“The hardest battles are fought in the mind, not with the blade.” – This is certainly true for my entry to Angie’s, the Backlog Crusader, Literary Community Collab Challenge: Video Game Literary Classics.
The challenge read:
Students all over the world have to read certain classic literature in school such as: Hamlet, Lord of the Flies, The Great Gatsby, Homer’s Odyssey, etc. With that in mind…
Imagine it’s 2050 and you’re helping design a course for high school students called Video Game Literary Classics. You have been asked to suggest a culturally significant video game (or several) for students to academically analyze and discuss, as they would with classic literature. Which video game title(s) would you choose for literary study and why?
Instead of focusing on multiple games I thought I would dive a little deeper into one game, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. I hope you enjoy!
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is developed by Ninja Theory and set during the time of the Vikings. We are taken on a journey with Senua, a Celtic warrior who has been branded a curse. We join her on a devastating quest to save Dillion, her lover, who has been sacrificed to the Norse gods. Senua battles her way through Helheim as she takes the fight to the gods in hope that she will be able to bring Dillion back. The main theme of the game is dealing with death, mental illness and overcoming personal conflicts.
As with many literary classics they tackle difficult themes, Senua’s sacrifice is important as it uses mental health not for shock factor, but instead uses the game to help people understand psychosis. Ninja theory understand that video games have an advantage over books and film. This is because when telling a story as they can combine both audio and visual but add the ability for the player to control what is happening. Putting us in Senua’s shoes instead of talking us through the story helps us as players sympathise with her experience, we want and will her to succeed. Hellblade: Senua’s sacrifice is an interesting and chilling experience and if you’ve played the game you know exactly what I’m talking about.
There is no reading material within Hellblade: Senua’s sacrifice and this is done with intention because stories were told verbally and passed down through generations. The stories of the gods and their myths would have been passed down verbally. With the use of Lorestones and a character called Druith, Senua is taught about the Norse gods. We can analyse folklore because of this and look more in depth to the Mythology surrounding the game and how it impacts Senua and drives her on her journey.
Senua exiles herself into the wilds, either for redemption or punishment but we do not get a clear reason. I would suggest that Senua’s statement “I left for the wilds to protect you from my darkness” suggests that it is punishment, she is forced by her father and perhaps society into believing that she is a curse and her illness is defying the gods. So to protect the one that she loves she hides and punishes herself. Upon returning she discovers that her home has been raided by the North men. We know from history that they were brutal so Senua must have seen such a horrific sight. During the raid the North men Sacrificed Dillion to the Norse gods and this is where Senua gets the motive to attack the Norse gods (Specifically Hel), after all that’s where Dillion’s soul would have been sent. It allows us to question whether her journey is real and the real nature of Senua’s journey.
Helheim and the fight with Hel can be interpreted in many ways and will drive many creative discussions; Could this journey be about Senua letting Dillion go? Or accepting that she has not got a curse? could the mirroring of Senua and Hel stand for much more that the game suggests? There is a lot of meat to the reasons and the actions within Senua’s Journey that can all be analysed in many ways, using many different theoretical approaches.
Also we can analyse Hel herself, a character that Senua has directed all her rage towards. Arguably she is a representation of the darkness that Senua feels within her. But we can also read that Hel is a representation of her father and her anger towards him. Her father is an important character to Senua’s conflict, he is the one that forced her into believing that her psychosis is an illness, he also had murdered Senua’s mother because of the psychosis that she herself had suffered. Senua says many things during the final fight and one key phrase that she states when talking is “It wasn’t that she stopped worshipping the gods, it was that she stopped worshipping you.” We can analyse the relationship that Senua had with her father and how that pushed her on that Dark and traumatic journey.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an important game and it shows that video games can help people understand mental illnesses or even world experiences in ways that books or movies could only dream. This is why I believe it should be on any course that wishes to represent Video Game Literary Classics. It also, like previously stated tackles a difficult topic without using it only for shock value, but using it to educate the player.
This is a very short entry I know, but this game is so in depth that I could write about it for hours and it would be way too long. I hope that I’ve given a surface argument that will entice people to look into this game more in depth. And finally a huge thanks to Angie for this challenge, It was really fun and hopefully I’ll attempt other challenges!
Thanks for reading!