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Community Article: Mental Health in Indie Games

Written by John Edwards

Portrayals of mental health have thankfully become more nuanced in video games, giving more accurate and empathetic representations of various conditions that many players will experience themselves at points in their lives.

Problems with your mental health are very common and nobody should ever feel like they're alone and nobody can help. If you are going through anything yourself The Samaritans are available 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at [email protected], or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch. Or contact CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) via their website https://www.thecalmzone.net/ or ring 0800 585858 5pm-midnight 365 days a year.

Content warning: anxiety, grief, loss, depression, psychosis, dissociation, suicide.

Celeste

Celeste features both a literal and a figurative mountain that the main character Madeline is trying to conquer. She suffers from anxiety and this manifests itself in the game with the obstacles she has to overcome. It includes a section about matching her breathing with the rise and fall of a feather which is a good technique for managing anxiety attacks. She also encounters other characters who are dealing with their own difficulties, including Theo who is suffering with self image due to the pressures of social media. The game is sympathetic to the struggles portrayed and has great accessibility options for those who find it too challenging.

Gris

Grief affects people in different ways, but there are often common themes in how we process it. Gris turns one woman's grief into a beautiful platform game through the different stages of loss. Process each emotion with different colour palettes, sound and gameplay abilities. It's a moving and evocative game with a feeling of catharsis for anyone familiar with strong feelings of grief.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice

This is a very dark tale and features the psychosis effects brought on by extreme trauma. The developers consulted with professionals to ensure they accurately represented the difficulties Senua goes through with her mental health. It has auditory and visual hallucinations to duplicate the effects on psychosis sufferers. It is at times uncomfortable to play through as it explores difficult themes relating to trauma. It's commendable that such a sensitive subject can be tackled in a game and that it is done with care and attention.

Night In The Woods

On the face of it Night In The Woods is a cheery tale of anthropomorphic animals living carefree 20 something lives, band practice, visiting the mall and getting drunk. But the main character Mae struggles to find her place in her home town after dropping out of college. She suffers from a dissociative disorder and those around her have their own problems. Night In The Woods is well written with a likeable extended cast. Mae's sarcasm and struggle to find her place in the world will resonate with many. It encapsulates the raft of mental health difficulties people can face while finding their feet in adulthood.

What Remains Of Edith Finch

In a game all about the deaths of members of a family, you would expect the main mental health issue it would cover would be grief, but instead What Remains Of Edith Finch is largely a celebration of life rather than mourning what was lost. However one specific family tale is about someone suffering explicitly with his mental health. Lewis Finch works in a cannery, decapitating fish. But the mundanity of his job and underlying depression sees him escaping to a fantasy life. As you play through his story, his fantasy life becomes more elaborate and dominant, overtaking his own before he takes his own life despite the best efforts of his psychiatrist.

 

There is a reasonable likelihood that all of us will at one point suffer from one of more of the issues featured in these games. It is a natural part of life and should not be something to be ashamed of. It's good that we can see these experiences replicated in gaming and gain empathy for those who may be dealing with problems we've never faced. But crucially we should always remember we are not alone and through our communities or the professionals mentioned above, there is always help available.