Video Game Company Battles Mental Illness
Wed, April 21, 2021

Video Game Company Battles Mental Illness

Reports say that a pair of video game developers are now starting to work on ways to help people with mental health problems in order to shed light on the other side of the booming industry / Photo by: dolgachov via 123RF

 

There are a lot of articles that feature how video games can have a negative effect on a person’s well-being. But what if people with mental health conditions could use video games to manage the symptoms of their conditions? Reports say that a pair of video game developers are now starting to work on ways to help people with mental health problems in order to shed light on the other side of the booming industry. 

New Scientist, a weekly English-language magazine that covers all aspects of science and technology, mentioned in their article that the idea sprouted from the minds of Tameem Antoniades, creative director of UK games developer Ninja Theory, and Paul Fletcher, a psychiatrist at the University of Cambridge. 

The pair collaborated on a project called Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, a video game that earned a lot of positive reactions from its players and critics after they portrayed psychosis accurately. 

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

In 2017, Ninja Theory released Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, an action-adventure game that took a daring step to explore mental health and psychosis. The Verge, an American technology news and media network operated by Vox Media, explained in their article that this video game features Senua, a warrior who struggles with the symptoms of psychosis. 

She sees things that are not really there, such as villages burning to the ground, lumbering giants that wear skull-masks and armed with heavy blades. Sometimes, Senua hears voices as they whisper in her ears. These hallucinations make her feel frightened and alienated, but because of her condition, it also makes her feel like everything that she experiences is real. 

In order to make things accurate when it comes to how the symptoms of psychosis happen, Antoniades collaborated with Cambridge neuroscientist Fletcher. This partnership was truly a successful one after the depiction earned five BAFTAs and an award from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. This was reported by CNET, an American media website that publishes reviews, news, articles, blogs, podcasts and videos on technology and consumer electronics globally.

“The fact that we were invited to so many science conferences… kind of made me realize that the work we’ve done was quite significant in some way,” Antoniades said. 

The Insight Project

Although Hellblade wasn’t the first game to delve into the realities of mental illness, the response by its critics showed that video games can have a positive effect on mental health. These games are thoroughly made to explore the fundamental workings of the human brain. 

After the success of their first venture together, Ninja Theory and Fletcher are now working on a new venture where they will use everything they learned while they are developing Hellblade in 2017. This new venture is called ‘The Insight Project.' “We want to create games that can change people’s lives,” says Antoniades. 

The Insight Project is not a sequel to Hellblade and it is not necessarily a video game. But, it is an evolution between Ninja Theory and Fletcher, which builds on five years of research and a growing scientific movement in neuroscience. In making this game, the team will use tech, game design, and clinical neuroscience in order to create new methods of therapy that can be used for mental disorders. 

Antoniades says that The Insight Project is like a hypothesis where it states how video game technology “could help make things that have previously been invisible, visible.” This opens the conditions of psychosis up to thorough diagnosis, analysis, and treatment. 

The team aims to create video games that will show the different states of mind, including anxiety, fear, psychosis, and other mental distress. The Insight Project is not about killing sprees, but the goal of this video game is to help patients overcome their mental distress. 

The representation of mental illness

“One of the things that just really blew me away after Hellblade was released was to see a conversation opening up on the internet about its representation of mental illness,” says Fletcher. The increased representation of mental health conditions in popular culture is helping eliminate most of the stigma that surrounds it. 

Fletcher explained that while drugs can treat the symptoms of some mental illnesses, such as blocking signals in the brain, these medications do come with unpleasant side effects. On the other hand, psychotherapy, in which trained therapies help patients explore anxieties and fears, can make a difference, but it still isn’t a cure-it-all remedy and many patients fail to respond to it. 

This raises an obvious need to continue the exploration of new, innovative, and effective options. Although video games have been seen in a bad light because of the negative headlines published about them, there is still a lot of evidence that suggests that players can use video games to improve their mental health. Fletcher also believes that doing more personalized treatments using game design principles can take mental health treatment to the next level. 

Although Hellblade wasn’t the first game to delve into the realities of mental illness, the response by its critics showed that video games can have a positive effect on mental health / Photo by: Roman Samborskyi via 123RF