UK-based games developer Ninja Theory is using its latest game, Hellblade, to explore the themes of mental health and psychosis.

The main story in Hellblade follows a Celtic warrior named Senua, who has been left traumatised by a a Viking invasion. It follows Senua’s journey into hell, one constructed by her own mental illness.

The third person action game is being developed for PlayStation 4 and PC, using a model Ninja Theory refers to as Independent AAA. This means the game is approached with the creative freedom of indie games, but retains the production values seen in AAA games.

“In Hellblade we are pursuing creative independence in order to explore a compelling subject matter and gaming experience that would not be possible under the current retail model,” said creative director Tameem Antoniades. “In movie terms, this would be a quality independent film, not a Hollywood blockbuster.”

The developer has been working with psychiatrist and Professor of health and neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, Paul Fletcher, to make sure the subject is portrayed accurately and sensitively, and it’s also got the backing of the Wellcome Trust.

“True understanding of mental health is not simply about books, lectures or verbal descriptions but from deeper engagement on all levels,” said Prof Fletcher. “Working with Ninja Theory has shown me the potential that gaming has for sharing in a character’s experiences and engendering empathy in ways that go well beyond those offered by simple academic descriptions. Maybe this approach will contribute powerful new ways of challenging stigma.”

Hellblade is due to launch in 2016.