Media - Game - HellBlade: Senua's Sacrifice (2017)
I have been wanting to play Hellblade as a part of my thesis research since I heard about it. The game, which follows a Pict warrior, Senua, who hears "Furies" in her head and makes a doomed journey into Hellheim to save the soul of her dead lover, Dillion. In addition to the furies which whisper to her and the player the entire game, Senua also experiences visual psychosis which warp the landscape and make for some very intense but inventive mechanics.
Mechanically, the game does a good job of forcing the player to embody psychosis. You are inundated with the constant chatter of voices - some of which try to help and warn you of danger, and some which will lie to you and cannot be relied upon in battle scenarios. Interestingly, as you progress through the game, you start to recognize certain voices and certain cues, and begin to be able to know which voices you can trust and which you cannot. Standing out from the general chatter are several very specific voices. The first is the Narrator, who often breaks the first wall, talking directly to the player as if we are a new entity joining the cacophony of voices in Senua's head. This perspective is incredibly interesting, as Senua herself appears to be aware of us at times, and there are moments within the narrative that she talks directly to the player - as if we are her dead lover, as if we are the goddess Hela, and as if we are the Darkness that follows her like a shadow.
The Darkness has a voice as well - deep, and eerie, and demonic. This voice is one clearly working against Senua, and as the game progresses, we come to learn, through a series of non-linear flashbacks and voice over, that he is the vocalization of her past trauma. It is no mistake that The Darkness shares a voice actor with Senua's abusive father.
Senua also hears and sees snippets of her memories as if they are reoccurring, as if she is having a non-literal flashback. Primarily, these flashbacks occur involving two specific people: her dead lover, Dillion, and a man named Druth who guided her through her mental health healing prior to her traumatic return to the village where Dillion lived. These differ from the psychosis based voices that occur throughout the playthrough of the game. These are short snippets, narrative in nature and clearly a reliving of a specific event rather than the constant hum of psychosis.
The way these are presented differently is interesting, as the voices are clearly indicitive of some kind of psychosis, perhaps a schitzofrenia that she has had her whole life, in comparison with the memories she experiences in the background of her reality: A manifestation of the traumatic events she suffered through, witnessing the deaths of her mentor and boyfriend. These two, of course, coalesce in the prescence of the Darkness/her Father. It is implied as well that after each traumatic event her psychosis got significantly worse - starting with the abuse of her childhood (which culminates in the burning death of her mother at the hands of her father) - and repeating again after the death of her mentor and the sacrificial offering of Dillion by the North Men after a raid.
The method the game uses to have the player experience these two comorbidities is brilliant. The game flows, and the puzzles the player must solve are engaging without feeling like a tacked on element. They act as necessary breathers for the player while they learn more about the plot. Had the game been nothing but fighting between cut-scenes, it would not have functioned. Instead, the horrifying distortions and frustration act as a way to continue the tension set up by the fights without relying on a constant barrage which could become overwhelming to the player.