Perspectives Differ on How 'Hellblade' Handles Mental Illness

Our Critical Distance roundup for the month highlights the best criticism on 'Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice'

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Wait, is part of the winning “Hellblade” is that you gonna get better? Why?! I didn’t played the game, but if it is, it’s a very rookie mistake. I’m just gonna go and grow back couple of fleshy bits that were surgically removed from my body (not the same thing as mental health, I know).

(feel free to spoil the game or be vague, I still gonna play it, just not soon)

I watched a let’s play of the game, so my insight might be a bit off, but I got the impression that in the end, Senua wasn’t “cured” but rather was at peace with herself and more better able to cope with her illness? Again, I didn’t play it, so my memory might be waaaaay off.

Okay, that’s better.

Haven’t played it yet, but the one and only problem I’ve saw from the beginning is them telling what is all about.

I find it to be a endemic problem of the relationship between gamers and the games themselves, how a sizeable part of the public see the game as a product first and foremost. That leaves the dev team with the dilemma of how to market the game, laying down much of the mystique upfront and diminishing the discovery in favour of easing the consumer in (rather than the “player”).

And that in my opinion, brings the suspension of disbelief to a whole other level, since now it requires the player to not only understand the matter it also requires empathy for someone else, be it the dev team, the writers and the character herself.

Much of what I’ve seem and read about Hellblade so far, seems to praise how it handles the mental illness, however there is always that feeling in the back of my head that sometimes makes me doubt, for the lack of a better word, if the way they handled also made it a bit “artificial”. I know about the development, and from day one I’ve been fascinated with what they’ve been doing, but since it was marketed as “this is a serious game, dealing with serious problems” it threads a fine line between doing it right or not quite.

All in all, I still have to play it and make better conclusions, still, I think it deserves all the praise it can get, even if it doesn’t connect with everyone. We need more and more games tackling more serious issues like Hellblade. Good or bad, practice leads to perfection right?

There a quote in there about people suffering from mental health issues “just being able to snap out of it if they want to” as a critisism of Hellblade’s protreyal, but honestly that sounds very much in line with my own experience. It’s not hard for me personally to “snap out of” whatever fucked up stuff is going on in my head, the problem is doing that again and again and it still coming back. So it doesn’t sound like a much of a critisism from here, at least from the perspective of me not having played the game yet.

Doing stuff like this almost always ends up with harsh criticism from people in the group being represented unhappy that the exact particulars of their situation aren’t addressed, seemingly unaware of how different just two people from ostensively the same group can see things. I’m not exactly fuming that Prey’s deption of a gay relationship didn’t consist entirely of both parties saying “I’m gay” to each other over some instant messaging service 24/7.

We’ll see though, I hope I get to play this soon because if nothing else it looks GORGEROUS.

I read the Zam article and I think it gets the ending wrong - I didn’t get the feeling that Senua was in any way “cured” by the end. Indeed, you end the game hearing the same voices as before. It is more of a struggle to come to terms with the loss of Dylian than a struggle against mental illness. At the most, I’d say you come out of the end having accepted the reality of that loss (and other, past losses), but you are just as mentally ill as you were before.

Some of the gamification of mental illness symptoms (i.e. rune hunting and the like) has to walk a fine line, and I don’t know that it always works, but the narrative itself is something I found to be on far more solid ground.

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Thanks, @Ford_Dent! I just was afraid that it would lean too heavily into gameness (player should be powerful! player should win! etc.) and misrepresent a bunch of stuff because of it. Seem like it’s not. Still should play it before properly judging, though.

Offtopic. I also really should play “80 Days”, because, I heard, it’s very good at separating what player can do (they still have agency) and what they can accomplish (but it’s not a power fantasy).

I agree completely. It felt, to me, that the game was about Senua coming to terms with herself as herself and finding ways to both cope* with her psychoses and a kind of mythology or narrative to tell herself and others about herself rather than the ones previously provided/imposed (from both father and mother).

*cope, not snap out of at will.

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