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Hellblade video game launch: Pioneering video game gives unique, ground-breaking insight into experiences of psychosis

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  • British firm creates videogame from perspective of character with psychosis
  • Psychiatry experts, global charitable foundation, Wellcome, and people with lived-experience shaped game’s development
  • Portrays experiences of psychosis, as well as being latest first-class action-adventure game from Ninja Theory
  • Cutting-edge tech gives movie-like cinematography and simulates voice-hearing
  • Release date for PlayStation 4 and PC: August 8

Ground-breaking new action-adventure game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice gives an immersive insight into experiences of psychosis, developed with the help of mental health experts and those with lived experience.

Psychosis is a mental health disorder that affects how a person deals with and makes sense of their world, often leading to distress and behavioural issues.

The game is the first of its kind, using state-of-the-art techniques to evoke the voices and visions which are experienced by those who live with psychosis, as players are plunged deep into the mind of the protagonist.

Ninja Theory, the British company behind the game, worked with psychiatrist and University of Cambridge neuroscientist Professor Paul Fletcher and is supported by global charitable health foundation Wellcome. People who have lived with psychosis collaborated with Ninja Theory for 2 years throughout the process to help realise their experiences in-game.

The game unfolds through the eyes and ears of its central character, the Celtic warrior Senua, whose mental health difficulties have been brought on by trauma. During the game, players will experience the visual and auditory hallucinations which are part of Senua’s world as they are drawn deep into her mind, portraying psychosis in a way no video game has done before.

As well as using the motion-capture technology used in the movie world to ensure lifelike movements for the characters, the game uses “binaural audio”, which mimics the way we hear sound through our ears and are able to determine the direction of the source. For some who experience voice-hearing they say they can often hear them externally around them like any other sound, rather than internally. The binaural technique means the voices can sound as if someone is just behind player, for example, or whispering close to one ear.

Although the game has been produced for entertainment rather than education, a key aim for the creators was to make an accurate and sensitively handled portrayal of psychosis based on real experience and the latest scientific evidence.

For those affected with psychosis, perceptions can be profoundly changed, often with visions and voice-hearing, and a person can come to hold beliefs that both they and those around them find frightening and disturbing. It has many causes and it is expressed in ways that are often unique to the individual.

Cambridge-based Ninja Theory – which is the Bafta-nominated studio behind award-winning games such as DmC: Devil May Cry, Enslaved: Odyssey to The West and Heavenly Sword – spent three years developing the game, which sees central character Senua travel into the Viking underworld.

Paul Fletcher, the Bernard Wolfe Professor of Health Neuroscience and Psychiatrist at the University of Cambridge, who consulted on the game’s development, said: “I was delighted to meet the team at Ninja Theory and to find that they were committed to treating the question of psychosis with respect and honesty. They wanted to create a character who is beset by strange experiences, voices and visions but not someone who is defined by these experiences. I was also deeply impressed by the fact that they didn’t want to take an easy and simple path – they were willing to take on the challenge that psychosis is not just about hearing voices but rather reflects a whole different way of experiencing and making sense of the world and of one’s place in it”

“It became apparent to me that they were doing something that was risky but important, and potentially valuable in representing experiences that most people find deeply alien. The fact that they are doing so in a first-person subjective viewpoint in a game setting, which demands that the player fully engages with the experience rather than simply passively observing it, really excites me. Indeed, it provides a great opportunity to show, in the context of the game, that all of us are creating our own worlds and realities all the time.”

Tameem Antoniades, Co-founder and Chief Creative from game-developer Ninja Theory, said: “Our goal in Hellblade was to let you see the world from the eyes of another and engage you in an important subject. Psychosis is still steeped in stigma but it is a deeply fascinating subject and deserves to be explored, experienced and shared.  While a videogame can only go so far, we worked with service-users, voice-hearers and other groups collaboratively for 2 years and far from restricting our creativity, it has opened our eyes and greatly enriched the experience.”

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice will be released for PlayStation 4 and PC on August 8 for £24.99/€29.99/ $29.99. Further details at http://www.hellblade.com/

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