Three Big Takeaways From Hellblade's Psychosis Expert

Jeff Cork

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a bold experiment for Ninja Theory for several reasons. In addition to serving as a test case for an indie that can compete with triple-A games in terms of presentation and gameplay, the game stars a character who struggles with a frequently misunderstood phenomenon: psychosis. The studio regularly met with people who experience a variety of psychoses, including auditory and visual hallucinations, to ensure that the in-game representation was as accurate as possible. Ninja Theory also consulted with Paul Fletcher, a neuroscience professor in Cambridge’s Clare College to learn more about psychosis from a medical perspective.

We spoke with Fletcher while in Cambridge, and left with a better understanding of psychosis – which doesn’t necessarily align with how it’s frequently portrayed in popular culture.   Fletcher says he was drawn to psychosis as a medical student, where he worked with a patient who believed that he was getting messages from his television. “I was absolutely fascinated by what could make somebody have such different perspective on the world, when actually they’re getting the same evidence as I was,” he recalls. Fletcher has spent his professional life studying and teaching his students about the phenomenon, which can affect all of our senses.

  Here are three highlights from our conversation: Psychosis may not be what you thinkThe word “psychosis” may summon images of straitjackets and state-run hospitals, but that’s a misperception. To be fair, pop culture hasn’t done a great job of articulating what psychosis is, in favor of veering toward a couple of extremes. One example that Fletcher points to is a person who thinks that they’re a historical figure, like Napoleon. “That is an old trope that’s never really true,” he says.

“People have different views about their own importance in the world and their own place, but it’s very rare that their actual self is altered. ”  Another misconception that people have about psychosis is that people who experience it are an inherent danger. “That’s an understandable mistake because people with psychosis can be shouting out and talking and can feel quite frightening, but they’re far more likely to have violence done to them than they are to do violence to people,” Fletcher says. Psychosis is, put simply, a symptomatic description of being separate from the world – whether that’s seeing, hearing, or otherwise experiencing things that other people don’t.

Fletcher says that much of a “normal” person’s experience is the result of absorbing and contextualizing the stimuli that we perceive from our various senses. “We all think that we’re peering at reality as though it’s laid out in…

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