The game of trauma and psychosis can be useful even to those who have never encountered mental disorders.
I was twenty when my mother died of leukemia.
Orphaned at twenty is probably not so bad. It could be worse. After all, this is the natural order of things: parents die before their children. However, then these arguments did not console me, and people around me had the tact not to bring them. Usually I heard something like “you must live on for her,” “be strong,” and other common truths that fed me breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, they did not help to cope with the sobs that burst from me, both at home and on the street.
I was not offered to go to a therapist. Yes, even if they had suggested, at that moment I would hardly have agreed. Then it seemed to me that the psychotherapist was something from the American series where rich loafers lay on sofas and complain about their problems instead of going to solve them. Antidepressants are a toy for actors who sit on them instead of drugs. A visit to a psychiatric clinic is for psychos, I was sure. And depression is simply a synonym for “depressed”. The main thing is to gather the will into a fist, and everything will pass.
The fact that depression is a disease that can be treated with medication, and that it is associated with a deficiency of serotonin, dopamine and other substances that are no less important for the body than white blood cells and platelets, I learned much later. The fact that I was generally depressed, too. And at that moment I just scolded myself for not being able to get out of bed in the morning, that I had started my studies, that I wanted to quit my once beloved business, which ceased to be fun. Nothing was fun, for that matter. Food has lost its taste, the world has lost its color, life has become meaningless. I tried to follow the advice and live on through “I can’t”. I tried to fill the void inside with something and get rid of the thoughts that, probably, it would not be easier to exist than to fall asleep and wake up every day in this state.
It turned out badly.
However, the story of Senua not only helped my family to understand how I feel, to be in my place and to be in the shoes of a person with the same pain. She responded to me herself and reminded of something very important. Agree, we all love stories that resonate with our own: they help not to feel so alone.
In Hellblade, a Pictish warrior girl from the Pictish tribe travels to the underworld, hoping to bring back the deceased lover. She has a mental disorder – psychosis – but since the action takes place in the dark eighth century AD, hallucinations and voices in Senua’s head are considered intrigues of evil spirits.
A few months after the release of the game, the studio Ninja theory released a trailer where quotes of players with real mental disorders. They thanked the developers with the same words that I could write to them: Hellblade showed that they are not alone, and also helped other people to feel the same thing that torments them. She told those who find psychological problems an empty phrase about the severity of depression, self-humiliation and life after the death of a close or other traumatic experience. And to those who are familiar with these problems, on the contrary, she reminded: you should not blame yourself for the fact that after the horrors that happened to you, you can’t just lead normal a life.
The gameplay, visual and audio techniques used in Hellblade have done what is difficult to achieve with the most colorful verbal descriptions: they have achieved a real immersion in the role of a man who is tormented by internal demons. The binaural sound made it possible to hear mocking whispers in Senua’s mind as if they were rustling in your own head. After all, it is not necessary to suffer from psychosis in order to conduct a dialogue with yourself and argue with an invisible voice that calls you a loser, condemns when you try to move forward, and convinces you that there is no need to live.
As for the picture, I will give only one example – the level where, with the help of giant masks, Senua moves between different times: life with a loved one and without him. The sun, warm colors, greenery, a beautiful cozy house – in the first case. Rain, leaden sky, dull dullness and ruins – in the second. Devastation where there was just comfort. One and the same place that looks either cold and unfriendly, or bright and welcoming, depending on through which prism, in what condition you look at it. The obvious difference between the world of a healthy happy person – and the optics of those who are not so lucky.
“If you wanted to know how I feel when I feel bad– I said to my husband then – then look“. He looked up. And I got it.
Applause to game designers for the solution, ingenious in its visibility and simplicity.
The merit of Hellblade is not only that it accurately conveys the attitude of the injured person, which is very difficult to understand for people without the same injuries. She helps to go down to hell with Senua, to walk with her along the road along which each of us goes alone, to go into the darkest abyss of our consciousness – and together with the heroine in the end find healing. Finally, to experience the catharsis, which I had dreamed about for so long, to receive hints, to see a pointer on how to return back to the light.
Of course, everything in life is not so simple: you can’t just let go of what does not give you rest after the final credits. One must get out of this hole for years, frantically clinging to steep walls, scratching a stone and breaking nails. But Hellblade definitely helped me take at least one of these painful steps up.