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Mental Health in Video Games

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The video game industry gets an unfair amount of criticism when it comes to how much it contributes to violence in real life. Countless news articles have blamed crimes on violent games such as Grand Theft Auto, Gears of War and Manhunt. I personally think this gives a completely one-sided view of a medium that has created some of the best well-known characters and pieces of work including Mario, Sonic and Zelda – I could carry on but that would take too much time.

However, a recent game developed by Ninja Theory – who have been responsible for Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and the Devil May Cry reboot - has received a massive following due to them pushing mental health to the forefront of their story. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a game focussed on Senua’s point of view as she embarks on a very personal journey through a hellish underworld made up of Senua’s psychotic manifestations of her reality and mind.

During development of the game Ninja Theory consulted psychologists, people who have suffered from psychosis, world-leading neuroscientists and non-profit organisations like the Wellcome Trust to help capture the experience of psychosis and its devastating effects on the human mind. According to the NHS and companies such as Mind and Rethink, someone who develops psychosis will have their own unique set of symptoms and experiences, according to their particular circumstances. The four main symptoms associated with a psychotic episode are:

• Hallucinations
• Delusions
• Confused and disturbed thoughts
• Lack of insight and self-awareness

So how does Senua’s psychosis fit in with her backstory? She is on a quest into a sinister Norse underworld in search of her lost lover who was sacrificed to the gods by barbaric Northmen. But this profound trauma she’s experienced has triggered these symptoms and has lost touch with the reality of those around her; which again is the formal definition of psychosis.

The game’s disturbing world, one that is constantly riding the line between what is real and what isn’t, sets the stage for an incredibly engaging narrative, much of which plays out through the disembodied voices inside Senua’s head. Ninja Theory went through the trouble of recording every eerie line of dialogue with a binaural microphone. This means that when using headphones (which the game recommends) it sounds as if the voices are speaking directly to you. This creates a chilling effect and each personality is constantly feeding Senua’s various lines of fear, anger, discouragement, clues and even warnings. The assault is constant and really illustrates the relentlessness of the illness. Equally as unyielding are Senua’s tenacious visual hallucinations and delusions.

I applaud Ninja Theory for bringing this to a medium that reaches so many people. It is important to raise awareness for mental health, and to educate ourselves as much as possible as there seems to be a stigma surrounding this. The UK invests £115 million per year on mental health research. Mental health receives 5.5 per cent of the UK health research spend. Approximately £9.75 is spent on research per person affected by mental health problems.

According to the World Health Organization, one in four people are affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

Where can I get help?

If you have already been given a Crisis Line number from a health professional, call it.

If you are under the care of a mental health team and have a specific care plan that states who to contact when you need urgent care, follow this plan. The charity Mind offers information about how to plan for a crisis.

The Samaritans operate a free to call service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, if you want to talk to someone in confidence. Call them on 116 123.

You can call NHS 111 if you or someone you know requires urgent care, but it is not life-threatening. Alternatively, contact your GP practice and ask for an emergency appointment. Your practice should be able to offer you an appointment in a crisis with the first available doctor.

A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a medical emergency. Call 999 if you or someone you know experiences an acute life-threatening medical or mental health emergency. You can go to A&E directly if you need immediate help and are worries about your safety
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