I love Hellblade. Like, really, deeply, intensely. I want to share my love for this game with you. Hellblade metaphorically shoved its hand into my chest, ripped out my heart, showed it to me, and put it back in place.
Apart from its approach to simulating the experiences of acute psychosis, Hellblade has so much to offer on the emotionally and psychologically. We are following Senua on a very hard journey, but many of us have walked a similar path.
The emotional content of Hellblade is so rich that writing only one post about it does not do it justice. However, I decided to look at the following aspects:
- How will you cope with the voices?
- How does it feel to be different?
- Will you surrender to your demons?
- Will you love this game despite that one annoying gate bug?
Are you ready to walk the path to Hel?
1. How will you cope with the voices?
Ninja Theory used many creative ways to simulate the sensations a person has when experiencing acute psychosis. One of those is the continually chattering voices in Senua`s head. Most of them are female, commenting Senua`s actions and thoughts. Sometimes they help her solve a riddle, sometimes they mock or outright bully her. Many players had to put their controller down and leave the game as the constant talking in their ears got too much. Now imagine you cannot escape those voices but carry them around in your head 24/7.
While playing Hellblade, I caught myself talking back to them: “Instead of laughing at me you could also prove yourself a bit useful here, thank you.” or “I know I have to focus like I`ve done this a bazillion times before.” or “F**k you too. Shut up.” Ever seen one of those guys on the streets talking to themselves? Well, I sure got a sense of how it might feel to be them.
2. How does it feel to be different?
Senua is the second one in her village who suffers from psychosis. She inherited the darkness from her mother. Senua is different from the others. She is forced to be withdrawn, hears voices, smells things no one else can and by this foresees a plague. We get the sense that due to her illness, she might be depressed.
She is not accepted as equal in her village. And like it is in societies still today, people are scared of what they don`t know. Senua becomes an outcast despite her intentions to help the village. She carries the role of the scapegoat, despite her intention to warn people of the coming illness.
Have you been the kid in school who was given the role of the outcast? Did you help stabilize a group of people by being the strange girl who deserves to be bullied? If not, then I recommend you play Hellblade to see how cruel we humans can be.
3. Will you surrender to your demons?
There is a predator in Senuas head. He reminds her of the growing rot inside of her. He tries to convince her that she will die in Hel and never release her lover’s soul from the grip of the half-rotten goddess. After all, she is trying to fight gods, right?
However, Senua is stronger than the gods. How can a tiny woman kill them? Because they are all in her head. Senua does not give in to her illness. She refuses to believe in the predator’s promise of certain death. Instead, she finds out about his origin.
You don`t need to have psychosis to experience inner voices that criticise and belittle you. It seems to us that those inner critics have always been part of ourselves. In psychology, however, we believe that it is always outer critics who plant the seeds of our inner critic. Students, teachers, siblings, parents, who keep on smashing our self-esteem when we are young stay with us for a while. Until we remember that we should stop the self-loathing, and go to therapy.
Behead that monster that`s sitting in the deep dark cave of your mind. It doesn’t even go there.
4. Will you love this game despite that one annoying gate bug?
I sure hope you do. I had just started a second play-through and experienced a minor ragequit because of that f***ing gate not opening when I had found ALL THE RUNES!
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After all, Hellblade might just be my favorite game ever because it combines my love for kick-ass heroines, Nordic mythology, and games with a healthy (haha) portion of brain-fuckery.
Comment down below about the biggest brain-fuck game you`ve ever played.
(Except P.T. We have all seen it. We all know it`s not gonna happen. Don`t re-open those wounds.)