Psychosis is an abnormal condition of the mind that involves a "loss of contact with reality". People experiencing psychosis may exhibit personality changes and thought disorder. Depending on its severity, this may be accompanied by unusual or bizarre behavior, as well as difficulty with social interaction and impairment in carrying out daily life activities.
In Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, Senua suffers from a form of psychosis that causes her to perceive voices whispering to her as well as suffer from vivid hallucinations. She has been afflicted with the condition since she was a child, a trait she shared with her mother, Galena.
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice Edit
As a prominent theme of the game, Senua's psychosis is portrayed in Hellblade in various different ways.
The Furies Edit
The most prominent symptoms of Senua's illness are the Furies, a collection of male and female voices that whisper to Senua as she journeys through the depths of Helheim. They will observe her actions and comment on them whilst also either encouraging her or attempting to degrade her, sometimes at the same time in a contradicting mess.
The game's narrator is one of the Furies, speaking in the player's ear as if they themselves are yet another voice to join the chorus in Senua's mind. Senua herself will sometimes address the camera as though the player is seeing through the perspective of the voices.
In gameplay, the Furies will make observations in regards to finding the various runes for puzzles, hinting at where Senua should look. In combat, they give feedback on when an opponent is about to strike her out of view or when a particular foe is close to death. They also hint at when the player should Focus against certain enemies.
Senua's perception of reality can change on a moment's notice, either from being overstimulated from the world around her or from being unable to tell apart her memories from reality. She will see people from her past and attempt to interact with them, even though she is remembering rather than speaking to them in the present. Her vision itself will also become fragmented and distorted depending on what's going on.
The portrayal of psychosis and mental illness in general is a topic that is mostly considered taboo in most media, especially in the world of gaming. Ninja Theory set out to challenge this topic as a focus during the development of Hellblade.
In order to make sure that Senua's psychosis relied on actual evidence of the condition rather than tropes used in other media, the developers consulted with leading neuroscientists on psychosis as well as actual real life sufferers of the condition. They used both scientific information as well as statements of personal experience to maintain a level of accuracy. Most of the psychotic episodes in Hellblade are derived from what these people have lived through on a daily basis.
The voices of the Furies were recorded using a recording technique known as binaural audio: using a microphone in the shape of a human head with ears, the voices of the Furies sound as though they are spatially whispering and speaking right in to the player's ears, sometimes running by or moving as they do so.