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  • Writer's pictureIndy Goodwin

A Missed Opportunity - Thoughts on Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

"Bravery only means something to those who fear death. Senua's fears run far deeper."

No one can argue that Ninja Theory didn't do their homework when representing Senua's psychosis. Speaking with mental health professionals and people with this condition, they've put together a true picture of what this illness looks like. Or rather, sounds like.

Senua's psychosis takes the form of voices. Voices that command, cajole, comfort and condemn. This is definitely a game to play with headphones, the soundscape created is oppressive and ever present. It really provides an effective insight into what living with this condition can be like. It's no wonder the developers won an award for their sound design, this was a creative way to use the medium and I have no choice but to stan.

Senua journeys through Helheim - the Norse underworld - to rescue the soul of her lover who was sacrificed to the giantess Hela. She fights her way through the underworld with the head of her lover Dillion strapped to her. Norse mythology believes the seat of the soul is in the head and without it she couldn't save him.

The trials Senua goes through affect her deeply. From confronting her Mother's death to overcoming her fear of the darkness, the Senua that stands before Hela at the end of the game is forever changed, stronger, unafraid. It was inspirational.

...Until it was revealed that this whole journey's aim was impossible and instead turned into an extended metaphor about accepting and letting go of grief. On the surface, this is ok. It's not great, but it's ok. However I must confess to being heartily disappointed by this ending.

Senua was mentally ill. If they had let her achieve the impossible, this would have been a much stronger case of representation. Neurotypical protagonists achieve the impossible in games regularly. Why, then, can't a mentally ill person feel their struggles but succeed anyway? Senua's psychosis didn't define her.

I felt like Ninja Theory had an opportunity to do something I had never seen before - to let a mentally ill character succeed in spite of their illness. Neurodivergent people have to deal with the impossible every day but we are still expected to do it.

As someone with psychosis it would have been amazing to see Senua, bloodied and exhausted and hanging by a thread, achieve what she'd worked so hard to do instead of making it a metaphor. It would have been incredibly powerful. A testament to all those with the resilience to keep fighting, no matter how hard it is. To not give up.

That aside however, Senua's Sacrifice is a very well crafted game. The BAFTA it earned for audio design was well deserved. I look forward to playing the sequel, I just hope they let her succeed this time. Make her the role model people like me deserve.

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