Hellblade: CPFT supported PC game about psychosis wins five BAFTAs
13 April 2018

Hellblade: CPFT supported PC game about psychosis wins five BAFTAs 

Senua is ‘courageous, dignified and determined’ says Cambridge professor.

An innovative computer game which gives an insight into experiences of psychosis and which was supported by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) has received five British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) nominations in its Games Awards.

Staff and Recovery College East students at CPFT spent three years working with Ninja Theory, the Cambridge-based company behind ‘Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice’. In the game the central character, Celtic warrior Senua, has mental health challenges which have been brought on by trauma.

The game had received the most nominations in the BAFTA 2018 Games Awards, across Artistic Achievement, Audio Achievement, Best Game, British Game, Game Beyond Entertainment, Game Innovation, Music, Narrative and Performer. The awards ceremony, hosted by Dara O’Briain, took place on Thursday 12 April at Troxy, London.

Professor Paul Fletcher, academic lead for CPFT’s adult and specialist directorate, together with students from the Trust’s Recovery College East, acted as special advisors to Ninja Theory.

With bases in Cambridge and Peterborough, the Recovery College East offers a wide range of courses to help people develop new skills or increase their understanding of their own or other mental health challenges and their pathway to recovery.

'Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice' is the first game to use state-of-the-art techniques to evoke the voices and visions experienced by people who live with psychosis. The game uses a binaural technique that mimics 3D human hearing – players experience visual and auditory hallucinations as if they are Senua and 'hear' voices just behind them, or whispering in their ear.

Professor Paul Fletcher, who is honorary consultant with CPFT, said: ''I am delighted that Ninja Theory has won so many awards for 'Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice'.

“They have done something 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, makes it all the more powerful and has already got people on the internet and in the media talking in an engaged, thoughtful and respectful way about the nature of these experiences and what it must feel like to have them.

Paul, who is also Bernard Wolfe Professor of Health Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge and a Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Fellow, added: “Critically, for me, the heroine, Senua, is not a weak or broken figure. She is frightened and bewildered but she is also courageous, dignified and determined and I feel that these attributes are there because of what they Ninja Theory team experienced in their extensive interactions and discussions with the people at CPFT and Recovery College.''

A total of 45 games have been recognised by BAFTA, showcasing the very best games of the past 12 months and highlighting an outstanding level of creative excellence from a broad range of UK and international development teams.

The Awards, including the nominations, are voted for by BAFTA’s global membership, comprising experienced games industry practitioners from a range of backgrounds in game development and production.

So what do our game testers think about it?

Danny Bowyer from CPFT's Recovery College East reviews 'Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice' in the latest issue of 'Speak Your Mind' magazine:

I first heard about this game and its concept three years ago. In my opinion, mental health had always been sensationalised or trivialised in video games so as an avid gamer I felt strongly that if someone was going to explore these themes it had to be done right. Roll on three years and having just finished playing through the game for the first time, in my opinion it has exceeded my wildest expectations.

This is foremost a narrative game; whilst the mechanics of the game are excellent they serve mainly to facilitate your progression through a wonderfully written and presented story. The visuals not only hold their own against major releases (Ninja Theory are an independent developer) but they showcase the beauty of video games as a medium. Each frame is not only beautifully rendered but also thoughtfully positioned. The opening moments of the game, which serve to introduce the reality of Senua’s experiences and serve as a credit sequence, have all the hallmarks of classic cinematography.

The combat system is reminiscent of the Dark Souls series, less hack ‘n’ slash and more strafe, roll and counter; timing and strategy are your greatest assets and once mastered there is a great sense of power and fluency to the encounters in the game that succeed in doing what all of my favourite games do, which is to make me feel clever! The boss fights provide new challenges and task the player with finding new ways to utilise the combat system and adapt your strategy, although the standard enemies are no pushovers and every battle feels rewarding. There are also puzzle elements to the game which feature some well thought-out and original mechanics. I found these challenging enough to hold my attention and rewarding enough to be worth the investment. I am not beyond googling my way around a puzzle usually but I wanted to solve these puzzles for myself. I was invested in Senua and wanted to take on the challenges before her.

The average length of video games these days can vary, this one comes in around 10 hours for a play through which is reflected in the price (roughly half the cost of new titles) but for me this felt like 10 hours of a gripping book or a 10-hour marathon of my favourite TV programme. The depth of research is abundant, the world Senua inhabits is clearly a labour of love, rich with lore and this served to further immerse me into the experience. Drawing back to the rich storytelling I felt the world around me was constructed in an intelligent manner that didn’t feel like simple exposition but allowed me to discover more and more as I journeyed through this world.

This for me speak volumes of the great care and passion poured into this project by the team of developers and researchers, through to the mental health professionals and those with their own lived experience who gave their insights, to the voice actors who brought it all to life. In my opinion this is not only a great video game in its own right and it is not only a game that offers the most immersive and beautiful portrayals of mental health, it is a revolutionary concept. In summary this game is an honest, immersive and beautiful journey through a very human experience told in a very human way and not only has been done right, it has been done perfectly.

Louisa Bullivant, Voluntary Services Manager at CPFT, tested the game with a group of friends and this was her review of Hellblade:

"Having played video games my entire life, I picked up Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and never thought for a moment that I would be embarking upon an incredible journey of game play.

Hellblade is an incredibly smart game, with its use of audio and visual distortion and trickery that transports you to a frightening world of psychosis, hallucinations, and delusion - Voices that plague Senua are in a constant chatter, dancing around her head in unnerving ways making you feel as though you're never alone.

When I first heard of Hellblade I did not anticipate that it would be as good as it was; it certainly exceeded my expectations and I happened to find myself spending the majority of my weekends hooked to the screen to finish it.

The game unfolds like a beautiful, dark, tense visual novel, placing Senua front and centre on her journey into the land of the Northmen. Her story is one of confusion, sadness, fear, loss, and strength that has left a lasting impression on me.

Visually, Hellblade is a gorgeous game and I for one will most definitely play it again!"

This game is available to download now (sadly there is not a physical release) and is available from PlayStation Store for PS4 and Steam for Mac & PC.

About Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) is a health and social care organisation, providing integrated community, mental health and learning disability services, across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and children’s community services in Peterborough.

We support a population of just under a million people each year and employ more than 3,900 staff. Our largest bases are at the Cavell Centre, Peterborough, and Fulbourn Hospital, Cambridge, but our staff are based in over 90 locations.

We are a University of Cambridge Teaching Trust and member of Cambridge University Health Partners, working together with the University of Cambridge Clinical School.

For more information please contact:

Adrian Ient
Communications Manager
E communications@cpft.nhs.uk
T 01223 219470

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
Elizabeth House, Fulbourn Hospital
Cambridge, CB21 5EF

T 01223 219400 (open 8:30am to 5pm)
F 01480 398501

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