Facing the Darkness: Video Games That Tackle Mental Illness

With the World Health Organization (WHO) recently classifying compulsive video game playing as a mental health condition they have dubbed “Gaming Disorder,” video games and their addictive nature continue to be a concern for parents, caretakers, and anyone who has a loved one that loves video gaming. Recent studies have revealed links to video games have to depression and anxiety, which continue to create a certain stigma with this medium that attracts so many young individuals from different walks of life.

Still, as this medium grows and is exposed to newer generations and audiences, some video game developers have decided to tackle the issue of mental health, to help gamers understand them on a deeper level and increase overall awareness. Are there video games that can actually help create higher insight around depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions, rather than simply existing for pure entertainment? There certainly are!

Check out the best video games that help tackle the issue of mental illness.

Depression Quest

With a name like Depression Quest, the game obviously addresses the mental health issue of depression.

Developed by Quinnspiracy Studios, this game centers around a character who deals with depression while going about their day-to-day routine. Players are given different decision trees, where they are offered choices on what to say or how to react within various daily situations.

Depression Quest is free to play, with a model that allows gamers to pay what they want (if they so choose). Proceeds are donated to the U.S.’s National Suicide Prevention Line. Gamers can access Depression Quest on Browser, Windows, OS X, and Linux

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Alice: Madness Returns

Developed by Spicy Horse Studios and published by Electronic Arts, Alice: Madness Returns follows the famous Alice we have all grown to know and love from the Alice in Wonderland book series. But with a dark twist as our heroine has just been released from a psychiatric clinic.

Continuing from where the original left off, Alice heads back to Wonderland to find out who was behind her family’s murder; however, Alice does not visit Wonderland at all. In fact, the game centers around the fact that she suffers from hallucinations, and the goal of the game is for the player to decipher what is in Alice’s mind and what is reality.

Alice: Madness Returns is available for game play on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Xbox One for approximately $19.99.

Pry

Pry allows gamers to witness, first-hand, the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced by army veterans through an interactive text-based game. Players are presented with a variety of texts and pictures where they must zoom into the text as an effort to open up new information bites. As the game progresses and nears its end, players look at images and videos, as they start to get blocked out of other images and texts; all in an attempt to show the gamer what PTSD really looks like.

Pry can be purchased on the App Store for a mere $2.99.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Published and developed by Ninja Theory, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is inspired by Celtic culture and Norse mythology. The story follows Senua, a Pict warrior travelling through Viking Helheim with a mission to rescue her deceased lover from the Norse goddess of death, Hela. It places a spotlight on the mental issues, in particular psychosis, that affects Senua throughout duration of the game. This spotlight was much appreciated by gamers and critics alike because it came at a time when such a spotlight wasn’t placed on these types of conditions.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice can be played on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, and costs approximately $39.99.

Heavy Rain

Published by Sony Computer Entertainment and developed by Quantic Dream, this action-adventure game centers around four individuals trying to find the identity of the “Origami Killer”, a serial killer that uses large amounts of rainfall to murder his victims via drowning. Two of the main characters deal with mental health illnesses, with one who suffers from psychosis, while the other deals with hallucination caused by emotional trauma and head injuries.

Heavy Rain can be played on PlayStation 3 and 4, and costs approximately $29.99.

The Town of Light

The Town of Light has a 1940s backdrop, with a spotlight on the terrible treatment of mental institution patients at that point in history. The game centers around Renee, a woman who lives in Tuscany and tries to increase awareness around mental health conditions, how patients deserve to be treated, and the ignorance that still exists around the matter today.

Town of Light was published and developed by LKA, and is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows for about approximately $20. The game is also set to release on the Nintendo Switch later in 2018.

That Dragon, Cancer

Having to deal with grief can place a huge strain on an individual’s mental health, which is the basis of this autobiographical-like game.

That Dragon, Cancer that centers around the experience of parents having to deal with a child who has cancer. Amy and Ryan Green created the game after their 12-month-old son Joel was diagnosed with cancer. Players of That Dragon, Cancer deal with many of the emotions that Amy and Ryan dealt with during their journey, including helplessness, as players often don’t have the power to aid with their child’s suffering within the game.

That Dragon, Cancer is available on the App Store and Google Play Store for $4.99 along with a Mac/PC version for $9.99.

Night in the Woods

Available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, OS X, Linux, and Microsoft Windows, Night in the Woods centers around Mae Borowski, a college dropout who moves back home to try and figure out what to do with the rest of her life. The game dives into many mental health conditions, as most of the characters within Night in the Woods are dealing with some sort of mental illness.

Published by Finji and developed by Infinite Fall, Night in the Woods is available for $19.99.

Celeste

On the surface, Celeste may seem like your run-of-the-mill indie platformer with a pixel graphics aesthetic. But dig a little deeper and it dives into some mature and relatable subject matter, especially for those that struggle with anxiety and depression.

Celeste follows Madeline as she climbs the titular Celeste Mountain. During her ascension, Madeline learns the real nature of the mountain — its ability to bring one’s inner demons to life. In this case, Madeline’s demons manifest into a dark version of herself. Instead of defaulting to the tried-and-true light versus dark narrative, Celeste takes this dynamic and uses it to analyze Madeline’s own struggles with anxiety and depression, which she can only overcome by learning to accept and work with her problems rather than running away from them.

Developed by Matt Makes Games, Celeste is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Mac, Linux, and Windows PC for $19.99.

Inner Vision

Plain and simple, Inner Vision is a game where players try and talk people, from various walks of life, out of committing suicide. The game is a very powerful tool in helping to increase awareness around depression and suicide, and is free to play.

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Child of Light

Child of Light is a fairy tale of a video game.

Starting off in late 1800s Austria, Princess Aurora suffers from a mysterious illness and is believed to be dead. Surprisingly, Aurora wakes up. Not in her home of Austria, but in the mystical kingdom of Lemuria. Trapped in an unknown world, Aurora begins a quest to save Lemuria from the evil Queen of the Night. While this fairy tale-like premise has Aurora trapped under the magical grips of the Queen of the Night, in reality, Aurora is suffering from depression.

Published by Ubisoft and developed by their famed Montreal studio, Child of Light is available on PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox One and 360, Microsoft Windows, and Wii U for $14.99. The game is also set to release on the Nintendo Switch in late 2018.