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Hellblade: Ending Mental Health Stigma One Gamer at a Time

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As you can see from our last post on the topic, our Editor in Chief, Jay Boll has some strong opinions about the new video game Hellblade. In short, the game features the Celtic warrior, Senua who battles a variety of mental illnesses after a Viking attack on her village. I understand my coworker’s point of view, (a video game does seem like a strange place for mental health advocacy) but we need to look past the technology and the video games themselves and look at what is happening in our culture that would make a video game the perfect place for mental health awareness.

If you go to any social media site and search for the keywords “mental health”, you will find an enormous amount of posts, tweets, articles and pictures advocating for the stigma against mental illness to be stomped out. While I wholeheartedly agree with the notion, it’s easy to champion the idea without actually do anything about it. Not only did the developers of Hellblade decide to create something that would help de-stigmatize mental illness, they are reaching a demographic that needs to know about mental health: young men and boys.

While adult female gamers recently beat out males under 18 for the largest demographic of video game users, Hellblade might be the only place where young men or boys might hear a positive message about mental health. Our culture promotes a toxic form of masculinity which tells boys that the only way they can “be a man” is to never show or admit to having emotions. That is why so many men don’t seek help for mental health issues and why suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 50. Men have been told by their parents, peers, teachers and characters in movies and video games that having emotions or any vulnerabilities is a direct assault to their masculinity. The fact that this video gaming company is addressing the issue of mental health on a platform that young men and boys frequently use can actually help stop the stigma of mental health.

Hellblade is a rarity among video games since it contains both a strong female protagonist and a positive message about mental health. Unfortunately, toxic masculinity overpopulates the gaming world and  perpetuates hostile sexism towards women. For example, if your character has been shot in Grand Theft Auto having sex with a prostitute helps rebuild your character’s health, then you are allowed to kill that prostitute to get your money back. While Jay might be convinced that a video game is no place for mental health advocacy, wouldn’t you want your teenage children playing a game where the strong female hero battles her internal demons instead of the one where they are encouraged to senselessly abuse and kill women?

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6 thoughts on “Hellblade: Ending Mental Health Stigma One Gamer at a Time

  1. Jay Boll, Editor in Chief says:

    There really is a game where you can do that? Maybe a video game about an ancient female warrior with mental health challenges isn’t such a bad idea after all.

  2. Tracii Kunkel says:

    It would have been good if they had actually consulted with someone with experience in the field of mental illness stigma, as this game really misses the mark on that point so far. The #1 myth that is cited by those suffering from mental illness as the most harmful false belief out there – that people with mental illness are violent. A game portraying someone who, when in the midst of psychosis, goes around chopping living things into bits with a big sword doesn’t dissuade that myth.

  3. r says:

    me22 mmy family has a history of mental illness but for some reason they still are pessimist and have a stigma against it and I’m!

  4. Denise Vestuti, Resource Specialist says:

    Unfortunately, there is still stigma when we talk about mental illness . Changing stigma involves education, and more people sharing their positive recovery stories. Hopefully, as we do this society will be more accepting and knowledgeable of mental illness, which would reduce the pessimism you described your family has. Particularly,since so many individuals and families are affected by mental illness and courageously face it with hope and empowerment. If you’re interested in speaking to a Resource Specialist feel free to email me at help@rtor.org

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